UW alumni face the Dragons’ fire

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CBC&rsquo;s <em>Dragons&rsquo; Den</em> held auditions March 9 for hopeful entrepreneurs seeking a chance to make a deal with one of the five dragons &mdash; business moguls with the money, knowledge, and connections to help a small business get off its feet and become successful.</p>

Auditions were held at the Crowne Plaza hotel in downtown Kitchener. There, business owners had a chance to impress producers and convince them that they should make it onto the show.

While there were no UW startups who made it to the venue, there was no shortage of entrepreneurs with connections to Waterloo universities.

One such group was Alex Leyn and Mike Fisher, UW alumni (computer engineering and psychology, respectively), who co-founded Aterica and asked for the Dragons’ help before their idea hits the market.

Aterica’s product is called the Veta Smart Case, an EpiPen accessory with many features that help with convenience and safety when using the product. The case itself keeps track of temperature and expiry dates, and it features a companion app which further expands its use. It features a sensor that lets the user know if they’ve forgotten their pen, and when the EpiPen is removed from the case as a result of a reaction an alert is sent to a preset list of emergency and medical contacts.  

“We’re asking for [a sum] in an equity investment in the company. More importantly, [we need] the expertise and influence of the dragons in the sales and marketing aspect,” Leyn said when asked for the reason they auditioned. “We’re ready to launch, and making a big splash is going to be something that drives our sales forward.”

This theme was present throughout the audition lobby. The entrepreneurs weren’t just interested in the money they’d get from the dragons, but also the connections and industry know-how that comes with them. Small businesses are just that — small — and the guidance of a dragon can be instrumental in reaching a larger consumer base.

Other businesses present at the audition included Woggy, an app that links dog owners to dog walkers. 

“We were sitting outside our house, and a dog owner was walking by with a dog walker and they were talking about how difficult it was to find a dog walker in the neighbourhood,” explained co-founder Osman Said Ahmed. “We did a survey at multiple pet stores and Woggy came about.” 

Helping Hand Apparel, a small business that supplies many of the mittens, toques, and scarves found in the Waterloo Store, was also present at the auditions. Kyle Gauthier, the founder and owner of the company, is a part-time student at Wilfrid Laurier University. 

“A lot of the accessories were extremely expensive … students can’t afford to be paying $25 for a pair of mittens,” Gauthier said. “Quality is never compromised, but the price point is key for our company … We’re looking at a $10 to $15 price point.”

Aspiring entrepreneurs wanting to audition for the show for a chance to make a deal with the dragons will have to wait another year for their chance to audition in Waterloo. However, one of the producers of the show at the event, Eryn McCarthy, had some advice for making the perfect pitch.

“One thing people need to remember is that we’re a television show. So we’re needing to see  — even if the business isn’t something that is necessarily flashy … passion behind that, and that really needs to come through in the presentation,” McCarthy said. “Really think outside the box on how you are going to present your idea.”

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