In the Dragons’ Den: Ottawa tiki-hut operators Palapa Tours get their pitch ship-shape

Ottawa entrepreneurs had 10 days to prepare for a 30-minute Zoom meeting to pitch their business, Palapa Tour: "the truth is, you only have three to five minutes to pitch and then it’s all about questions and answers." Photo provided.
Editor's Note

Ottawa entrepreneurs Mike Karpishka and Gaby Saucedo made the cut for this season of CBC’s Dragons’ Den. OBJ asked them to recount what it was like to prepare and pitch their business, Palapa Tours, in front of the fearsome dragons! You’ll be able to see how they fared when the episode airs on Oct. 20. In this first segment, Mike and Gaby rev up their pitch.


“For that reason — I’m out.”

The few words that sting your soul as a budding entrepreneur on Dragons’ Den.  It’s even worse when the words are echoed five to six times, dragon after dragon. All you can do is hold your head up high and hope it won’t look as bad on TV as it felt in the den. 

Going in, you know the risks. Yet, despite watching all the previous episodes, you get emotionally wrapped up and think, “Our business is different and the dragons would be crazy not to invest!”

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Some will make a deal with the dragons, some won’t, so what? All publicity, good or bad, is good, right? Not always. It depends on your expectations. Rejection is tough. I’d already been through it once before with another business.dragons

So, when the call for applications hit social media for season 17 of Dragons’ Den, a wide range of emotions hit. It’s tough enough to get selected once, but to do it all over again … including convincing your Latina business partner that it’s a good thing. The answer is hell-ya! That’s what being an entrepreneur is all about. You grind at all levels. From business excellence and top-notch service, to burning the candle late at night. It’s what most people call luck.  

The application process is simple enough. CBC begins seeking applicants in February/March. You fill out some basic information online and then submit a 60-second elevator pitch. Here’s ours: This is really where you need to nail it. Be creative, be original and, most of all, be authentic. 

Keep in mind, if you simply want money, there are banks, angel investors and venture capitalists. No need to pitch the dragons. So why do it? Because you are not only pitching for an investment with the dragons, but also for good television. If you are not ready to be grilled by experienced investors on national TV, then don’t apply! Rumour has it that only 20 per cent of all handshakes in the den actually turn into solid deals. So, 80 per cent is national exposure — good or bad — and many walk away without anything but their tail between their legs.

Once your application is in, you wait. Maybe they reach out, maybe they don’t. Don’t take it personally. Scrap that! Take it personally! Ask yourself, why? Then apply again the following year (if it makes sense). Follow the dragons and subscribe to any online pitching sessions they do. Learn the little things that make a difference (i.e., Vincenzo loves yellow). Join a toastmaster’s class if you have trouble communicating with passion. 


For us at Palapa Tours, we got an email about two weeks after our online application, inviting us to live-audition via Zoom. In the past, they used to do coast-to-coast hotel auditions, but with COVID and all … well, you get it. 

So, what now? Their email gives pointers on how to prepare, but basically you pitch as if you are about to pitch the dragons. From start to finish! Know your business and know your numbers (more on this later). If you can’t impress the producers with why this makes good sense for national television, you will never face the dragons. 

We had 10 days to prepare for a 30-minute Zoom meeting. The truth is, you only have three to five minutes to pitch and then it’s all about questions and answers. Don’t stress too much on the exact ask, as this could change. Be visual, be outgoing and be excited! Don’t worry about the numbers but at the very least have a solid business plan that addresses all scenarios. Gaby and I must have practiced for five to six days, recording ourselves on Zoom. We tweaked the pitch many times. 

Sometimes, visually appealing businesses make it to the den but fall apart afterward like mine did the first time around. We knew we had one shot to impress and it had to be out of the ballpark. We would have loved to film off our boats, but they were still wrapped, so we made the best of it. 

What happens next? You wait. They make it clear … This is totally a “don’t call us, we will call you” scenario. After 10 days of waiting, we figured, oh well, it was worth a shot. But then we got the call 12 days after our audition and were scheduled to face the Dragons May 9! Stay tuned for what happened next. 

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