Graeme Smith's Gorilla Cheese food truck has been popping up all over Hamilton, but the steel-worker-turned-entrepreneur hopes to drive his big, black, bold mobile billboard all the way to national television.
After his partners pulled out of his grilled cheese business last year, leaving him with debts, Smith said he hopes to find new partners and new investment on reality television show Dragons' Den.
“Last year was very much about survival and paying out these debts. This year, it's about growth,” he told CBC Hamilton.
Smith was one of the 34 aspiring entrepreneurs who auditioned for Dragons' Den on Saturday, vying for a chance to get their products featured on the popular show and courting the Dragons — like millionaires Kevin O'Leary and Arlene Dickinson — to invest in their ventures.
Candidates lined up outside CBC Hamilton's newsroom as early as 8 a.m. with their props and products to meet with the producers of the show. Most of them were based in Hamilton. Some came from Toronto and London.
“Hamilton was well represented,” said Brian Corcoran, one of the producers of Dragons' Den. He has been travelling since January to dozens of Canadian cities to scout for talent from coast to coast.
“The city is top notch compared to some of the other cities we've been to,” said Jane Chupick, the other producer.
Born and raised in Hamilton, Smith worked with U.S. Steel for seven years before being laid off. He then went to culinary school and started his curbside business Gorilla Cheese, featuring grilled cheese sandwiches with ingredients like bacon, fresh basil, Granny Smith apple and real maple syrup.
Smith is asking for $500,000 in investment from the Dragons, which will allow him to keep his food truck, set up a storefront and a commercial kitchen. In exchange, he is willing to give away 40 per cent of the company shares.
His storyline clicked with the two producers.
“He's a former steel worker from Hamilton. Being in Hamilton and hearing that, that was great.” Corcoran told CBC Hamilton.
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“[His business] is a good idea, but his back story is what will give him the edge,” Chupick said.
The producers said they are looking for more than just solid business ideas. In addition to storylines, presentation and personality matter too.
Audition results expected next month
Colin Tozer, who pitched his baby blanket business, played the presentation card.
Tozer, a Binbrook resident who works in the construction industry, admitted that marketing isn't his forte. But standing in front of the producers with a baby doll strapped to his chest, he was determined to bring his business Toezer Pouch to the next level.
His product, a pouch-shaped blanket with straps, is designed to fit all brands of carriers and strollers. It also has a front pocket to store snacks and toys. Retailed for $30 to $45, the blanket comes in different sizes and materials and can also be used by adults in wheelchairs.
“It goes on a baby's carrier, it goes on a stroller, it goes on car seats for infants. It's easily transferable,” he told the producers. “The idea of the product is so your feet are always warm.”
Although his product is often compared to the sleeved blanket Snuggie, Tozer was quick to differentiate his design from the mass-produced Snuggie made infamous by commercials.
“It's much different than a Snuggie, [because of] the transferability between ... infants, toddlers and adults.”
Tozer is asking for $50,000 from the Dragons.
Successful candidates will be contacted by the producers in two to three weeks. The taping for the new season of Dragons' Den begins in late March.
Do you have an idea that could make it to the big-time? Tell us what you want someone to invent, and you could win one of two Dragons’ Den books, courtesy of CBC Hamilton.