A former St. Albert resident and inventor of a home gym is appearing on Dragons’ Den to make a pitch for an injection of cash.
Describing the outcome, Michael Bulva says, “I’m very happy with the results.” However, he is tight-lipped and remains under contractual obligation not to reveal the discussion until the episode of the reality show airs Wednesday Feb. 2 on CBC.
Four years ago Bulva, now a North Vancouver resident, initiated SoloStrength, a company that develops a one-piece commercial quality home gym targeted to busy parents.
The SoloStrength gym, a simple piece of tubing attached to a broad base, provides the benefits of resistance training through a series of body-weight based exercises.
“There are very few moving parts. You can adjust the support bar and that allows you to go through a range of exercises and you can modify the resistance level. It tests you against yourself,” Bulva says.
The 1989 St. Albert Catholic High graduate had initially enrolled at the University of Alberta in engineering but graduated in 1994 with a business degree in commerce. Immediately upon graduating he moved to Vancouver and applied his business acumen to interior design.
Bulva had also trained heavily in minor hockey and loved being fit. However, when his son was born, gym time was sharply curtailed and he became frustrated at compromising fitness.
Realizing there were many young parents in the same situation, he built a SoloStrength prototype from wood and an old shower curtain. Several prototypes later, he explored the idea of possibly manufacturing in China and selling online.
“We sold out of the product. Our next step was to license to a manufacturer. But this is a product-based business and it was expensive. You can’t manufacture it in the basement.”
Realizing he needed large volume distribution to make the product viable, Bulva started scouting around for investment capital in 2009. “Money was so hard to come by and I was looking on the low end — about $250,000.”
Now he believes he’ll need 10 times that much to manufacture and distribute the home gym.
Several people suggested pitching to Dragons’ Den. “I had wavering feelings about them. I’m used to working with business people, not reality and media people who look for shock and emotion.”
But in February 2010, Bulva heard a radio commercial for auditions and headed down to the studio with his seven-year-old son in tow. The producer liked the pitch and invited the fitness fan back for an April taping.
Aspiring entrepreneurs are given between 10 and 30 minutes to make their pitch while facing five savvy multi-millionaires. “I was feeling a bit perplexed. It was exciting to be there and I knew what I had to achieve, but I was a bit worried.”
The cameras kept rolling with no stops. “All of them (dragons) fire questions. You want to be respectful and ensure the questions are answered but it’s hard to stay on target.”
Bulva sums up his experience as “one step in a long road.” Dragons’ Den airs Wednesday at 8 p.m.