Arlene Dickinson is one of Canada’s most successful — and recognizable — entrepreneurs. Best known for her role as a Dragon on the multi-award-winning television series Dragons’ Den, she built her fortune with Venture Communications, and just a few years ago, launched District Ventures — an accelerator, venture fund, and communications firm focused on turning successful Canadian companies in the food and health space into globally respected brands. She is a two-time bestselling author, an accomplished public speaker, a television and podcast host, and the winner of multiple awards for her leadership and entrepreneurial success. Arlene sits on several public and private boards and is actively involved in supporting the community. We caught up with her after the TELUS Pitch contest — she serves as a judge — to get her top tips for entrepreneurs.
When it comes to business advice, there is so much out there that it can be difficult to know what to trust. What is the best business advice you have ever been given?
I get that question a lot. And so I can tell you that, when I think about it, I think it really comes back down to my dad’s advice, which really wasn’t business advice — it was life advice. And I think, at the end of the day, they’re the same thing. His advice to me was to always trust yourself. Always believe in yourself. Make sure that you listen to your instincts and make sure that you believe that what you’re doing is the best possible you can do.
It’s safe to say that you have perfected the art of the pitch — after years of pitching for your own businesses, in your capacity as a Dragon on Dragons’ Den, and with your own fund and accelerator, District Ventures. What makes the perfect pitch for you?
For someone to be successful when they’ve pitched me an idea, there are three things they’d have to demonstrate: they have to be honest, they have to be genuine and authentic, and they have to understand what a win-win means. In other words, tell me how I’m going to make money, tell me how you’re going to succeed as well.
If you had to pick two characteristics that have helped you to excel in your career, and are important for all entrepreneurs to possess, what would they be?
The two qualities I think are incredibly important are tenacity and persistence. You have to stay at it and you can’t let something stop you or get in your way.