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Former Dragon willing to take a risk with you


TORONTO — Former Dragons’ Den co-star W. Brett Wilson says he’s proud of his work on the CBC-TV business investment series, and he’s thankful for what the show did to raise his brand.

But the Calgary-based businessman and philanthropist feels his new Slice series Risky Business falls more in line with his personal principles than Dragons’ Den ever did.

“I had said publicly, ‘If I’m going to do more TV, it has to celebrate entrepreneurship,”’ said Wilson, who split from Dragons’ Den last February after contract talks failed.

“For me, Dragons’ Den isn’t living up to the potential of celebrating entrepreneurship. It’s raising the profile but we’re not really doing all that we could do and that’s really the lost opportunity.

“But that’s OK, it’s not my show. ... Now (with Risky Business) we get a show that actually celebrates entrepreneurship right from start to finish and I jumped all over it.”

Debuting on Monday (at 7 p.m.) on Slice, Risky Business sees Canadian couples — from spouses to siblings and friends — betting their savings on one of two investment opportunities proposed by two different entrepreneurs.

The amount of money the couples cough up ranges from about $10,000 to $20,000, and they invest it for just 30 days.

Wilson advises the duos as they decide which investment to pick and then strikes his own deal with the entrepreneur they reject.

After the 30 days is up, Wilson meets up with the investors to assess the results of each of their deals.

“What the show’s doing is opening people’s eyes to all the other things you can do that are real business, real opportunities,” Wilson said during a break from shooting the show at a mansion just west of Toronto this summer.

“The investors are coming to the show with a whole range of dreams, if you will. In one case, someone wants to help their father buy a retirement home in southern Florida. Another, they want to start saving for a child’s education.”

Risky Business is based on the British TV show Beat the Bank. Investment opportunities on the Canadian version include house and car flips, a pool tournament, a poker gala and a charity event.

Wilson — who is chairman of Canoe Financial and Prairie Merchant Corporation — said he invested $150,000 to $200,000 of his own money during the 13 episodes of the show.

The co-founder of FirstEnergy Capital Corp., can’t reveal the results from the deals made on the show, but said “there’s been some winners and there’s been some not-winners.”

“I hate calling them losers, but there are some deals that haven’t worked out and that’s just reality. Frankly, we’re not going to pretend that it isn’t real. It has happened.”

On Dragons’ Den, Wilson was known as the generous and nice one, striking more on-air deals (60 of them, 30 of which closed) than the rest of the fire-breathing bunch.

“I often say that criticism is free but action requires courage, brains and sometimes a wallet and I would rather speak with action,” he said.

When Wilson’s contract talks with the show failed, he said was prepared to walk away from TV forever.

But just four days later, he got a call from the creators of Risky Business, asking if he’d like to host.

Within 10 days, he had cut a new deal to be back on TV again.

Risky Business, he said, is a genuine depiction of the investor-entrepreneur relationship and is “life-changing” for participants.

“I’m actually very proud of what we’re accomplishing on this show,” said Wilson, whose Dragons’ Den replacement is his friend Bruce Croxon, co-founder of the online dating site Lavalife.

“I honestly don’t care what the ratings are — I’m very proud about what we’ve accomplished as a group.”

 
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