Local entrepreneurs optimistic despite getting shut out on Dragons' Den

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David Sali
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Ben and David Toeg didn’t exactly clean up in their bid to land funding for their hand hygiene product on CBC’s Dragons’ Den.

Brothers Ben Toeg (left) and David Toeg appeared on CBC's Dragons' Den on Wednesday night, but left empty-handed.

In fact, the two brothers from Ottawa couldn’t entice a single dragon into putting cash into freshnails, a sanitizer containing a blend of six “essential moisturizers and antioxidants” that its makers say kills up to 99.9 per cent of all germs and bacteria under a user’s fingernails.

The Toegs were seeking $100,000 for a 10 per cent stake in the company but left empty-handed. In a segment that aired Wednesday night on the popular series, the dragons told the siblings in no uncertain terms that they still had a lot of work to do to create a product with mass appeal.

“I can spend 79 cents and buy a big thing of Q-tips, a little jar of Purell, I’m good to go,” merchant banker Michael Wekerle said after learning freshnails retailed for $19.95. “I can’t see the value in it.”

Fellow dragon Manjit Minhas, CEO of Minhas Breweries & Distillery, agreed.

“At this point, I really just think it’s a gimmick,” she said.

The brothers Toeg did manage to draw a few laughs from the notoriously hard-to-please group of investors, however.

Dressed head to toe in Roman garb, including sandals and a centurion’s helmet, David hauled his older sibling on to the set in a makeshift chariot. When David explained that the word hygiene is derived from Hygieia, the Greek goddess of health and cleanliness, the dragons couldn’t help but chuckle.

“Why are you dressed as Romans instead of Greeks?” asked Boston Pizza founder Jim Treliving.

“It was easier to get these costumes,” David quickly replied with a grin.

In the end, though, not even that creative touch was enough to win the dragons over.

“You came, we saw, but I’m out,” said tech entrepreneur Michele Romanow.

Despite their disappointment, the brothers say the experience was worth it.

“To be honest with you, we wanted to get on just for the exposure,” Ben Toeg told OBJ a day after the episode aired. “They basically said, ‘We think it’s too early stage for us.’ Of course, you want them to jump on right away, but we could understand why not. At the end, what we wanted was to be on (the show). It was a really good experience.”

The segment was filmed last April, he said, and “a lot of things have changed since then.”

The company recently landed a contract worth more than $100,000 in Sweden and has already booked sales of more than $140,000 in the first two months of 2016, nearly matching its total for all of last year.

“We’re starting to hit some pretty big markets,” Mr. Toeg said, adding his phone started ringing Thursday morning with inquiries from other potential customers who saw the product on Dragons’ Den, including reps from Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

Mr. Toeg, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, said the grand chariot entrance was as much a product of necessity as anything else.

“I can’t stand for 45 minutes,” he explained, adding they paid a Toronto rickshaw builder $1,300 to construct the device. “We had to figure out a way that I could talk to them and not be standing for that long.”

Other things have changed since then as well, he noted. The company has cut the per-unit production cost of freshnails from $6.50 to $1.50 after switching to a different manufacturer in China, resulting in a substantial reduction in the retail price to $9.95.

He and business partner Sayed Dadshani have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own money into the venture, Mr. Toeg said, and have also secured some government grants.

“We’re at the point where we have to start raising investment dollars for marketing,” he said.

Being an entrepreneur in the real world, he notes, is nothing like filming a segment for a TV show.

“There’s not a script for this,” Mr. Toeg said. “You have to learn it as you go along.”

Organizations: Boston Pizza, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

Geographic location: Ottawa, Toronto, Sweden China

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