The dragons are dialing Prince George numbers.
After auditions held in Prince George on Jan. 25, callbacks are underway for The Dragon's Den and one of the phones rang in a local entrepreneur's home.
"I didn't invent anything new, I have an entrepreneurial concept," said Craig Polley, a Prince George resident who spent 10 years in China. He has been back in Prince George since 2010 with intentions to return to his adopted hometown of Chongqing. He is an experienced small business operator (he used to own Polley's Sub Shop downtown) and a Class 1 professional driver. He managed a limousine company in Edmonton for a time, and he would love to open one up in southern China where the financial wherewithal has caught up to the region's monolithic population.
In Chongqing alone, he said, the municipal population is almost 33 million people, and there are more cities in the same region. None of them have limousine companies of any kind.
"In the city of Toronto, a place with two or three million people, there are 15 to 20 limousine companies. I would be the only one servicing all those people, in one of the business capitals of the world," he said. Chongqing is a state-operated subcapital. It is a manufacturing, commerce and political hub meaning there are 20 four- or five-star hotels doing a frantic business with international travellers.
Polley first moved there in 2001 to teach English and has, over those years, fostered close relationships with diplomats, captains of business, and hoteliers. They tell him they are already getting so many calls at the front desk - in vain - asking for limo service to get around the city or to and from the airport that he could already make a living, let alone all the business he would attract as soon as his hypothetical company was known to exist.
Weddings are also booming in the Chongqing region and are projected to more than double in the next few years, all of them with the same trappings as Western weddings customarily have. Again, no limos.
There are graduations, festivals, holidays and private company markets to also tap into, should a limo company open there.
"I can hire quality drivers there for the equivalent of $400 per month, and office space rents for about $500 Canadian per month, so the relative costs are low, but the demand would be massive," said Polley.
His pitch to the dragons - the Dragon's Den panel of real life investors - will be for $200,000 cash and a negotiable percentage of the upstart company.
Polley's meeting with the dragons does not come with a promise of TV exposure. The producers set up personal on-camera auditions for about 300 aspiring entrepreneurs and inventors over a 20-day period in spring. Approximately half will make it to air, due to limited space available (about eight pitches per show in a 20-episode season). However, the dragons have every ability to invest in any pitch they like, whether it makes it to television or not.
"There will be some Prince George citizens coming to Toronto for that process," said Molly Duignan from the CBC production team organizing the program. "You hope for the best, but not all pitches can make it. We know right away, sometimes, who we want for the live audition round. We roundtable, and certain niches present challenges but sometimes the idea is so unique that it makes a good first impression and in those team discussions the application shines through."
Many of the callbacks won't be made, however, until all the auditions are finished and the full array of business pitches can be seen.
"I know it It was a great turnout in Prince George, so we have expectations for more than one candidate," Duignan said. "That's one of the reasons we don't come to the same place every year. We switch it up. It keeps it fresh when we do return."
Those who missed the Prince George application day can still throw their initial pitch. Online applications can be made on the Dragon's Den website.
Polley said he has high hopes for acquiring the investment he needs to start up a limo line in Chongqing. He can be contacted at expatcow...@hotmail.com for any Prince George dragons who want to beat the television investors to the front seat.