Dragons’ Den combs the Yukon

Dragons' Den is on the hunt for northern entrepreneurs. The popular CBC television show is holding auditions in both Whitehorse and Dawson City next week. Hartland said he knew his father had a good product.

Dragons’ Den is on the hunt for northern entrepreneurs.

The popular CBC television show is holding auditions in both Whitehorse and Dawson City next week.

“We are looking for everything,” said producer Molly Duignan in a telephone interview from Toronto.

Unlike shows such as Canadian Idol, the audition process is pretty low key, she said.

“Kevin O’Leary will not be there so there’s no reason to be afraid,” she said. “If you’re even curious, why not come and audition. There’s nothing to lose.”

But a lot might be gained.

Whitehorse resident Samson Hartland and his father, Lewis, auditioned two years ago.

“We had nothing,” said the younger Hartland.

No business plan, no marketing research. Just a plate of smoked salmon his father had prepared in his Tagish backyard.

Hartland said he knew his father had a good product, but as a fan of the show, he also knew what happened to people who went in front of the dreaded “dragons” unprepared.

“I wasn’t going to be embarrassed,” he said. But his dad couldn’t do it alone.

A bout of meningitis as an infant had robbed his father of his hearing so he needed his son to act as an interpreter and for his business acumen.

He did his best to discourage his father, but it didn’t work.

After their audition in Whitehorse, the producer told them that if they were chosen to be on the weekly show they’d need to get the business side of things sorted out.

When they got that call two weeks later, they had to scramble to pull things together. The taping was scheduled for the following week.

In the end, all their hard work paid off.

Not only did they walk away with a sizeable investment from millionaire Brett Wilson, but the appearance on national TV gave them a tremendous amount of exposure.

Orders for their smoked salmon started pouring in as soon as the credits started to roll.

“We ended up with $75,000 worth of online sales within the first couple of days of airing,” he said.

“We had more orders than we knew what to do with. We were essentially just buried.”

And every time the show was repeated over the summer, the ordering blitz started anew.

“Every single possible scenario has played out for us after appearing on the show – (the) majority of it occurring in the first month, but still continuing months and years later,” said Hartland.

Today Yukon Smoked Salmon is a thriving business.

They’ve traded his dad’s backyard smoker in Tagish for an industrial kitchen in Whitehorse.

“This last summer we did upwards of 5,000 kilos,” said Samson. “And that was a drop in the bucket, compared to the amount of orders that we had on the first day alone.”

Even today they still can’t keep up with the orders that continue to roll in, he said.

It’s these kind of success stories that make Duignan proud to work on Dragons’ Den.

“It’s one of the only places that showcases Canadian innovation,” she said. “Where else can you see people from Tuktoyaktuk to Fleur de Lys, Newfoundland.”

Although the show has come to the Yukon before, this will be its first time in Dawson City.

“We try to add new cities every year,” said Duignan.

One of the biggest challenges for the show, as it enters its seventh season, is finding things not seen before, she said.

“First and foremost we’re looking for fresh ideas,” said Duignan. “Great businesses, entrepreneurs or inventors that really deserve to be showcased.”

This year there is an extra incentive for anything that has to do with energy.

Shell Canada is offering $100,000 for Canada’s greatest energy innovation.

Duignan will also be keeping an eye out for young entrepreneurs.

Last season the show’s highest-rated episode was the all-student special. This season the producers are hoping do another one.

“We’ve had people as young as six make pitches, said Duignan.

But there is no age limit for the auditions and no experience is necessary.

“Really, the key ingredient is what is the idea, why is it great and why should the Dragons invest in your product,” she said.

While the producers don’t offer any help with the business side of things, they do sometimes assist hopefuls with their pitch.

“We don’t allow PowerPoint on TV so sometimes businesses need help figuring out a way to visually and dynamically present their business,” said Duignan. That’s where the TV stuff comes in.

“My job is to help prepare you for that first minute and the rest is up to you.

Auditions will be held on March 13 in Whitehorse at the Westmark Whitehorse and on March 15 in at Bombay Peggy’s in Dawson City.

More information can be found at www.cbc.ca/dragonsden

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