Pictou Advocate March 25th - Local entrepreneurs enter the Dragon’s Den

http://www.pictouadvocate.com/2014/03/25/local-entrepreneurs-enter-the-dragons-den/

 

Local entrepreneurs enter the Dragon’s Den

Posted on March 25, 2014 Debbi Harvie

The zipper is being sewn into the Stashbelt at the factory in Kenya. Jeff Davis and co-founder Seth Rozee of New Glasgow entered the Dragon's Den on Tuesday to pitch their Stashbelt creation.

When Davis was in Grade 11 in New Glasgow, growing up on the West Side, he was doing a study aboard in France and his father lent him a belt.
“My father worked as an engineer at the paper mill and when he was in his early 20s he went to a tailor and go them to make him a money belt, they sewed a zipper in the back of the belt that he could store money and important papers,” explains Davis.
So when he was preparing for his trip to France, Davis’ father showed him how to fold the money and photocopied his passport and identification and put them in the belt.
Over the following seven to eight years, Davis travelled to more than 30 countries with that belt.
“I got a fellowship in Kenya, working as a journalist over there and one day I was arrested,” recalls Davis. “I was covering a youth program and the secret police tear gassed everyone and arrested me. While I was sitting in jail for four hours they were accusing me of being an American spy.”
But then Davis remembered that he had his money belt on and provided a copy of his passport.
“That was my aha moment,” he says. “It got me out of a jam and then a couple weeks later the belt broke.”
Davis looked around for a comparable belt but couldn’t find anything until he came across a family of leather workers.
“They made beautiful leather items so I gave them the belt and they made one far more superior to the original,” he says.
The product was such an amazing quality that Davis had them make two dozen more samples.
That was in 2011, shortly before Davis returned home to New Glasgow. His friend Seth Rozee picked him up at the airport and that’s when the idea came for Stashbelt.
“I was a journalist, I didn’t really know how to market the product, so Seth and I discussed it on the drive home from the airport,” laughs Davis.
Over the years, they have come up with a number of different prototypes and are now on their sixth generation of the Stashbelt.
“A big turning point for us was last May when we started an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign and pre-sold 10,000 Stashbelts in a month,” he says.
After that they got their online store up and running and can now be found in five stores in Nova Scotia, Ontario and Saskatchewan.
“Business in Africa is more complicated than it is in say China, with getting items in and out, so we have had a lot of ups and downs,” admits Davis.
But since trying out for the Dragon’s Den they have been very motivated.
The hope is that they can get the capital to invest in more product to get more items out to the stores.
“Our newest model of the Stashbelt includes a 4 GB USB stick to store information on instead of photocopies,” says Davis and they retail at $59.99.
“There’s not another one like it in the world that we are aware of.
The Stashbelt looks like a normal belt and instead of rivets, there are snaps so that the belt buckle can be changed out.
“If you stop and think about it, if you get in a situation where you are robbed, as long as you keep your pants on you are okay,” he laughs.
Yesterday, the Davis and Rozee presented their product to the Dragon’s in Toronto.
“Seth was hesitant as first,” says Davis. “Kevin O’Leary is a tough customer but at the same time I felt like we were ready. There’s no time like the present.”
And a little bit of fate. Approximately six weeks ago, Davis was watching TV and Netflix wasn’t working so they put on cable and the Dragon’s Den happened to be on, advertising that they were doing auditions.
“The local audition was the next day, just down the street from my office so I decided to go. I really believe in our product.”
The product, as Davis says, is beneficial to he and Rozee as well as to the shop in Kenya where the belts are made.
“People, especially of a younger generation, don’t want to just buy something based on the price, they want responsible consumerism and we are creating work in a country that has 50 a per cent unemployment rate. Nova Scotia has a fairly high unemployment rate for Canada, can you imagine if it was 50 per cent, what that would do over years.”
Davis has a lot of what he calls affection for Kenya and the people there and takes pride in their skill and grade of leather.
“All they really needed was to access foreign markets and a product design, that’s where we came in.”
They also put 10 per cent of all profits toward the Stashbelt Foundation to help launch more sustainable African businesses.
“I’m not really nervous (to present to the Dragons). I’m really excited. I feel like we have done our homework. We have been working with the producers ‘playing Dragon’ and doing dry runs and I feel good about it. It’s an unpredictable situation but we are prepared.”
Davis says getting this assistance would mean a lot to he and Rozee. It would not only allow them to reach their goals, but also have access to the Dragons’ experience and the money would be a huge asset.
“I call it the Dragon’s Breath affect,” he laughs. “Being on TV is a huge promotion and Dragon’s Den is the most watched show in Canada with two and a half million viewers every week.”
The only catch is that whether they get the deal or not, they can’t say a word to anyone until the episode has aired.
“It’ll be hard to keep a secret but we don’t have much choice,” he jokes.
They have no idea when it will air and only 70 per cent of those pitches taped make it to TV so there is still no guarantee.
“We’ve put a couple of jokes in there and we are going to do what we can in terms of showmanship,” he says. “And Seth is a bit of a showboat so that should help. We just can’t believe how much support we have gotten from our home, Pictou County. I live in Saskatchewan now, but New Glasgow will always be my home, it’s a place I really love and it’s nice to hear people talking about us.”


For more information on the Stashbelt visit www.stashbelt.ca.


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