It doesn’t seem that long ago that Canada fell in love with the Dragons’ Den original judges — Kevin O’Leary, Arlene Dickinson, Robert Herjavec and Jim Treliving garnered a loyal following for their candid grillings of entrepreneur hopefuls.
Last night, Dragons’ Den aired the premiere for its 10th season, featuring returning judges Treliving and Michael Wekerle, and the new judges taking the place of their predecessors — including household name Joe Mimran, founder of Joe Fresh. But the new twist this season is the addition of Michele Romanow and Manjit Minhas, two entrepreneurs under 40 who started their businesses at young ages. It’s a strong contrast to judges like Treliving, who earned his place as a respectable entrepreneur after investing in Boston Pizza in its early days.
Minhas started her brewery business when she only 19 — today, it is the 10th largest in North America. Romanow, at only 29, has already owned four businesses. She is most known for Buytopia.ca, one of Canada’s top daily deals sites, and Snapsaves, a mobile savings platform that was acquired by acquired by Groupon.
“One fun thing is being the sort of ‘tech dragon’ on the show,” Romanow, a former Next Gen Den judge, said. “I think the actual conversation is pretty close to what I would be having if someone met me in my office. It’s actually pretty true to what would happen in an investor boardroom.”
“I’m investing in you because, though this may not be the idea that hits success, I want a partner that I can believe in and trust with my time, money, colleagues, and resources.” – Manjit Minhas
As young female founders, it’s hard to believe that the move to include Romanow and Minhas is an accidental one by CBC. With shows like Next Gen Den available online, it seems that CBC is trying to appeal to younger audiences that are embracing entrepreneurship and tech in droves, and opening the floor to the contributions of women in the startup scene. “I know what it’s like to be a young woman and have work-life balance and try to have it all,” said Minhas. “Business has been a fair bit of my life day in and day out. I understand the responsibilities that people have back at home.”
Both of the Dragons stressed the importance of investing in the people, not the idea. “I’m looking for someone that knows what they’re doing and has a plan, the plan can change, but you need to start out with one,” Minhas said. “I’m investing in you because, though this may not be the idea that hits success, or the next one, I want a partner that I can believe in and trust with my time, money, colleagues, and resources.”
Romanow echoed a similar sentiment. “So much of this is iteration and trying other things. People always ask me what I’m looking for in a good pitcher, and you’ve got to have a good idea and good market, but after that you have to ask if that person really wants to succeed,” she said. “Because you don’t get it right the first time. Ultimately even though you want to think you’re investing in the business that they have today, you’re actually investing in the business that they will pivot to and grow over time.”
What was interesting about this season’s premiere was the obvious clash between ‘new school’ and ‘old school’, as Romanow described it — during a pitch from Dailydelivery.ca, a company that called itself an ‘Uber for delivery’ that relies on crowdsourcing for its delivery services. Romanow was quick to point out that it was a great idea, while Wekerle and Treliving — the latter mixing up crowdfunding and crowdsourcing — were skeptical on that model, saying that the delivery people wouldn’t care about what they were delivering. “I’m saying of course it works because we having ratings and ranking systems,” said Romanow. “We [the tech community] think this isn’t new because we live in it and work in it. We didn’t start our businesses 30 years ago. But if you’re owning a Boston Pizza chain, then of course you think it’s crazy.”
As the season progresses, it will be interesting to see the dynamic between Dragons coming from unique perspectives develop. “There’s an absolutely new dynamic which is nice because not only can you rely on retailers, you can have the instant gratification to know whether people are interested or not,” said Minhas on the shift of running a business in the digital age. “You don’t need to wait six months once it gets on shelves.”