Arlene Dickinson On Her Return to CBC’s Dragon’s Den

District Ventures Capital
District Ventures Capital

After a few years off, one of the most well-known Dragons is about to return to the Den. Canadian entrepreneur and venture capitalist Arlene Dickinson will be back when Season 12 of CBC’s Dragon’s Den returns Thursday, September 28 at 8 p.m. ET. Dianne Buckner hosts the show that sees some of Canada’s top business moguls field pitches from entrepreneurs who want to do business with the dragons. Dickinson’s return marks the first time there will be six dragons as she joins Jim Treliving, Joe Mimran, Manjit Minhas, Michael Wekerle and Michele Romanow.

Dickinson originally joined Dragon’s Den back in 2007 for Season 2 and left in 2015 after eight seasons on the show. She departed in order to launch District Venture Capital, a fund aimed at investing in innovative food and health based businesses. Since then she has raised approximately $30 million and decided to put that capital to work in the Den. The entrepreneur, known for notable deals like OMG Candy and Balzac’s Coffee Roasters, recently spoke exclusively with The TV Junkies. She detailed why it was a good time to make her return, what she looks for in order to make an investment and what viewers can expect from CBC’s long running series.


The TV Junkies: Why was now the right time to come back to Dragon’s Den?

Arlene Dickinson: When I left I wanted to get the accelerator going and create an ecosystem to support food and beverage companies in Canada. Getting that established and done, when CBC called, that connection to entrepreneurs and the ability to speak in the Den to them and hear from them, is vital to understanding what’s going on in the country and with entrepreneurs. I missed that and the ability to have that conversation, and because I had built the accelerator and the fund, this was a chance for me to come back with a very specific purpose and put that money to use. It was good timing and an opportunity to speak again to Canadian entrepreneurs, and support the television show that I think makes a difference.

TTVJ: What kind of reception did you get coming back, both from other dragons, but also the contestants?

AD: It’s a very competitive Den and we’re all competing for an opportunity to speak, an opportunity to be heard and we’re competing for deals. It’s a very interesting dynamic when there’s six of us. They all know what they’re doing, but I’m guessing there was some apprehension about one more dragon back. It was like riding a bike though, where once I sat down I was back at it.

From the entrepreneurs themselves, it almost made me cry a few times. People were so genuinely kind about having me back and being able to pitch to me. It was just really lovely.

TTVJ: You had worked with some of the dragons before, but what was it like meeting the newer ones? Was there any difference having six and the gender parity on the panel?

AD: I didn’t really think too much about the gender parity. There’s six different voices at the table and for me, it was more about learning how they each approached a deal, thought about a deal. I was doing a lot of intentional listening around their views and how they see deals. It was more that than the gender side of it. It was more ‘OK, now there’s six voices at the table.’ I didn’t know Michele, Manjit or Joe, right? So I had to pay a lot of attention to how they approach deals, good and bad.


TTVJ: As one of the female Dragons, do you find yourself trying to support women who are pitching?

AD: I don’t start with that bias. This has evolved over the years, but sometimes women can be less confident or assertive around what they’ve done, less willing to cheerlead for themselves. To be fair, I think that’s gotten better over time and improved. I used to have to listen a little different when a woman pitched because I was worried she wasn’t giving herself due course. Now I think we’re getting some really strong women on there who are much more confident and much more assertive. It’s gotten better with how they present. They are more willing to say ‘hey, what I’ve done is really good.’

TTVJ: Other than the products and ideas they are bringing forward, what qualities do you look for in the entrepreneurs you choose to back?

AD: I’ve been really consistent with this. I’ve always said over and over there are three things I look for. I look for honesty, someone who is clearly telling me the truth. I look for authenticity and people who are genuine and being themselves, as opposed to who they think they should be. Then I look for people who believe in a win-win. They can help me understand what’s in it for me, but also talk about why they are doing it. When I feel like someone is honest, genuine and understands this is a partnership that is a lot of checks for me, and makes me want to hear more.

TTVJ: Dragon’s Den is going into Season 12. Why do you think it’s been able to be such a long-standing staple for CBC all these years?

AD: It resonates. We all have an idea. We all have a dream and we all believe. We all can see ourselves standing there, and that constant jeopardy between having enough money to build your dream and then having a dream. The jeopardy between getting financed and having the dream is very compelling and people can see themselves there. We all have a business person inside us to some degree and an idea. We want entrepreneurs to succeed and love them in North America, so the notion of someone beating the odds to go and live out their dream is lovely. We can all understand that.

TTVJ: Is there anything else about this season I maybe haven’t touched on that you’d like to preview?

AD: The dynamics between the dragons are going to be unexpected. You tend to think that it’s going to be more men versus women, but it’s not that at all. The dynamic is quite separate from that and more about six strong, different voices and how we come from different places that bring something to the table. The viewers will find that interesting because it’s not what people are going to expect. The people that do end up disagreeing are not necessarily the ones you think would. I’ll leave it at that. [laughs]

TTVJ: You are always a very busy lady, between the show, running your businesses, family and being an author. Besides Dragon’s Den, what other projects are you working on?

AD: I’m working heavily right now on the my fund and employing that capital to help other entrepreneurs succeed. Everything I do is around helping entrepreneurs, and I’m loving what I’m doing. Raising the fund was particularly hard to do and particularly hard for a woman to raise venture capital. I was really proud of that, and I’m happy that we’re getting to deploy it with great entrepreneurs.


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Dragon’s Den airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on CBC.