Asper MBA alumna slays Dragons
Armed with a million-dollar idea, Elaine Cadrin (MBA/93) ventured into the Dragons’ Den and emerged victorious. The Calgary entrepreneur pitched her business, CheeCha Puffs, on CBC’s hit television show Dragons’ Den on October 14. Two of the Dragons — Michael Wekerle and Michele Romanow — were so impressed by the tasty product, they combined to make an offer of $400,000 for 20 per cent of the business.
Cadrin developed CheeCha Puffs in her kitchen after graduating with an MBA from the University of Manitoba’s Asper School of Business. Since then, she’s developed the brand into a million dollar-plus business. CheeCha Puffs, a hot air puffed treat, is low in fat and calories, and cholesterol free. Her product sells across Canada at most retail grocery stores and health food stores.
While Cadrin ultimately declined the Dragons’ offer, she says appearing on the show boosted sales in a “big way.”
“We have new customers coming on board all the time, and the product is flying off the shelves. That’s huge for us because this business is all about brand recognition.”
Formerly a teacher, Cadrin always knew she wanted to start her own business — an impulse that eventually led her to pursue her MBA. “But I didn’t want to learn the ropes of running a business by starting at the bottom and climbing my way to the top,” she says. “I was a mature student, so the MBA was the best option to give me the know-how I needed to open up my options right away.”
Cadrin says the program taught her perseverance, a quality that has served her well as an entrepreneur. “I remember my first accounting paper came back with a D. Now, I’d been a teacher, so you can imagine how devastating that was for me. Everything I was learning in the MBA was so foreign to anything I’d done before. But I kept at it. Learning to understand accounting, statistics, economics, marketing — all of it gave me the confidence to say, I can do this!”
The “highly focused training” she received from her MBA crystallized skills she uses to this day. “Whether it’s understanding the math of running a business or grabbing the attention of customers, or making your idea or vision into something your employees can buy into and want to support, I relate back to the lessons I learned in my MBA, constantly.”
Cadrin is now in the process of expanding CheeCha Puffs into the US snack food market. Because of the success she’s already achieved in Canada, she’s often asked to offer advice to business classes and young entrepreneurs.
“I tell them sometimes you just have to be at the right place at the right time. You have to be prepared to sacrifice, to use whatever resources you have — if not money, then time — to get a business started. And you must always be prepared to accept help. You can’t be an expert in everything, and there are so many people willing to lend you their time and expertise. And finally, you have to stay humble. You’re going to make mistakes. But you’re also going to learn from them, and grow.”