Dragons’ Den Challenge promotes entrepreneurship among students in Hay River

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For almost 10 years, young people in Hay River have learned how to pitch a business idea through the Dragons’ Den Challenge.

The annual event – based on the popular CBC program Dragons’ Den – has been presented since 2010 by the Rotary Club of Hay River Sunrise.

Tom Lakusta, the co-ordinator of the Dragons’ Den Challenge, said the idea is to encourage entrepreneurship among young people.

Corrine Smith, then a Grade 6 student at Princess Alexandra School, makes a presentation at the 2018 Dragons’ Den Challenge last December.
NNSL file photo

Lakusta came up with the idea after noticing his children watched the CBC show and hearing that other young people were also fans.

“And that got me thinking if school kids are watching this TV show and it’s about entrepreneurial ideas, I wonder if they would be interested in participating in something like this directly,” he recalled. “So then that got Rotary interested in contacting CBC to get access for use of the Dragons’ Den logo and things like that. We got approval to do so as long as we did it in a way that nobody was making any money off it.”

This year’s Dragons’ Den Challenge is tentatively set for Dec. 10, and will feature students in Grade 4 to Grade 9.

“It’s for kids to realize that they could start their adult working lives by creating a job for themselves and they don’t necessarily need to be an employee for somebody else, that they can take control of that themselves,” said Lakusta.

The Rotary Club hasn’t tracked whether participating students have gone on to become entrepreneurs after graduating from school.

“What we have noticed, though, is that the kids that have decided to be involved in the Dragons’ Den come away with greater confidence in themselves and public speaking skills, and an ability to think through a project from the beginning to the end,” Lakusta said.

Some students immediately put their ideas into practice.

Rochelle Smith, now a 14-year-old Grade 10 student at Diamond Jenness Secondary School, twice pitched ideas at the Dragons’ Den Challenge.

“And a lot of people after my last Dragons’ Den presentation, which was a party planning business, asked me to plan parties for them,” she said. “I did a few.”

She has not continued with party planning because she has become busy with her studies for Grade 10.

However, Rochelle Smith noted that her younger sister, Corrine Smith, has continued with an idea from the Dragons’ Den Challenge.

Corrine Smith now creates art pieces called Picturesque Pebbles.

“She’s been really dedicated to that and it’s because of Dragons’ Den,” said Rochelle.

She praises the benefits of Dragons’ Den Challenge.

“It’s a really helpful thing,” she said. “I think it’s a really good thing to have in this community and it does help a lot of kids start their own little businesses.”

Rochelle noted that making a presentation helps a student plan out a business.

“It really gives you a sense of what it would be like to have that business,” she said.

Lakusta noted that some other students have also developed their ideas into reality.

The co-ordinator said he is impressed with every student who makes a pitch at the Dragons’ Den Challenge.

“These kids are taking something very difficult and they’re willing to take on that challenge,” he said. “It truly is a challenge for them to do it.”

Lakusta said, on average, 20-30 students participate each year.

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