Stories From the Den: Sarah Doherty, SideStix

Stories From the Den: Sarah Doherty, SideStix

Lifestyle | Posted by - July 7, 2014 at 1:00 am

“Necessity is the mother of invention” – a well-worn expression, but so true! You see, I lost my leg at age 13, to a drunk driver, but I was determined not to lose my freedom. Out of necessity I became an innovator, modifying my forearm crutches in order to realize a great dream: to climb mountains. I invented the snow-climbing crutch in the mid-eighties. It was my first “adventurous tool” and enabled me to summit the tallest mountain in North America, Mt. McKinley.

We had our work cut out for us to present our business plan to the Dragons in such a way that they would fully appreciate the value proposition!

Fast forward to the present and I’m still adventurous, but my passion for hiking long distances served to highlight many flaws in the design and manufacture of existing crutches. So my husband Kerith and I started to apply our respective skills in engineering and occupational therapy to the creation of SideStix.

We created many prototypes, and tested them in the most arduous environments, including 700 km on the Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain and Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. It was during our first year of business when our profits were only 30K that I somehow talked Kerith into pitching to the Dragons’ Den producers in Sechelt, BC – against his better judgment. Sales were low because we had focused on research and product refinement. And yet our neighbours in Sechelt had pitched to the Dragons when their sales were only 40K. After their Dragons' Den debut, their sales rocketed into the millions in the first year. SideStix could benefit from that type of Dragons' Den effect.

The scouting producers found our pitch a little dry, however, they saw the potential and matched us up with a lovely young producer to help us craft our story for TV. Six months later, we were walking across the famous catwalk and down the stairs into the Dragons’ Den! With SideStix we have changed the paradigm of assistive mobility devices. We have refused to follow the existing model of low-cost, low-quality, low-functionality and instead created a device that protects users from secondary injuries, has unparalleled quality, a lifetime warranty, and attachments to allow users to go snowshoeing, sandshoeing and hiking. Of course, all this comes at a high price, so we had our work cut out for us to present our business plan to the Dragons in such a way that they would fully appreciate the value proposition!

As soon as the Dragons held the SideStix and felt how comfortable they were, they loved the product, and decided to give them a workout on set by organizing an impromptu race across the studio. (The set director’s stern admonition to “never leave the spot marked with a taped X” went right out of the window!)

Each of the Dragons gave us their opinion and advice on business strategies and Bruce Croxon and Robert Herjavec both wanted to invest in our company. In the end we felt that Bruce was a better fit. He was active and adventurous and was committed to promoting health. Bruce even said he would love to climb a mountain with us and true to his word, the following September, CBC organized a film shoot on the Grouse Grind in North Vancouver. The film included myself, Kerith and Bruce, all hiking with SideStix on the beautiful forest trail, then sitting around a table at the Peak Chalet, discussing business strategy.

In the end, we didn’t actually finalize the deal. In order to maximize the return on his investment, Bruce wanted to mass produce SideStix and sell them through stores such as London Drugs. We felt this would take us away from our company’s vision and mandate to produce enhanced assistive walking devices that are sustainable, well-crafted, high-quality, and promote fitness and adventure.

Our encounter with the Dragons was an important event in this journey. It helped to focus our attention on the business, not just the products, and as a result we have grown over 30% each year since inception. SideStix products are sold all over the globe, and each time our episode is rerun we get a wave of calls, emails and orders, with the common theme of “we saw you on Dragons’ Den!” Sidestix has a number of new products we will be rolling out in the near future, including the FinGrip, a patented shock absorbent handgrip. Perhaps it is time to return to Dragons' Den for another pitch!


Bio: Sarah Doherty

Sarah Doherty, adventurer, occupational therapist, mother, and amputee, met Kerith Perreur-Lloyd, avid outdoor enthusiast, father and structural technologist. Together they set off on the biggest adventure of their lives: creating the best possible assistive mobility device to enable users all over the globe to be active and experience terrain that is not normally accessible to people who walk with crutches.

Following the loss of her leg at age 13, Sarah had vowed never to lose her freedom, however, conventional crutches are always manufactured at the lowest possible cost. Sarah knew that in order to stay healthy and active, she would have to create something better. Facing the Dragons was certainly another big challenge for Sarah and Kerith. Creating a successful business out of a paradigm-shifting concept was no easy task, and getting kudos from five savvy investors was praise indeed.

SideStix Ventures Inc. continues to grow and develop new products. They have recently been awarded a patent for the “FinGrip,” a shock-absorbing handgrip. Who knows where their next adventure will lead.

Tags: dragons den, sarah doherty, sidestix, stories from the den, profiles

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