Timmins inventors are not afraid to come under fire in pursuit of illusive treasure.
Producers from the Dragons' Den were at Northern College on Wednesday to hold auditions for Season 8 of the popular Canadian reality TV show.
The show's format revolves around a panel of five successful Canadian entrepreneurs-turned-investors who listen to business pitches from aspiring business owners from across the country.
At the end of each product pitch, the panelists decide whether or not to invest in the business.
"I've been doing television for about 13 years now and this is by far the highlight of my career," said CBC associate producer Matt Faulknor. "It's a great show and it's a lot of fun to work on."
He explained that almost every entrepreneur who appears on Dragons' Den goes through an auditioning process just like the one held Wednesday at Northern College.
In 2012, three Timmins residents appeared on Dragons' Den after successfully pitching their auditions to the show.
Local firefighters Rick Dubeau and Dan Keizer's invention – the Stoveminder – impressed judge Arlene Dickenson so much that she offered the men $200,000 and 5% royalties for their invention. (This episode is scheduled to be repeated on Feb. 24 and 25.)
Joanna Lachance and Lori Larocque also appeared on the show, representing their Timmins business LoriJo Fitness.
In an episode that aired in October, Timmins entrepreneur Jean Gauthier pitched his extra-durable Adjustable golf tee to the Dragons.
"We had a few on the show last year from Timmins, so we're hoping Timmins brings it again," said Faulknor. "One of the neat things about going around the country with this show is you not only get to meet new and interesting people, but also the kinds of ideas that people bring forward are different.
"An example would be the miner's lunchbox from a couple of seasons ago in Sudbury. There's an idea that wouldn't have been pitched in a Mississauga or Toronto. That's the kind of thing that you see sometimes when you go out and meet people from different regions."
Fellow associate producer, Priscilla Sreedharan, was in Winnipeg, Regina and Saskatoon last week to hear the pitches of prairie-based entrepreneurs.
She said that people coming in with extensive backgrounds might have a small advantage in terms of confidence and presentation. But she said that the Dragons' Den isn't necessarily looking for your prototypical entrepreneur.
"I think people who have the business savvy are just naturally better presenters, but I think we've had so many people come on the shows and they're like 'I've had this idea for a couple of years, I just really want to make it happen,'" said Sreedharan. "I think everyone's got a little business savvy in them. As long as you can make a great presentation, that's good enough to get you on the show."
Faulknor agreed, saying, "The secret of the show is that we're not looking for anything specific.
"One of the reasons, in my opinion, why the show is such a success is that it runs the gamut from super successful products and businesses that already have a ton of sales and a honed pitch, to pitchers or entrepreneurs who have little more than a great idea and passion and a great story."
Some of those stories and that passion were on display for the show's producers as Timmins entrepreneurs took turns pitching their products.
Former snack bar owner Claude Dallaire auditioned last year when the Dragons' Den producers came to Timmins. He explained what his plan was to impress the judges this time around.
"I'm going to make them a sandwich today," said Dallaire, who was pitching his Hot off the Spit line of homemade barbecue sauces. "Last year, I heard about it at the last minute, and I came but I only had t-shirts, a menu and a hat.
"This time I'm prepared," he said, taking out a hot-plate and a tiny, stylish menu he had plasticized for the producers. "I'm going to cook them The Smoker. That's a sandwich with shaved roast beef, glazed fried onions, Canadian Swiss cheese, my Hot off the Spit BBQ Sauce, all on one bun."
As Faulknor and Sreedharan chowed down on their unexpected lunch, they seemed to be genuinely enjoying Hot off the Spit's sauce, which Dallaire said contained 25 ingredients.
While the show's production value and audience reach might intimidate some pitchers, the auditions were quite informal and interactive. The producers talked with Dallaire about his story and his vision for Hot off the Spit.
It could be weeks or months before pitchers find out if they've been selected to appear for an actual filming of Dragons' Den.
But the producers holding the tryouts praised Dallaire's passion, a characteristic that most entrepreneurs require to be successful.
"This is my second time around. If I don't get a call, it doesn't matter," said a pragmatic Dallaire. "I've got my product, I can go sell it and go to home shows and keep on selling it. Now that I've got it going, I just keep on going."
Another audition returnee on Wednesday was Kevin Mulligan, owner of Woodchuckers Manufacturing sawmill on Jaguar Rd.
He brought with him a uniquely designed folding deck chair made of pristine eastern white cedar, complete with a built-in cup holder just conveniently big enough to house a frosty beer bottle.
Mulligan offered a preview of his pitch for the producers.
"It's one of the smaller sawmills," he said about his business. "Like anyone in the area knows, the large sawmills are struggling mightily and one of the reasons for that is they're just producing lumber. Well we produce lumber, but we also produce a lot of value-added products like this cedar folding-chair. We also do saunas, hot-tubs, gazebos, swings, Muskoka chairs, all kinds of things.
"I'm looking for investors because right now we want to expand," explained Mulligan about what he would be looking for from the Dragons if he was selected for the show. "During the summer months, we can't keep up with demand. We need a bigger workshop that we can manufacture more products, hire more staff. Right now we're sort of at capacity with our current setup."
Some see the audition for the Dragons' Den as a stressful experience, considering the stakes and the potential opportunity. No one wants to miss out because they're unprepared.
For others, it's just simply part of learning to be an entrepreneur.
"I'm pretty comfortable," explained Mulligan. "I've had to explain my business a lot before. I get invited to conferences. It's something I love to do. You're talking about something you know first-hand, so it comes second-nature.
"If I'm not working on my business, I want to talk about my business. That's just the sort of entrepreneur I am. This stuff is fun."
Even for the show's producers, it's not always easy to deal with the often life-changing outcomes from the Dragons' Den.
"I definitely think it's nerve-wracking and I have great admiration for every single person who pitches on this show," said Sreedharan with a laugh. "As a producer, I feel nervous for my pitchers. I get stressed, I'm like, 'Oh my gosh, are they going to do OK?'
"But it's a great learning experience to go in there and to just go for it. You have no papers, no phones, no backup. It's just you and the Dragons."