A group of young entrepreneurs from north-end Halifax is forging ahead with plans to expand their salad dressing business and build a greenhouse with a $40,000 investment from the CBC reality show Dragons' Den.
The students asked the show's investors for a $10,000 loan — in exchange for five per cent royalties until the loan was paid back — for their budding company called Hope Blooms. They got four of the five investors on board and walked away with $40,000 — no strings attached.
"A lot more people have been messaging, emailing, following us on Twitter, going on Facebook, liking our page," said Tiffany Calvin, the group's media and marketing specialist.
"Everything's been skyrocketing through the roof."
It's been six years since the small business began as a community garden project with less than a dozen kids. The students planted seeds and tended crops in an abandoned lot in their neighbourhood, turning their produce into a line of organic salad dressings sold at the Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market.
- Missed the episode? Watch the Hope Blooms segment here
- Hope Blooms student on how life has changed since Dragons' Den
The community gathered on Wednesday at the Halifax North Memorial Public Library to watch the episode and be let in on the secret the students had kept for six months — that they'd won a huge investment.
Jessie Jollymore, a registered dietitian and the woman who got the Hope Blooms project going, said the Dragons' Den endorsement is already paying off.
"We've got a request, CFB Halifax wants to build us a permanent greenhouse so we're going to make that happen," she said Thursday.
"We've got requests now from Sobeys and from Pete's Frootique that they want us in their stores and we also are very loyal to people we started with, Local Jo and Local Source and Fred has been a supporter with us right from day one."
Jollymore said the children wanted the greenhouse because they could stay in business year round. She expects it will be operational in the spring.
"We're looking at building a really neat greenhouse that is going to be heated with coffee grounds and left over hops from the breweries and wood chips. We're going to be able to heat it year round in an organic manner," Jollymore said.
The dressing sells for $8 a bottle. From each bottle sold, $1 goes into a scholarship fund for the students. The group started by making 200 bottles per year but the business has grown to making 200 per week — and they haven't been able to keep up with demand.
"We've been making a lot more salad dressing and working harder, stepping our game up to the next level," said Craig Cain, one of the six students who travelled to Toronto six months ago for the taping of the show.
"It just feels so special, everybody coming out and seeing us."
Jollymore said it's about more than money — the project has given confidence and self esteem to all 43 inner city kids involved.
"I used to just stay home and do nothing but now I have something to do, something I'm responsible for which I can take care of," said Kolade Boboye.
"That's what I'm proud of."