When it comes to those cattle-call auditions for Dragons’ Den, there are some pitches more naturally suited for television than others.
Not that the cameras were rolling Thursday morning at the nondescript and somewhat drab classrooms of Mount Royal University, where tryouts were being held by two of the show’s young associate producers. But now that CBC’s popular venture capitalist series is entering its 11th season, those who hope to win a spot before the glowering den of dragons tend to have their pitches polished for TV at an early stage.
Lorne Osborne, an Airdrie personal trainer and entrepreneur, came out on Thursday to pitch Provision Athletics with some elaborate props. Selling customized, online fitness programs that are delivered to the a customer’s phone via an app, he enlisted his wife and friend to lay on gym mats and showcase some basic exercises. She was playing a pyjama-clad stay-at-home mom, while he played an oil-and-gas worker, complete with blue coveralls. He carted two oversized signs into the cramped classroom as well.
There were also two babies, although they didn’t do much except stay quiet. Best of all, Osborne encouraged associate producer Nicole Mackay to participate. She gamely tried some squats despite being seven months pregnant and wearing high-heels boots.
It was, Mackay acknowledged afterwards, an effective pitch. The possibility of Dragon participation is always a bonus, she said.
“We encourage the Dragons to get involved,” Mackay says. “That guy has totally watched the show. So something like that is exactly what we want to see.”
Osborne does in fact watch Dragons’ Den, rather obsessively.
“I love the show,” he said. “We’ve been taping it for years. It’s pretty much my show.”
Calgary has always provided a good crop of entrepreneurs during these auditions and with Season 10, currently airing on CBC, more connections to the city were added. Part of the new blood this year were Calgary natives Michele Romanow and Manjit Minhas. Romanow, who now lives in Chicago, is known as the ‘tech dragon’ for her expertise in technological startups. Minhas is co-founder of Calgary Minhas Breweries and Distillery, among other businesses.
The popularity of the Dragons’ Den has changed the optics of these early auditions. In the early goings on Thursday, the pitches were savvy and often visual, even when dealing in products that seemed more practical than TV-friendly.
Fort Macleod’s Becky Housenga, for instance, dramatically dumped a bag of recyclable garbage on a table to start off a pitch for GoingGreen-EnviroClean, a company that offers recycling service to small-town Alberta.
Airdrie’s Mandy Yip, CEO of Acrobatic Arts, literally prepared a song-and-dance routine involving four of her young students.
To pitch her business GreenDoor Stay & Play, a drop-in child care centre in Southcentre Mall, Debbie Sheppard brought along mascot, a fidgety frog named Freckles. It was actually her costumed 18-year-son Joey Gardner, who occasionally waved while his mom made the pitch.
“I need money for one thing,” said Sheppard, when asked why she was looking for support from the Dragons. “But I need their marketing. I need to be able to market this concept so people know we exist. That’s what we’re having issues with. We are an anomaly and people just don’t know we exist.”
Getting on TV, of course, is a good way to do that even if the money doesn’t flow.
Still, the journey from tryout to TV appearance is a long one with no guarantees. The 11th season of Dragons’ Den will start shooting in mid-April in Toronto. Before that, producers will be visiting 35 cities. Some, like Calgary, will be visited twice. Up to 2,000 would-be entrepreneurs will be auditioned. Of those, 150 to 200 will be invited to Toronto to make a pitch before the Dragons. Roughly half of those will make it to air. So preparation is an asset.
“For the most part, the people who come and audition are fans of the show and they have that intro down,” Mackay says. “I definitely feel that people come really prepared. When you are asking about profit margins and business numbers, they usually have it all right there. That definitely helps.”
Auditions will be held again on March 12, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Mount Royal University. www.cbc.ca/dragonsden/auditions.