The Canadian Barley Tea Company founders Janice Ishizaka and Cilla Watkins are appearing on an upcoming episode of CBC's Dragon's Den. (Contributed)

Pitch perfect: Entrepreneurs behind Shuswap product reveal pathway to the Dragon’s Den

Canadian Barley Tea Company’s Janice Ishizaka and Cilla Watkins to appear on upcoming episode

Sisters Janice Ishizaka and Cilla Watkins are unable to discuss the details of their time in the Dragon’s Den, but they’re happy to share how they got there.

The Canadian Barley Tea Company founders were chosen to take part in season 15, now airing, of the CBC TV series in which Canadian business owners pitch to win the financial support of the program’s experienced entrepreneurs.

“We were always Dragon’s Den fans and we knew it could be great for exposure and to, of course, meet the dragons,” said Ishizaka. “We always had it in our minds we wanted to do it.

“The issue for us is we were a little bit worried we were too small.”

After some discussion, Ishizaka, who lives in Japan, and Watkins, who resides in the Shuswap, decided to go for it.

“We applied and they said yeah, you passed the first stage,” said Ishizaka.

The next step in the audition process, due to COVID-19, involved a video pitch. The sisters each made videos on their cell phones, editing them together for a “short, sweet introduction to themselves and the company.”

In response, the sisters received an enthusiastic email from the Dragon’s Den production team, stating they were impressed with what they saw. From there, Ishizaka and Watkins were on their way to meet the dragons.

Originally from Salmon Arm, Ishizaka, who lives in Tokyo, got the idea for a Canadian roasted barley tea brand to remedy a problem she encountered whenever she’d return to Salmon Arm. Since the tea was a household favourite for her family, she would bring home a suitcase full of mugicha (barley tea) bags, as she couldn’t buy them in Canada.

Ishizika contacted her sister with the idea of making mugicha locally and the pair discovered they could source the barley in Armstrong.

Not long after, the sisters entered Okanagan College’s Launch-A-Preneur event. Watkins’ live pitch earned the sisters two awards and the support of local businesses including Askew’s.

“What really helped was the experience of doing Launch-A-Preneur because Cilla had to get up on the stage in front of all of those people and pitch,” said Izhizaka, sharing how the local experience prepared them for Dragon’s Den. “So she’d done it before. Or course it’s nerve-wracking to get up and pitch in front of the six dragons, but Launch-A-Preneur preps you. I totally recommend that program.”

Watkins and Ishizaka are also very grateful for all the support they have received through the Tsuts’weye Women’s Entrepreneur and Innovation Network. This included the opportunity to do a practice pitch with Tsuts’weye’s entrepreneur-in-residence Andrew Klingal and his team of business professors from the Okanagan School of Business via Accelerate Okanagan.

“It was a zoom call with five of us and really helped us to become pitch perfect,” said Ishizaka.

Having gone through the Dragon’s Den experience, the sisters have some advice for other entrepreneurs who might attempt to follow in their footsteps. Their first point is just do it.

“Who is stopping you? You are stopping yourself. No one else is stopping you,” said Isizaka and Watkins. “They can always tell you no but until you try you never know.”

Read more: Sisters bring Japanese tea experience to Salmon Arm

Read more: Tsuts’weye project positioned to help Shuswap business women through pandemic

Another point the two stressed is to be prepared and know your numbers.

“Almost every day Cilla and I were talking to each other, practising, writing questions, repeating the questions, because you know, if you’ve seen the show, when you go on, if you don’t know your numbers and you don’t have any answers to their questions, you’re dead in the water pretty much instantly,” said Ishizaka.

“Everyone tells you know your numbers. You may think that means how much you want to ask for and what percentage and how much you’ve sold. But numbers are so much deeper than that,” added Watkins.

One more point, something Ishizaka and Watkins have learned through a number of experiences now, is that it is important to practise your pitch.

“I really think it’s so important to practise pitching, pitch to your friends, to your mom or your dad or whoever,” said Ishizaka. “And you videotape yourself and watch your video and practise and rehearse. Everything is pitching these days.”

“Nobody likes standing in front of people,” added Watkins. “Pitching is uncomfortable, but once you get into it, it’s exciting and you are happy to share your experience and to teach them about what you have to sell and why your product is unique and why they should like it. So the nervousness dissipates rather quickly when you see their interest.”

Watkins and Ishizaka expect to know soon when their visit in the Dragon’s Den will be aired.

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