Dragons’ Den: Arlene Dickinson teases her Season 12 return

A new night and a returning favourite are among the changes afoot for Dragons’ Den as CBC’s veteran reality series returns for Season 12. After exiting the program in 2015 to follow, as she said at the time on her Facebook page (“some big dreams, ones I want and need to chase”), Arlene Dickinson is back and ready to do battle.

Things have evolved on Dragons’ Den since she’s been gone. First, the series moves to Thursdays at 8 p.m. And second, three Dragons—Joe Mimran, Manjit Minhas and Michele Romanow—who moved in after Dickinson left. Jim Treliving and Michael Wekerle return for Season 12, meaning Dragons’ Den has six business moguls on a panel split evenly into a trio of men and women. What hasn’t been altered is the shows winning formula: budding entrepreneurs enter the studio and pitch their business idea to the Dragons in hopes of scoring a business deal.

We spoke to Dickinson ahead of Thursday’s two-hour season return:

One of the things you say during Thursday’s episode is that you left the show to found District Ventures. Did working on Dragons’ Den and having entrepreneurs in front of you influence your decision to begin this accelerator program?
Arlene Dickinson: That was certainly a big piece of it. After spending all of those years in front of people, particularly entrepreneurs in the health and food sector, and they just weren’t getting the traction that I thought they should. I kept thinking to myself, ‘Food and health is so critical in the world today and Canada has a wealth of knowledge and expertise in both areas, I’m going to find a fund that does this.’ I realized there wasn’t one and that really got me going and led me to go out and support that particular area.

You also mention in the episode that you were called and asked to return. Were you called every year since you left?
No, no. When I left, I was pretty certain I wanted to go on and do the things that I did and would need a couple of years to do that and they knew that too. I’m guessing [the producers] said, ‘Hey, maybe she’s pitchable now.’

It seems as though with every season the pitches continue to get better and more complete. Do you agree?
Yes. I think there are two things that have happened over the course of time. Maybe three. The first thing is that the pitchers are definitely better. There are bigger businesses and are coming in prepared and know who they want to speak to. And the female entrepreneurs are showing up with more confidence and a little bit more assured about what they can offer, what they do and are building a business and that’s awesome to see as well.

There are three ladies on the Dragons’ Den panel this season. Is that representative of what the business world is like now? Is there gender parity in the boardroom?
It’s certainly not that way in the senior boardrooms of corporations. It’s not anywhere near that. I think the percentage is somewhere around 17 to 20 per cent of females are in the boardroom. It’s still really still one in five. But entrepreneurs are a different story. There are more and more women going into entrepreneurial endeavours, so we’re seeing a lot more women starting up businesses and doing them home or going out and doing them as a career choice. It’s definitely growing for sure. I think more women than men, actually, are starting up businesses.

You hadn’t worked with Joe, Manjit or Michele on Dragons’ Den before. What’s that experience been like?
It takes a while to get used to the dynamic or everyone, so it took me awhile to understand where they were coming from and how they approached deals. There is a constant yin and yang because we’re competing for deals, we’re competing to be heard, we’re competing to talk. [Laughs.] So it takes awhile to pick up on each other’s style. It was certainly very interesting for me and kept me on my game and on my toes.

Were you, overall, impressed with the pitches you saw this season?
For sure. There were some really great deals this year. Some that I was really happy that I was able to get and some that I was not so happy that I didn’t get! [Laughs.] That’s kind of the way it happens. In terms of the calibre of the entrepreneurs, yeah, fantastic. There is so much innovation going on in Canada and innovation without an entrepreneur is just an idea.

What can you tell me about District Ventures?
District Ventures capital has raised about $30 million to go out and invest in entrepreneurial companies that are in the food, beverage and health and wellness consumer goods. We’re out in the market doing deals. I wish I had done this 10 years ago because it’s so much fun. It’s also hard work. The accelerator has become Canada’s top accelerator for health and wellness and it’s been a really interesting journey in learning about the mentoring and training and programming you need to give entrepreneurs what they need to be successful.

Dragons’ Den airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.