Ottawa startup The Growcer triumphs on Dragons’ Den

The Growcer
Alida Burke (left) and Corey Ellis, co-founders of The Growcer, taking on Dragons' Den.

Friends, family and local business members gathered at Bayview Yards on Thursday evening to watch one of Ottawa’s rising entrepreneurial duos take on the Dragons’ Den.

Repping Ottawa in the Den was The Growcer, a company focused on providing sustainable fresh food to communities. Co-founders Corey Ellis and Alida Burke pitched their hydroponic shipping containers to the Dragons – a panel of six well-known Canadian business tycoons – back in May. The pair’s episode of the popular CBC program aired Thursday as part of a student startup special.

After asking for a quarter-million dollars in exchange for 25 per cent of their company, and receiving offers from four of the six Dragons, Ellis and Burke walked away with an equity deal of $250,000 for 30 per cent from Arlene Dickinson and Lane Merrifield – a handshake that brought the audience at Invest Ottawa’s watch party to their feet.

“This really shows us that it takes a village,” said Burke. “Being able to bring together everyone that has helped us from the start was really special, and has really energized us for 2019.”

Those in attendance got a firsthand look at how The Growcer evolved from an idea between classmates to a business with half-a-million dollars in sales, a feat which also impressed Dragon Michele Romanow, who remarked that the co-founders’ success had never been seen before on the show from entrepreneurs still in university.

With the ability to supply up to 110 people with produce every day for a year from one container, interest in The Growcer has been swift, and the company has grown from its first Canadian installation in 2017 to having a container in every territory as well as a handful of provinces. The fast-tracked success of the company even surprised Ellis, who explained that despite accepting the deal on the show, the team is going to hold off on the partnership for now.

“We did a lot more business this year than we expected, so in the end we didn’t really need the money we asked for,” he said. “We were able to get funded just by earned revenue from sales, but the door is always open to work with them in the future, which we would love to do.”

The team’s success is not only visible through their sales, but in the difference the technology is making to remote regions like Churchill, Manitoba where, with the help of The Growcer’s system, the price of lettuce dropped from $7.00 a head to $3.99.

The job now is to always be thinking ahead in order to stay on top, explained Ellis. The goal is to see a Growcer container in every province as well as to expand into Europe, with their first installation slated to be in Norway.

“My advice is never be afraid to be told no,” said Ellis. “Sometimes you have to just go for it and take those big gambles that you think will pay off.”