Pitch ?Perfect

When the banks won’t bite 
on your great idea, try a 
dose of reality TV

The big plan for economic recovery has turned into something of a dog-and-pony show. Banks that were supposed to be ponying up loan money have been dogging it instead. With tight credit conditions expected through the first half of 2010, it sometimes seems the only entrepreneurial money to be found is guarded by another kind of beast entirely: dragons.

These days if you’re a startup seeking a little cash, you may well have to brave the terror of the Dragons’ Den. The CBC reality series features a panel of investors – Kevin O’Leary, Arlene Dickinson, Robert Herjavec, Brett Wilson and Jim Treliving – listening to business pitches and deciding whether to invest their own money. “Things are nowhere near as good as the government is making out,” says ringleader O’Leary, calling from the back of a chauffeured car somewhere in Boston. “Large-cap companies worth over a billion are seeing things loosen up now, but nothing is loosening up for small businesses. Dragons’ Den is a real option. Where else can you raise $250,000? I’ll give it to you if I think I can make money.”

Perhaps the government is approaching this stimulus thing all wrong. Maybe what we need is more reality TV. Besides, some things just sell better visually. One middle-aged Nanaimo couple recently appeared on the show seeking a mere $30,000 for a small business that involves handcrafted sequined jumpsuits specifically designed for Elvis impersonators. Show up at the bank with your Elvis togs in tow and you might find your chorus of “Don’t Be Cruel” being greeted by “Suspicious Minds.” Yet Eleanor and Tim von Beotticher of Pro Elvis Jumpsuits got the deal they were looking for, and now they have extra cash to increase their inventory of models such as the Owl Star, Aloha, Pinwheel and that prom favourite, Powder Blue. Money does not recognize taste.

Or consider Kevin Royes of North Vancouver, a man with a plan to take on the entire Swiss Army. It’s the kind of plan that would surely appear foolhardy to a loan officer, particularly since Royes was after half a million bucks to stock up on munitions. His weapon of choice: the Kelvin 23, an all-in-one tool for home handywork. Royes got his deal in exchange for a 25 per cent stake in the company. For the likes of Royes, the show was a legitimate means of getting a financial leg-up.

But does the Dragons’ example suggest that banks are missing opportunities? Has all that TV investing paid off for the panellists? O’Leary says that so far only one of his investments (a product called PicDial) has brought in big returns; for the rest, it’s too early to say. Regardless, O’Leary touts the benefits of free publicity, claiming that after being seen on the show, products average a 35 per cent sales increase, deal or not.

Exposure is exactly what I need right now as I’m about to launch my own brilliant invention called Shower Tune. You may be familiar with Auto-Tune, the famous tool that helps bad singers sing on key in the recording studio and enables the career of T-Pain. Now comes a shower-time version. Just as Auto-Tune has revolutionized the recording industry, Shower Tune will change the way you sing while lathered in suds. Not only will you sound good in the shower, you’ll sound like Cher. 

To be precise, it’s not exactly my idea: my friends Colter and Ky actually came up with it. But that’s OK, because it doesn’t actually exist yet. We still need to go through the formality of actually inventing the thing and getting a patent. And waterproofing. Minor stuff. The hard work – the brilliant idea – is done. 

This thing is a guaranteed Dragon-slayer. Or will be, as soon as I can get O’Leary on the phone again. Strange – he must have left his phone in the limo. n