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Big Decision time for local businesses

Dragon's Den offshoot hands out $250,000

Two Vancouver businesses will appear on the season two finale of The Big Decision this month.

An offshoot of the hit cut-throat reality television show Dragon's Den, the show features the owners of two separate Canadian businesses per episode seeking advice and, more importantly, around $250,000 in capital from one of the show's two business tycoon hosts.

The owners of both the Flag Shop, a local banner and flag manufacturer, and Gastown's revitalized Save-On-Meats restaurant and butcher shop recently pleaded their case to Dragon's Den denizen and Venture Communications CEO Arlene Dickinson, who Forbes Magazine estimates has a net worth of $80 million, in a new episode airing on CBC, Nov. 27.

Both local entrepreneurs are contractually sworn to secrecy on their respective verdicts but say the experience was worthwhile regardless of Dickinson's decision.

Flag Shop owner Susan Braverman, who took over running the 35-year-old family business from her mother Doreen six years ago, says simply participating in the show led to landing some major new business contracts.

"One of the challenges she gave me was to pitch a big-box company cold," Braverman told the Courier. "I basically found out on a Friday night that I would be going out to pitch a bunch of executives at Best Buy on Monday morning. Arlene told me I would need samples to show them and so my gang - my production and my marketing team - came together and helped create what I envisioned and I went out and it was fantastic. They've now turned into a regular client."

The show typically profiles small businesses desperately trying to stay solvent, and viewers often get to watch the hopes and dreams of business owners crushed by either Dickinson or co-host and fellow multi-millionaire Jim Treliving. "When you're somebody's last hope, it's never just business," Dickinson intones ominously in ads for the show.

Braverman, however, claims her business is actually doing just fine and she was surprised by the do-or-die way the show is being promoted.

"It's been a challenge because we are not a company that's struggling and yet that seems to be what The Big Decision is all about, and we didn't fully know that when I submitted the application," said Braverman, who has 12 more franchise outlets across the country supported by her flagship Powell Street location. "We are actually on the verge of huge growth, and I was aware that if I didn't do it properly then problems could ensue. That's basically why I applied, because this woman is a marketing icon."

Save-On-Meats owner Mark Brand, 37, echoed the sentiment, saying he was just as interested in spreading his philanthropic business model to other cities as he was in Dickinson's dollars. While he and his wife Nicole run several successful restaurants in the Gastown area such as Boneta, the Diamond, and Sea Monstr Sushi, they also provide employment, free educational opportunities and material resources to countless residents of the perennially troubled Downtown Eastside.

"The more people who can see what we do and the real guts of it the better," said Brand, whose business was also recently profiled on the series Gastown Gamble broadcasted on Oprah Winfrey's OWN Network.

"What I asked from Arlene is much more of a partnership on a social level. Yes, I do ask her for money, but I also asked her to put both feet in. It's a much different thing than just a business transaction and I can tell you she was exceptionally touched by what we do, something that would be really beneficial to a certain demographic that exists in every single city. But that doesn't necessarily make it a good business move."

The couple's latest initiative, working with Atira Women's Resource Society, involves providing daily nutritious meals to roughly 500 needy women living in single-room occupancy hotels. Their goal is to eventually serve a thousand or so more.

"We've created a model that has a circular mix; it employs, it feeds, it trains and repeat," said Brand. "There's no gravy, there's no funding from the government for the things we do - even though it is their direct mandate - and I want to grow these things but I can't grow them without money."

Twitter: @flematic

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