Arlene Dickinson on helping Canadian entrepreneurs find success

The Dragon's Den investor enables business owners via the District Ventures Accelerator

Image for Arlene Dickinson on working with Canadian entrepreneurs and helping them find success

If you’ve got stars in your eyes for launching any kind of a successful business, Arlene Dickinson is a perfect person to have in your corner.

The impassioned owner of District Ventures offers up a complete set of business support solutions through the company's various extensions, providing all sorts of assistance from venture capital to marketing advice, all of which can help Canadian entrepreneurs--specifically, ones operating consumer packaged goods companies--hit their stride and find a space to thrive in Canada’s retail industry.

“Nobody in Canada has created an ecosystem that actually identifies entrepreneurs that have ideas and they don’t just need to be able to get money--which we can provide through our fund--but they also need marketing support and programming support to learn how to be a better entrepreneur,” explains Dickinson.

Dubbed “cohorts”, each cycle of District Ventures Accelerator participating businesses spend six months working closely with an array of advisors to fine tune everything like marketing strategies and packaging. Regardless of what type of mentorship a cohort might require, the end goal is always the same: shelf space.

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Since launching this consumer goods entrepreneurial program in 2015, District Ventures has seen 69 businesses partake, including Calgary’s Wild Tea Kombucha and Drizzle Honey, Winnipeg-based amaretti maker Piccola Cucina and SoCIAL LITE Vodka out of Toronto.

“These companies start out [like Piccola Cucina] and you can have the best amaretti in the whole damn world, but if you can’t get it on a shelf and get people to buy it, it just doesn’t matter. It’s that last mile that is so important,” says Dickinson.

With the program continuously evolving, Dickinson, along with Sunterra Market president, Glen Price, announced last week that a new partnership between their respective businesses had been formed.

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This new collaboration will give participants of the accelerator program--past, present and future--the opportunity to have their products listed by the Alberta-owned grocer, which operates eight locations in Calgary and Edmonton. Sunterra’s newest location opened in tandem with the recent announcement, as it is attached to District Ventures at the west end of Kensington Road.

“We hope to continue to be involved and support as much as we can through the accelerator process, and part of that is not just listing every item that [is presented] because we need to be able to provide the appropriate feedback,” says Price. “We’re pretty open-minded to Arlene’s ideas in terms of where this relationship can go and we’re excited about seeing where all of these entrepreneurs can go.”

Both Price and Dickinson go on to emphasis that this type of collaboration with Sunterra Market is the first of its kind in Canada and truly unique in the sense that a small business is able to prepare their products for the retail industry and then follow it through to the Sunterra Market store shelves, the closest of which are next door.

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Outside of the retail world, Dickinson's other latest venture is the new CBC series Under New Management, in which the Dragon's Den investor and business expert work with different couples who are looking at taking over an already existing business. Dickinson weighs the pros and cons of the various businesses that are up for sale, as well as preps the potential new owners for the challenges ahead.

"I am so proud that I’m a female figure as the lead business person on a business show, and I think the fact that this show was conceived in Canada, that I got to be the business advisor on it, and that we talk to Canadians that have dreams about running their own businesses and showing them what that is going to be like... what it means emotionally and financially," she says. "It’s just been so much fun."