James Flawith and his “Lil Workers” get ready to watch Dragons’ Den in full safety gear Thursday night. (Photo supplied)

Vancouver Island entrepreneur strikes a deal with a dragon

Lil Worker Safety Gear pitched on Dragons’ Den

“Hello dragons, my name is James Flawith. I’m from Comox, British Columbia.”

And with those words, the local entrepreneur began his pitch on the nationally televised hit show, Dragons’ Den.

Flawith was pitching Lil Worker Safety Gear – his line of clothing with reflective strips, similar to what road construction crews wear, only in children’s sizes.

He was asking for $75,000, for a 20 per cent share of the company.

The dragons were all interested, initially.

“It’s really cute,” said Arlene Dickinson. “Kids would love this, because it’s so bright, and I could see kids not having to be convinced to put it on.”

“The other thing… this is actually really great for kids on the slopes,” said dragon Michelle Romanow, who is a director for Whistler Blackcomb ski and snowboard resort.

Then came some of the criticisms.

Manjit Minhas pointed out the clothing’s lack of breathability.

Fashion pioneer dragon Joe Mimran said cost concerned him, and should the product take off, cheaper knock-offs would soon flood the market, undercutting Flawith’s price point.

Then it got real.

“I get where you’re at. This is where I’m at,” said Flawith, before entering into his emotional final pitch. “I’m a father with three young sons, and I’m trying to find safety gear. I make the mistake of Googling ‘accidents.’ And you’ve got a choice: don’t do it, or do it, knowing it’s going to get knocked off, and save kids. I chose to save kids. So if somebody steals it, let’s save more kids.”

From there, the dragons started making their offers.

Michael Wekerle and Mimran dropped out completely.

Romanow said Flawith was doing everything right, but the business was just too small for her.

Dickinson and Boston Pizza founder Jim Treliving said they could help out with advice, but no capital.

That left Minhas.

“I think it’s a great idea, so I am going to give you $75,000, but for 33 and 1/3 per cent.”

“Let’s do it,” said Flawith.

The following morning, Flawith, an arborist who also owns Precision Tree Services, was still abuzz from watching the show.

“I was all geared up to go cut trees today and two people called in sick, so I take it as a sign from above that I should be focused on what happened last night,” he said.

Flawith said finally having the show air is a load off his mind. The filming took place in April, and because of his non-disclosure agreement he’s had to keep everything under wraps since then.

“That’s been tough. It’s been almost six months and I’ve just had to keep telling people that it was really intense, but that was all I could say. That was pretty hard, because so many people that follow us are interested in our story.”

He said he has been working with Minhas since the actual filming of the episode, and is still in the due diligence process.

“That started right away – right after the filming,” he said. “I was told I had 15 days to get all my numbers to them, from the time I walked out of that studio, in April. I’ve had skype meetings with Manjit, and we are working this thing together. Just because you shake hands on the show, doesn’t necessarily mean that the deal goes through. A lot of deals fall through during the due diligence process. I am trying to do my best to ensure that doesn’t happen to our partnership.”

He said choosing between Dickinson and Minhas was not as easy as it looked on the show. There was plenty of editing. His pitch took nearly an hour, live. The on-air clip was less than eight minutes long.

“I probably stood there for about 10 minutes, without saying anything (contemplating the offers). More than equity, I was looking for a strategic partner that I thought could help take this to the next level. So I had a bit of a mental war there. Given Arlene’s personal branding and her reputation, I thought at first, this would be more of a thing for her. But I think I made the right decision in going with Manjit. She has been super awesome to deal with, and her people have been very professional.”

Flawith said he went into the taping with no expectations.

“I was prepared for the worst-case scenario. That was something I prepared myself for before I even auditioned in Nanaimo,” he said. “I knew from the moment I signed up for that first audition that I had to be willing to accept whatever happened in the den, and make the most of it.

“Ever since I started making Lil Worker Safety Gear, I have been taking it to people and saying, ‘Tell me I shouldn’t do this; tell me this isn’t very good; tell me I should stop.’ No one has said that to me so I have just kept taking it higher and higher up the chain until I got to what is pretty much the biggest entrepreneurial stage in Canada, and managed to secure a deal. It kind of validates to me what I am doing here.

“To have someone offer to help me out, and another offer for equity, it was pretty vindicating, and exciting, for sure.”

Flawith said the plan for the $75,000 is to put two-thirds of it toward purchasing product, and one-third towards promotion.

He will be in Woodgrove Mall Oct. 23-29, introducing Lil Worker Safety Gear to the Nanaimo market.

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