Stories From the Den: Lee Renshaw, Rise Gear

Stories From the Den: Lee Renshaw, Rise Gear

Lifestyle | Posted by - August 6, 2014 at 1:00 am

I could feel my adrenaline pumping as my brother and I stood at the top of the stairs waiting for our cue to enter the Den. My mind was racing. What would they think of our business? What would they think of the product that I put my heart and soul into? We didn’t have very much in sales and had hardly been in business yet. Most of all, what would these millionaires think when Sean and I walked down the stairs and asked for money, all the while standing there in our underwear...

I bought a sewing machine and learned to sew, stapled the shelves inside a duffel bag and shipped it to my manufacturer in the hopes that I could get this started.

Before this defining moment took place, I had spent a year developing and refining a travel bag built around making it as easy as possible to stay organized, find my stuff and keep my clothes neat. I bought a sewing machine and learned to sew, stapled the shelves inside a duffel bag and shipped it to my manufacturer in the hopes that I could get this started. Once I was happy with the samples, I asked for my brother’s help and we saved our pennies and bought our first shipment! After the shipment arrived, we realized we had another problem: no one knew this great product existed! It was the day before the last Dragons’ Den auditions and Sean suggested that we go. We nailed it. Eventually we received a phone call that we were selected to pitch to the Dragons! We had 7 days to prepare and we needed to make a splash so that people would take notice of our business.

So there we were in our underwear. We walked down with all the confidence we could muster and we could hear the Dragons chuckle as we entered the Den. This could go really well… or really bad. We started our well-rehearsed pitch and Kevin O’Leary got really excited and started asking us questions. Sean kindly asked to let us finish telling them about our business. We asked for $100,000 in exchange for 40% of the business. We hadn’t had a chance to get any sales other than getting into Air Miles as a gift that could be redeemed for points. We had built up so much anticipation explaining the problem we were solving that when I finally opened up our unassuming Rise bag and popped out the shelves, Kevin and the other Dragons were hooked! We were looking for help to market the company and grow the product line because we had big plans of where we wanted to take it. We quickly received an offer from Kevin O’Leary; Jim Treliving joined him with the proposal of going to the “big” luggage companies, licensing them the technology, and collecting a royalty cheque for 50% of the business. Alternatively, Arlene submitted her offer to help us license the technology and market the brand. Seeing that almost everyone was on board David Chilton chimed in and eventually joined Arlene. They also offered us a deal for 50% of the business. We had a tough choice to make and ultimately decided to work with Arlene and David to grow the brand and make a business of it.

In the months that ensued we worked extensively with David Chilton to see if we could come up with an agreement but we were ultimately too new for them to really get a good sense of the valuation. Sean and I realized that we were spending too much time trying to make the deal work that we kindly bowed out of the negotiations to focus on growing the company. 

Once the episode aired we sold out of bags in 2 weeks! We were scrambling to find more inventory and worked with manufacturers here in Canada as we developed our supply chain overseas for the long-term vision. Over the last year we have been refining the concept, limiting our sales to our e-commerce store, and preparing the company for expansion into retail for 2015!


Bio: Lee Renshaw

While Lee Renshaw was a student in industrial design, he spent a lot of time commuting back and forth. To save gas money and time, he’d spend any night he could at a friend’s house with only his backpack for school supplies and a duffel bag that he lived out of for four years. After his clothes consistently became wrinkled and smelly from the bag he realized that he needed a better approach. He bought a sewing machine, taught himself to sew and made a prototype that featured a built-in shelving system and hamper to separate laundry from clean clothes. The designer and budding entrepreneur spent his spare time over the next three years refining Rise Gear, eventually bringing on his brother, Sean Renshaw, to help him build the company. Rise has continued to rise ever since. Check out more at!

Tags: rise gear, lee renshaw, den, stories, dragons den, profiles

Marayna Dickinson
August 6, 2014 at 9:46 am
Great story and concept!
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