Stories from the Den: Lisa Von Sturmer, Growing City

Stories from the Den: Lisa Von Sturmer, Growing City

Lifestyle | Posted by - May 26, 2014 at 12:30 am

Waiting on the top of the stairs I was incredibly nervous. I was terrified. I remember being shocked at how silent it was. I could hear my heart beating. It was really scary. As I came down the stairs, it just became very real because that was the first time I met the Dragons. There was no interaction before filming. It’s quite intimidating.

Once we started talking, I had the opportunity to go through the valuation. I asked for $100,000 in exchange for a 25% equity stake and had sales at that time of $212,000. I began to get the sense that they were onboard and then I started to feel like OK, this isn’t so bad. I practised a lot beforehand and I made the people who were helping me be extremely tough because I wanted to be able to deal with any harsh questions, especially from Kevin O’Leary who doesn’t typically like green businesses. When I had the opportunity to explain the valuation (which didn’t make it to air) it really changed the dynamics of the experience because we all agreed on it. That allowed me to talk about my business and future opportunities for them. I received offers from Arlene Dickinson, Kevin O’Leary and Jim Treliving, and accepted an offer from Jim.

Since the show aired, we’ve received between 700 and 800 applications from people in Australia, South America and Brussels who want to open a Growing City. We had no idea Dragons’ Den had that kind of reach.

Right after the show taped, I met with Jim’s agent and had to sign an exclusivity contract that basically stated I wouldn’t speak to any other investors until we’d completed the due diligence process. We worked together for about five months. I had to send in monthly reports, and we did site visits. At the end of the day, we had different visions for where we wanted the company to go. Initially, I was disappointed but I think it turned out to be better for Growing City. Jim had wanted me to franchise the business but once I started digging into what that would look like, I felt it wasn’t the direction I wanted to take because you lose quite a bit of control and there are a number of liability issues.

After the show aired, we ended up getting so much attention; it was almost overwhelming. We doubled our sales that year and I had to hire new staff. As it turned out, I didn’t need the initial investment I had asked for, which was great.

I received a lot of job applications afterwards. I ended up hiring a business development manager who is an MBA, and an operations manager who used to work in the waste management industry in Scotland. They are lovely and wonderful and have really helped grow the company. I never expected there would be so many likeminded people from different industries excited to do something positive and in line with their values. I had no idea so many people felt the same way I did.

In 2015, Metro Vancouver will ban organics from landfills. Everybody here is gearing up for organic recycling and we want to make sure we make the most of this opportunity to grow our base, improve our processes and expand as much as we can here before we move into other markets. Once we do that, the next step for us is to open in Toronto. Since the show aired, we’ve received between 700 and 800 applications from people in Australia, South America and Brussels who want to open a Growing City. We had no idea Dragons’ Den had that kind of reach. I know that opportunity is there and I’m excited about it but I don’t want to open new branches before I’m sure my current base can sustain it. I like to grow slow and steady, versus spreading myself too thin, too quick.


Bio: Lisa Von Sturmer

Media and animation graduate Lisa von Sturmer started her career in the film and television industry but decided to change gears so she could leave a positive legacy. A weeklong trip to Savary Island, BC, where recycling and composting are mandatory, introduced her to how impactful composting is. When she returned home a search for commercial/corporate composting services revealed an opportunity, “No one was taking care of the organic waste produced in workplaces in Canada, the U.S. or Europe.” In 2009, with an investment from the Canadian Youth Business Foundation, she launched Growing City, the first company to focus on corporate organics in North America. It installs sustainably made stainless steel bins in clients’ offices and offers organics recycling services, as well as traditional in-office recycling. It was an immediate hit in Vancouver and in 2012 von Sturmer decided to introduce Growing City to a larger audience by taking part in CBC’s hit reality TV series Dragons’ Den. Here she shares what it’s like to pitch the Dragons and life after the Den.

Tags: corporate responsibility, dragons den, growingcity, jim treliving, profiles

Mary Teresa Bitti
Mary Teresa Bitti is the founder of MTB Writing & Editing Services Inc. based in Oakville, Ontario. She writes regularly about business, entrepreneurship and philanthropy and works with organizations to help them craft and share their stories.
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