Entrepreneurs make their best pitch

“You are under arrest. You have the right to milk bones and to be loved.”

  • Feb. 25, 2011 12:00 p.m.

Dana Eklund and her dog Luka get a good laugh from the Dragons’ Den associate producers Michelle MacMillan and Richard Maerov while demonstrating her dog games business in hope of landing a spot as a business opportunity presenter on the popular TV show.

The words ring out in the atrium of the Okanagan College Centre for Learning like a battle cry—and in a sense it is.

Dog Aims inventor Dana Eklund is trying to beat out the near 30 other entrepreneurs who showed up in the first hour for the latest auditions for CBC’s Dragons’ Den.

The hit show now has 1.7-million viewers, an American spin-off, Shark Tank, and just hit its highest rated show ever with a second chance episode that drew 2.2 million viewers with the prospect of returning guests.

Eklund’s business is a card game for dogs, which helps time-crunched owners who may not have a chance to do ongoing obedience exercises find a fun way to squeak time with their dog into the day. “I want to have an option for people to do something with their dogs because a lot of training is about having that relationship with the dog,” she said.

“I mean basically, we get our dogs for entertainment. We want to say companionship, but what is companionship if not entertainment?”

Eklund herself appears to have that all-important entertaining appeal as well.

Decked out in head-to-toe marketing garb, with a painted van in the parking lot and canine assistants Luka and Tori at her side, the pizzazz factor is hardly lacking here.

This is critical for the show, explains associate producer Richard Maerov, who is up out of his chair twice during Eklund’s pitch, which proves to be the most interactive of the morning.

“We’re TV producers. We’re not dragons,” he explains. “We’re looking for something that will look good on TV.”

Dragons’ Den is a reality television show which originated in Japan and has become so popular in Canada it competes with Survivor in its Wednesday evening time slot. 

The show pits one new entrepreneur up against five so-called dragons—successful entrepreneurs— who offer up investments of their own money in exchange for a portion of the new entrepreneur’s company, should the company seem worthy.

Describing themselves as “dragon experts” Maerov and his partner, Michelle MacMillan, said Thursday’s purpose isn’t about finding the perfect business pitch as much as it’s about offering the dragons something new and interesting that will get a reaction.

For former Okanagan College professor Gary Brown, this “it factor” appears to be a bit of a problem.

He’s trying to convince them he has the solution to teaching science and technology courses in a manner that will bring students back to the subjects.

The National Science Foundation has been researching the state of science education for decades, he says, as fewer students are choosing the option for study. 

He believes he can build a marketable curriculum that governments and school systems can use to attract young minds.

“There are over 100 guys working for Ontario Hydro today making $97,000 off a two-year diploma,” he said, adding he penned the training program.

Even with the $12-million sign he’s got to show them how much UBC paid Carl Wieman to develop their science education solution—the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative—Brown simply elicits a thank you.

No one is told whether they will get onto the show today, but Kahlil Hosseini said he believes he’s got a good chance.

As pitchman 19, he’ll had plenty of opportunity to calm his nerves before taking his Quick Brush up to bat. 

The brush eliminates the need to dip the paintbrush while painting, saving billable hours for professionals and scarce time for homeowners.

This is a high-stakes venture for Hosseini, who sold his house in Calgary and stacked $100,000 onto his credit cards to follow his dream.

Once an engineer in Iran, he became a house painter when he immigrated to Canada, learning English from his clients and eventually taking their advice to patent the device he used to knock a little time off his own work day.

“I was earning $500 a day in Calgary,” he said. “It was booming. There were no painters. We were booking two to three months in advance.”

Using a tub and a drill he worked up a system that began to knock   hours off each job by eliminating dipping and trips up and down the later. 

In 2005, he patented the product and proceeded to spend several years pouring his life savings into the effort.

Today he’s commuting to Calgary to earn a living, having returned from three-years worth of product prototyping and eventual manufacturing in China. His pitch was a request for $200,000 for marketing in exchange for 30 per cent of the company.

Several Kelowna entrepreneurs have made it onto the Dragons’ Den show with mixed results. 

Kim Williams, owner of the Wild Kingdom sensuality shops, was on last season and did not receive investment. Trent Kitsch parlayed his appearance into major market power selling 10,000 pairs of his Saxx underwear in the first year following his appearance and moving the company to the coast.

 

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