Venture Communications head, Arlene Dickinson (Photo: Christopher Wahl) Venture Communications head, Arlene Dickinson (Photo: Christopher Wahl)

An appearance on CBC’s Dragons’ Den can offer many benefits to aspiring entrepreneurs: access to some of the smartest minds in Canadian business, exposure to an audience of millions, and, of course, money.

But you can’t get an audience with Arlene Dickinson (or a dressing down from Kevin O’Leary) just by walking in off the street. Before you can make it into the Den, you first have to win over the show’s producers, who host auditions across Canada in the months leading up to each season’s tapings. That means your pitch has to stand out among thousands of others.

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How do you do it? In the midst of auditions for the eighth season of Dragons’ Den, PROFIT spoke with associate producer Matt Faulknor about what it takes to make a pitch stand out. Here are his top tips:

1. Go easy on the gimmicks

Gimmicks are common on Dragons’ Den; after all, bikini-clad models or cutesy kids are the kind of thing that keep viewers locked in front of the TV. But such bells and whistles won’t get you past the audition phase unless there’s a truly solid and interesting idea at root, says Faulknor. (That said, dishwater-dull pitches—think: a man with a flip chart—aren’t held in high favour, either.

2. Do your homework

Faulknor is amazed at how often would-be pitchers fail to do even the most basic due diligence. Whenever he’s presented with a promising offering that seems a little too good to be true, he’ll ask the entrepreneur whether anyone else is doing the same thing. “They usually say, ‘No, we’re the only ones,’” he says. “But I’ll do a quick Google search and find five other firms that are doing the same thing, but better.” And if there’s nothing novel about your product, you’re not likely to get through.

3. Have a good background story

Have you overcome great odds to get where you are? Was your business idea born because of spectacular circumstances? Do you simply come from an interesting background? Talk it up in your pitch! Such colourful details are manna from heaven for television producers. “A good background story makes for great TV,” says Faulknor. “It’s my job to find those stories.”

4. Prove that you really need the help

Time and again, Dragons’ Den producers encounter entrepreneurs who clearly see the show as little more than a promotional opportunity. Faulknor and his colleagues see right through this. That’s why you’re unlikely to get through if your business is doing just fine with the financing you have—no matter how cool your product or service is. “We’re looking for the businesses that actually need the smart money the Dragons can offer, not just the publicity,” says Faulknor.

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5. Keep your cool

As captivating as it is to watch a train wreck, producers don’t want to deal with someone who’s going to panic as soon as the cameras switch on. The ideal Dragons’ Den candidate, Faulknor says, must not only know her numbers and demonstrate passion for her business—she must also be able to competently and compellingly pitch under pressure.

Auditions for the eighth season of Dragons’ Den take place in Abbotsford, B.C. on March 1 and in Vancouver and Toronto on March 2.

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