Ivey students step into a mock Den

“I hate it.”

Kevin O’Leary, arguably the Simon Cowell of CBC’s Dragon’s Den, has said these words to thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs. And on Monday night, one Richard Ivey School of Business student found herself on the receiving end of O’Leary’s patented, scrutinizing approach.

Visiting Western to promote his new book, Cold Hard Truth: On Business, Money & Life, the entrepreneur and venture capitalist sat down to critique two pitches from Ivey’s Honors Business Administration and Master of Business Administration students.

Mallorie Brodie, 20, presented O’Leary, MBA ’80, with the idea of expanding an online art gallery she launched only three months ago.

Start Gallery, Brodie says, is unique in Canada by providing emerging student artists an online locale to display and sell their works. Because the students have yet to make it big, art admirers can buy originals for a fraction of the cost while Brodie, as the gallery’s online curator, collects 40 per cent of each sale.

“It’s a dream come true for interior decorators, interior stagers or even home buyers because they can go online and sort by price, medium, size and colour of the piece they are looking for,” she adds, noting the gallery presents a solid investment opportunity because it captures artists at the start of their careers.

“We never know who the next big thing may be,” Brodie says.

In three months, her website has had about 32,000 unique visitors viewing 16 artists who have signed to sell exclusively through Start Gallery. She has made four sales.

But O’Leary didn’t buy it.

“I don’t think you’ll ever make any money on this. I’ll be honest with you,” he says.

One of the obstacles, O’Leary explains, is the difference between the cost needed to attract potential online customers and the annual customer value: How much money each customer would spend after visiting Start Gallery. Another issue is the difficulty to patent an online gallery; anyone could start one up, not just Brodie, he adds.

“I hate this idea. I’ve to be honest with you. I think you will starve to death pursuing it,” O’Leary says.

Though she half expected the outcome of the pitch, Brodie says she isn’t discouraged by O’Leary’s words.

“I’m still working on building the artist database. The more artists there are on the site, the greater the chances for more customers,” she says.

O’Leary was more receptive to the idea of SensiMat, a device that would help prevent pressure ulcers (bed sores) in hospitalized patients, an issue that costs roughly $2 billion in Canada and $12 billion in the United States.

David Mravyan, 29, and Allyson Tighe, 31, paired their respective engineering and science backgrounds to develop a patentable feedback system that would alert medical professionals of changes in pressure points of patients in hospital beds. The medical practitioner could, from a remote location, monitor and prioritize attention to multiple patients at a time.

Though the project is still in pilot stages, Tighe and Mravyan say the cost of manufacturing one unit would be $400, and every retrofitted hospital bed would save roughly $3,600 a year. They need $100,000 to get the pilot project of the ground.

O’Leary was intrigued, noting that the key to success would be selling the SensiMat to hospitals through a hardware distribution company.

“You should bring this idea to Dragon’s Den when you have some more knowledge of what’s going to happen. It has potential, if it really is proprietary,” he says.