Local entrepreneur breathes fire on Dragons Den

By Steve Hubrecht


Local business owner Sue-Rose Read was the talk of the valley last week after appearing on the hit CBC show ‘Dragons’ Den.’

Read is well known in the Columbia Valley as the founder of Oneberrie Innovations Corp., which makes unique hands-free baby towels, as well as baby lotion, wash cloths and hand towels.

Read, an engineer by training and an entrepreneur by trade, hit upon this idea of hands-free baby towels a decade ago when she was a new mother.

As she explained to the dragons in a segment that first went live on the show’s website on Wednesday, Nov. 22, when her first child arrived, like so many other new moms, she felt under qualified for the sudden and enormous responsibilities of parenthood. 

Of course, Read turned out to be a great mother (she now has two daughters and a son). But there were plenty of inherent frustrations, small and large, along the way. 

One of those was trying to wrap up a baby in a towel after a bath, when the infant was slippery and wet. Read outlined how she was constantly needing to tuck the towel under her chin, in her teeth or sling it haphazardly over her shoulder while using both hands to hold her child.

Surely, she thought, there must be a better way. But there was nothing on the market that was. So she created the first Oneberrie bath towels, which take care of the how-to-hold-the-towel problem with a simple but wonderfully effective button-and-loop system that lets parents easily strap the towel around their necks while picking up their child and then just as easily slip it off when putting the child down.

Dragons’ Den has been running on CBC since 2006, and is based on a Japanese show that began five years before that. In the show, entrepreneurs pitch business and investing ideas to a group of ‘dragons’ (high profile venture capitalists) hoping to get one or more dragons to make a deal: the entrepreneur usually offers a stake in their company in return for financing and business advice from the dragon.

Read was offering 10 per cent of Oneberrie in return for $100,000 to help grow her business. She gave a quick demonstration to the dragons, with help from an adorable infant named Aria. Read outlined that since Oneberrie began in 2016, she’s done a total of $1.2 million in sales, including $300,000 last year. This year the company is on track for $400,000 in sales. Read also emphasized her social mission, outlined her commitment to building a business in small town Invermere and her employment of local moms, who need flexible working hours.

Despite the large and growing sales figure, Read said she’d posted a loss last year, noting that direct-to-consumer (D2C) sales only account for 30 per cent of her overall business.

“Invermere is very logistically to do D2C,” she told the dragons, pointing out it costs her $22 to ship a bath towel to Ontario.

One by one, four of the dragons — Arlene Dickinson, Wes Hall, Michele Romanow, and Vincenzo Guzzo — decline to enter into a deal. Several of them explain that they think Oneberrie is a great business, but express doubt if it can be scaled up to the levels where it would generate the type of returns they would want to see as investors. 

This leaves just one dragon — Manjit Minhas. 

“I like you. I really do. I like the innovation. Because it is innovation,” Minhas tells Read, later adding “you just need to go sell, sell, sell, sell . . . and I’m going to help you.”

Minhas then offers Read $100,000 for 20 per cent of Oneberrie.

Read asks if she will consider $100,000 for 15 per cent. Minhas declines that counteroffer, so Read then says “let’s do it,” accepting the $100,000 for 20 per cent.

The segment was filmed in May in Toronto and Read has been sworn to secrecy ever since.

“It’s huge for my company,” Read told the Pioneer last week, the day after the segment went live.

She is a huge fan of Dragons’ Den and had actually applied twice before to be on the show, without getting on. As it turns out, the third time is the charm.

“It was so exciting (to be on the show),” said Read.

Where did Aria come from? She is the daughter of a friend of the Dragon’s Den producer assigned to Read for the show.

“It really is a huge production, there are about 50 to 100 people working on the show,” she explained.

Read said that although the dragons come across as sharp on the show, they are in fact “all very lovely” in person. They do ask pointed questions, explained Read, but most of her interaction with them is left on the cutting room floor, and only the most dramatic bits are left in.

In all, she spent about 40 minutes pitching Oneberrie to the dragons, which was edited into an eight-minute segment.

In the end, after the filming was done, the deal did not go through, however. This does happen with Dragon’s Den, explained Read. The deal made on the show is not 100 per cent final, and both parties have a chance to do some homework after the fact. In the end the timing was not quite right for Minhas and Read’s deal.

“So we (Oneberrie) are still open to an investor,” said Read, adding even though the deal didn’t work out, she is delighted to have been on Dragon’s Den and to see how the exposure of being on a hit national television show can help Oneberrie.

Read is also glad to have helped underscore the difficulties new mothers face and to bring some attention to women who juggle being a parent with entrepreneurship.

“If being an entrepreneur is a marathon, then raising babies while also building a business is an Ironman,” she said.

To find out more about Oneberrie visit oneberrie.ca. WATCH HERE