Arlene Dickinson, venture capitalist on CBCs popular Dragon’s Den, received a warm welcome, but it was her urging High River residents to see the town’s business prospects through the front window, not the rear view mirror that brought business owners to their feet.
On September 25, Dickinson spoke at the Highwood Golf and Country Club for her sold out event titled The Highs and Lows of Being an Entrepreneur.
Known for her Dragon’s Den work, Dickinson, CEO of Venture Communication and YouInc.com, provided audience members a chance to learn her story, a veritable rise from struggles to success.
“In my mind, when you’re an entrepreneur, personal and professional are inexplicably linked,” she said. “Your business is your life. Work is life and life is work.”
The first half of the presentation saw Dickinson sharing stories from her youth so community members knew where she came from and that she had to work hard to find success.
“Many people blame their past on their existence and use it as a reason to not have a future,” Dickinson said. “I like to think of my past as something that is real.”
At an early age, Dickinson said she learned the value of listening and attempting to figure out what people were really trying to say. Her father taught her to face her fears and have courage.
“We all have lucky bounces coming at us all the time, but sometimes we’re just not ready for it,” she said. “We don’t see them, we don’t recognize it, so our arms are by our side and we’re too busy being down.”
These so called lucky bounces happen in business all the time, Dickinson said. It takes being alert—with the glove up, ready and waiting—to catch the ball. That’s all that matters, she said.
Nine years ago, she told community members she was invited to audition for Dragon’s Den. Her audition would impress producers and the rest, as many know it, is history.
“The best part for me has been the opportunity to sit in front of entrepreneurs like you and to understand and appreciate what this country is made of,” she said.
On June 20, 2013, Venture Communications’ head office was flooded in Calgary during the disaster that struck southern Alberta. Previously, Dickinson told the Times her head office had to be moved.
“I’ve had more stress in the last year than I’ve had in 30 years of doing business because of water,” she said, noting that she feels much empathy for High River and area business owners that were flooded.
However, she said the flood has provided her an opportunity to rethink her business, reshape herself and learn from the awful event and find out successful ways to move forward.
“If I have any message for you, it’s a message of hope and perseverance,” Dickinson said. “It’s a message of understanding how grateful we should be in spite of the disaster.”
Before her presentation, Dickinson received a tour of the downtown core from Mayor Craig Snodgrass. She referred to the community as a blank canvas, a perfect place to start new business.
“All I thought was I would open this and this,” she said. “I was seeing all this opportunity and I kept saying ‘what are you doing, what’s happening downtown, what’s going on here.’”
Instead of remembering High River for its recent past, Dickinson said local entrepreneurs need to see it through “the front window.” She noted it might be easier said than done for some who were impacted drastically.
“That’s hard to do, because it impacted you so personally, but if I was a young person who wanted to be an entrepreneur, I can’t imagine a better place (than High River),” she said to tremendous applause.
For business owners, encouragement is important, but Dickinson said it ultimately comes down to the entrepreneur to desire his or her own success.
“At the end of the day, I have to go to bed by myself and think about whether I can do it the next day,” she noted. “It’s personal, it’s me.”
She said a certain solitude comes with being an entrepreneur. One has to look inside themselves in order to find strength and a desire to succeed, Dickinson said.
“You have to be willing to say it doesn’t matter what they’re saying, I feel this,” she said. “I’m going to do this and it’s a dig deep thing.”
At the end of her presentation, Mayor Craig Snodgrass presented Dickinson with a special copy of W.O. Mitchell’s famous book Who Has Seen the Wind?
“We need to own this; this is our gig to put this town back together,” he said after thanking Dickinson for telling her story. “This is our future, this is in our hands.”
Republished from the High River Times, October 2, 2014.