New additions to Dragons' Den seek to fan entrepreneurial flames
Heads up to the investors on Dragons' Den: a new colleague is looking to get under your skin this season.
"I just like bugging people," said Vincenzo Guzzo, president and CEO of Quebec movie theatre chain Cinemas Guzzo.
"Most people don't react well when the boat's rocked, right? And they get off their game. So by disturbing everyone — or bothering everyone — I get everybody off their game and then I can do my deals in peace."
Guzzo and tech entrepreneur Lane Merrifield are joining CBC's popular reality series Dragons' Den for the show's upcoming 13th season, premiering this fall.
They'll sit alongside existing dragons Jim Treliving, Manjit Minhas and Michele Romanow, as well as Arlene Dickinson, after her return last season.
The newcomers are stepping in to replace departing investors Joe Mimran and Michael Wekerle, who are leaving to focus on new ventures.
Launched in 2006, Dragons' Den features aspiring Canadian entrepreneurs as they pitch business proposals to a panel of successful venture capitalists in hopes of landing investment. The show is hosted by CBC broadcaster Dianne Buckner.
Over the years, Dragons' Den has featured a host of high-profile investors, including Kevin O'Leary, Bruce Croxon and David Chilton. The most recent season had an average viewership of 519,000 per episode, a drop from the series high back in season four, when it garnered an average of 1.755 million viewers per episode.
Guzzo — who also heads up general contracting firm Groupe Guzzo Construction and has launched several casual and fine-dining restaurants — said his strategy for the den is simple: blunt honesty and a take-no-prisoners approach to the deals that interest him.
"You're probably going to see me say: 'Product's OK, it's you I have a problem with' or 'Product's no good, but you I like.' … I need to get to that [entrepreneur] and I can guarantee you that the other five dragons, they're all going to drive me crazy," said the outspoken CEO.
For his part, Merrifield called being named one of the newest dragons "pretty surreal" and said he's looking forward to diving right in.
Merrifield is the co-founder of Club Penguin, a social media network and virtual world for kids that was later sold to Disney. Based in Kelowna, B.C., he's since gone on to co-found learning assessment tool FreshGrade and tech investment firm Wheelhouse.
"I've seen what it takes to be successful and I've also seen failure first-hand. So being able to take all those lessons, bring them together and be able to share that with others is something I get pretty excited about," he said.
Eager to push Canadian entrepreneurs
One thing Guzzo and Merrifield agree about is Canada is a hotbed of great ideas and aspiring entrepreneurs.
"We have a huge entrepreneurial spirit and I think that what Dragons' Den does is show it off. It proves to people that there still is innovation that occurs on a regular basis," said Guzzo.
"Humanity has always advanced based on exceptional individuals. I've never heard anybody say, 'it's because of an exceptional corporation that life got better.'"
Merrifield said he has found it exciting to watch Canada's tech industry "come alive" over the last few years.
"Canadian entrepreneurs have a huge advantage over a lot of other entrepreneurs throughout the world, largely because of our sense of empathy, our ability to kind of create and build and invent on behalf of others that I just don't see when I travel the world."