Jason Cox took his People’s Soda to the Dragons’ Den, and came out with a deal. -Mark Brett/Western News

People’s Soda earns Dragons’ seal of approval

Penticton entrepreneur Jason Cox entered the Dragons’ Den armed only with his craft soda

A year of waiting is over and Jason Cox can finally share the good news that he came out on top when he faced the Dragons in their Den.

Cox emerged from the CBC TV show with a solid offer from Manjit Minhas, the 36-year-old co-founder and co-owner of Minhas Breweries, Distillery and Wineries to partner with his craft soda company, People’s Soda.

“She really enjoyed the flavours, which was a relief,” said Cox. “Her exact words were that our flavours were ‘on point’.”

Cox filmed his episode May 13, 2016, but had to keep silent about the results until the show aired on March 22. To get there, though, he had to take some risks.

Cox applied in February, auditioned in Kelowna in March and got a call in April that they were selected to go to Toronto in May. Cox’s audition was a strong one and he got singled out and invited to take part in a special show, and go in a head to head battle with another beverage maker.

“They were going to invite us to Toronto either way. They invite about 400 businesses and only about 100 of them make it on TV in the end,” said Cox, adding that it isn’t necessarily the best pitches that get on air — losers are also included for variety and interest.

“If everyone that went on the show got a deal, it wouldn’t have lasted 11 seasons,” said Cox. But being on the battle episode would guarantee him at least 90 seconds in front of the Dragons.

It came down to choosing between a one in four chance of getting on TV, or being sure of getting on the show, but risking everything on just 90 seconds.

“Each of us would get a 90-second elevator pitch. Only one of us gets to do a full pitch,” said Cox. “The risk was we could go all the way to Toronto, get 90 seconds and get sent home.”

Cox said there wasn’t any question that he would roll the dice.

“I thought this was a great opportunity. Even 90 seconds on CBC … is still worth the exposure and worth the trip,” he said.

That meant coming up with a 90-second pitch, and Cox soon discovered how short a time that is when he tried to read his first draft and only made it through a quarter of the page.

“I had to really choose every word carefully for that pitch,” said Cox.

After going through it for real in front of the Dragons, Cox and his competition from 1642 Sodas, who came armed with a maple syrup infused cola, were sent to wait in another room.

“We could hear the Dragons talking a little bit. I was pretty confident before we walked out there that we had won the battle,” said Cox, who was accompanied by Millie Holmgren, who helped support him, handling the props and helping prepare the drinks they mixed in the second half for the Dragons.

Cox said he had hoped to make a connection with Jim Treliving, who started the Boston Pizza franchise here 40 years ago. Treliving supported Cox, but said he couldn’t make an offer.

“He said first of all, I love where you’re from. Some of the Dragons gave him a hard time about that … ‘since when is that part of a business decision?’ “ said Cox.

Treliving’s response shut down the trash talk.

“I’m from Penticton, I started Boston Pizza in Penticton. If Jason has been able to make a business go for a few years now in that community it can go anywhere,” Cox repeated Treliving’s answer.

Treliving did have to be reminded he had met Cox before, and even had lunch with him while speaking at the Chamber of Commerce, which Cox was president of at the time.

“We had a really good exchange. I don’t know how much is going to make it into the final edit, but it wasn’t a brief mention of Penticton,” said Cox.

Treliving told Cox he had just signed a major deal with the big soda guys for his restaurants.

“So he would have to be out, but he really enjoyed our product and when he is in town, he will definitely come and support it,” said Cox. “It was a respectful out, but he was out, unfortunately. I would have really liked to partner with him.”

Cox had better luck with Minhas, who he was also targeting.

“She made us an offer right away,” said Cox, who went into the Dragon’s Den asking for $60,000 in exchange for 30 per cent of the company.

Minhas countered with a demand for 35 per cent, which Cox accepted.

“The more invested you are with me, the happier I am,” said Cox.

The end of the show wasn’t the end of the story. Cox said he’s been negotiating with Minhas and her partner, but they still haven’t inked a deal.

Many of the deals done on Dragon’s Den are never completed, Cox learned, and few are what was agreed to on the show. Cox said his background in commercial banking, and working with the business community is serving him well, keeping things realistic.

“It is going to come down to understanding what she can do for us, what we can do for them,” said Cox. “In the meantime, I have been progressing along our path. With investment from the Minhas people or not, we are still moving ahead. “

Cox said his business is growing quickly. After starting out making a custom root beer for Burger 55, he was up to six vendors selling his craft soda in 2015. In 2017, he’s got 40 vendors lining up to participate, and he’s soon opening a new fizzery — the craft soda equivalent of a brewery or distillery — in downtown Penticton at 215 Winnipeg Ave.

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