Pas­sion for busi­ness wins over drag­ons

The Sun Times (Owen Sound) - - FRONT PAGE - DON CROSBY

The win­ner of the 2018 Meaford Drag­ons’ Den is a young cou­ple who man­aged to im­press all of the drag­ons with their en­thu­si­asm for their busi­ness.

Char­lie and Jen­nifer Aitken op­er­ate Out­back Wood­shack, where they dreate hand­made crafts and func­tional goods such as per­son­al­ized signs, char­cu­terie boards, and cus­tom fur­ni­ture from nat­u­ral and re­claimed ma­te­ri­als. They also do home in­stal­la­tions such as coun­ter­tops and wall high­lights.

Wood is their spe­cialty but they dab­ble in other ma­te­ri­als.

Char­lie is an ex­pe­ri­enced car­pen­ter, welder and fab­ri­ca­tor and home builder while Jen­nifer brings her ex­pe­ri­ence in re­tail sales.

“I don’t even have words to de­scribe what it means tonight to win,” said Jen­nifer.

“It’s ex­cit­ing and nerve wrack­ing. I never thought that our hobby would be­come so much more than just that.”

The cou­ple is con­sid­er­ing es­tab­lish­ing a re­tail store­front, which would al­low them to dis­play their work. They are also ex­plor­ing on­line sales.

“We’re go­ing to use some of the money to ac­tu­ally trade­mark and copy­right our logo and name,” said Char­lie.

The cou­ple be­gan their busi­ness in Meaford and has since found their way into Toronto and sur­round­ing areas.

“Wher­ever we can go we’ll go,” said Char­lie who ac­knowl­edged the im­por­tance of their re­la­tion­ship and part­ner­ship.

“In any busi­ness hav­ing some­one is al­ways bet­ter, there’s pros and cons to it. We think we can use all of those parts to make for a suc­cess­ful busi­ness,” he said.

The Aitkens took home $13,460. A to­tal of $26,170 was handed out in prize money and spon­sor­ships to the con­tes­tants.

“I like their pas­sion and their hard work­ing at­ti­tude; they are just ter­rific peo­ple,” said dragon Alec Hec­tor.

“I re­ally was im­pressed by the part­ner­ship be­tween the two of them that they demon­strated; they were re­ally in it to­gether. You could tell they were each other’s sup­port ob­vi­ously out­side the busi­ness but clearly in the busi­ness, that’s re­ally im­por­tant,” said Hec­tor, who put in $850.

Hec­tor is a re­tired busi­ness ex­ec­u­tive who spent much of his ca­reer in se­nior bank­ing po­si­tions with the Bank of Mon­treal.

Kim Win­grove, chief ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cer of Grey County, also donated to the Aitken’s ven­ture.

“They are two peo­ple with a won­der­ful ta­lent; there is a true artis­tic eye there in the some of the prod­uct they showed us tonight ... if you have the kind of ta­lent the world is a bet­ter place if you have the op­por­tu­nity to show it to us,” said Win­grove, who gave them $500.

Joanne Keenan came sec­ond re­ceiv­ing $2,590. Her busi­ness, Mojo’s, makes plant-based pre­pared food for a range of di­ets.

She is cur­rently ex­pand­ing her busi­ness to in­clude a cook­ing school that will spe­cial­ize in the skills needed to cre­ate plant­based foods.

Other con­tes­tants in­cluded An­to­nia (Nia) Bracken of Fresh Ex­press, an on­line ready to make meal kit de­liv­ery ser­vice that will pro­vide plant-based in­gre­di­ents; Love of Brian, an an­i­mal sanc­tu­ary op­er­ated by Jamie Sirna and Beth Sall­wesky, and Devin Hannam, who op­er­ates Grey Noise En­ter­tain­ment, a pro­fes­sional record­ing fa­cil­ity.

He was the win­ner of the au­di­ence choice award $325.

The other drag­ons in­cluded Dar­ryl Hin­dle, chief hy­dra­tion of­fi­cer of Quench Buggy, Steve Bos­man, owner of MSW Plas­tics and Marie Cather­ine Mar­sot, founder and CEO of The Fraux­magerie Ltd. Each dragon came to the ta­ble with $1,200 but were en­cour­aged to do­nate more if so in­clined.

Win­grove was es­pe­cially taken by the an­i­mal sanc­tu­ary op­er­a­tion. Sirna and Sall­wesky are plan­ning to ex­pand their op­er­a­tion by hir­ing staff and hold­ing open barn days dur­ing which the pub­lic can visit and learn more about an­i­mals.

“I’m afraid I will al­ways have such a soft spot for any­one who is in­ter­ested in an­i­mals. I could not say no to th­ese two young ladies who are re­ally try­ing to start that sanc­tu­ary for the an­i­mals,” said Win­grove.

“It’s a dif­fer­ent busi­ness than the ones we saw this evening but I do think in that area be­cause of the po­ten­tial for tourists and the strong agri­cul­tural his­tory that we have in Grey County I think they do have some po­ten­tial.” She donated $500.

To cel­e­brate the 10th an­niver­sary of the Meaford Dragon’s Den Norm Smith of the Geor­gian Col­lege busi­ness pro­gram and Joel Loug­head, the cider maker at Cof­fin Ridge Win­ery, were asked to speak about the fu­ture of busi­ness in the area.

Smith fo­cused on the changes com­ing to ed­u­ca­tion while Loug­head gave a his­tory of cider mak­ing in the area and his fore­cast for the fu­ture of the in­dus­try in Grey County.

DON CROSBY/FOR THE SUN TIMES

Jen­nifer and Char­lie Aitken of Out­back Wood­shack, top win­ners at this year’s Meaford Dragon’s Den event.

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