Anyone following this season of CBC’s hit show Dragon’s Den knows how much Saskatchewan’s W. Brett Wilson has added to the show since being named to the panel two seasons ago.
It is not uncommon for the other four dragons to back out of a deal, only to see Wilson go against the grain (like a true prairie boy) and strike a deal with the show’s contestants. This is especially true when these entrepreneurs display outstanding moral character and are creating a venture with a philanthropic benefit to society.
Wilson, a University of Saskatchewan alumni originally from North Battleford, is regarded by many as “the nice dragon” with a heart of gold.
On a local level, Wilson is committed to promoting and fostering entrepreneurship within the province.
He recently announced that he would be renewing his million-dollar donation to the University of Saskatchewan’s entrepreneurship centre, which is appropriately named after him.
Wilson’s efforts, coupled with this province’s strong recent economic growth, are starting to pay off, as nation-wide viewers will begin to see a lot more of Saskatchewan on the show in the near future. As proof of the growing interest in entrepreneurship within this province, this season contains a number of noteworthy appearances by small businesses from Saskatchewan.
Already we have seen the Breast Friends from Foam Lake, a non-profit that raises money for breast cancer by selling cookbooks, but soon more Saskatchewan entrepreneurs will appear.
On Jan. 26, viewers will get to watch Melfort’s Matt and Erin Johnson pitch Soap Nuts to the dragons. And on Feb. 2, the show will feature 3Twenty Solutions, a company founded in Saskatoon by three former U of S students.
The Breast Friends
The Breast Friends, formed in 2004 by a group of 10 women, are gaining an international reputation for their cookbook collection.
After one of the women lost someone close in a battle with breast cancer, the 10 friends decided to raise money for cancer research by compiling a list of tasty recipes to form a community cookbook and donate the profits off the book’s sales.
Three books and six years later, the group has raised over $1 million for the battle against cancer — an incredible number for any venture, let alone a nonprofit.
On Dec. 8, the Saskatchewan ladies appeared on Dragon’s Den and walked away with a full endorsement from all five Dragons. The deal was instigated by — you guessed it — Brett Wilson after a heart-warming yet lighthearted pitch that featured some of the homemade desserts from their popular cookbooks.
“There’s no more creative force in the world than menopausal women with a creative zest,” said the team’s lead speaker Patti Hack during the presentation.
The group had to withstand a brief lecture from Dragon Kevin O’Leary on the possibility of making money off the cookbooks, a talk that the other Dragons quickly disagreed with.
“Why don’t we do a five by 10 [a $10,000 donation from each of the five Dragon to total $50,000] in exchange for a $50,000 donation?” said Wilson after a brief discussion.
Each Dragon approved, including O’Leary, and hugs were exchanged as the deal was agreed on.
The book has become quite popular both around the nation and around the world. Each of their cookbooks has become a national best-seller, and are widely distributed around Europe.
“We’ve entered a world cookbook competition in Europe,” Hack said in a Dec. 7 interview with the Regina Leader-Post. “We hit the ground running and we have not taken a breath.”
Three and a half years ago, Erin Johnson was searching for the best detergent to get the odour out of diapers when she came across Soap Nuts, a detergent that grows on trees in South Asian countries.
After trying the soap and seeing first hand how effective it was, she decided to start her own Soap Nuts laundry detergent business with her husband, Matt. As sales grew, the Melfort couple soon realized that they would need additional investment to take their business to a larger scale. Cue the dragon music.
On Jan. 26, viewers will watch as the Saskatchewan couple pitches to the Dragons in hopes of securing an investment. While the duo cannot reveal the results of their visit to the Den, they were able to shed light on their experience.
“We did not see cameras or camera people, thankfully, so that helped to put us at ease,” said Matt.
“We were not nervous, and it really felt like having a conversation with interested people.”
As for Brett Wilson, Matt stated that he is just as nice in person as he appears to be on camera.
“He truly is a philanthropist and wants to help others.”
Besides the potential financial capital, the Johnsons hope that their appearance on the show will give their brand additional exposure.
“It will help to spread the word about Soap Nuts, especially across Canada.”
They hope to expand their business across North America.
“Currently we import 1,500 kg every four to six months and sell both retail and wholesale.”
Two years ago, Bryan McCrea and partners Channing McCorriston and Evan Willoughby won the U of S’s i3 Idea Challenge for aspiring entrepreneurs.
The end result was 3Twenty Solutions, a company that creates work site structures and residential homes out of used shipping containers. After further development of their concept, the company now boasts a large client base that includes Cameco Corporation.
Like other Saskatchewan entrepreneurs, the team decided to take a trip to Toronto over the summer in hopes of securing financing from the Dragons.
“The deal we went to the Den with would’ve been done by local investors if asked. Â The difference was in the two million people viewing the TVs,” said McCrea.
While results are secret until the episode airs, Wilson made it clear during this year’s pitch party that he is looking forward to working with these guys in the near future. The company is hosting a screening of the episode at Louis’ on campus Feb. 2.
Since entering the Den, a lot has changed for the 3Twenty team. The company has grown significantly, and they finalized their biggest deal ever last month: They’ve built a 22 person container mining camp for Claude Resources, the first in North America.
Beyond the resource sector of Saskatchewan, 3Twenty is planning a possible expansion into the Canadian arctic, as well as other ways to use their product.
As evidence from this season of Dragon’s Den, entrepreneurship in Saskatchewan is gaining a reputation across the nation.
Look for many more Saskatchewan start-up success stories like Brett Wilson, The Breast Friends, Soap Nuts and 3Twenty as the incredibly supportive climate for entrepreneurship in the province continues to improve.