Leeza Zurwick of Happy Gut (left) will make an appearance on Dragons’ Den on Nov. 21. (Photo submitted)

Castlegar woman to appear on Dragons’ Den

Happy Gut sells water kefir beverages and kits to make water kefir at home.

When Castlegar businesswoman Leeza Zurwick started her business in 2017 and began hearing from customers that she should go on Dragons’ Den she thought she wouldn’t be interested in it.

But eventually the owner of Happy Gut heard the comment so many times, that when she found out there was an audition in Kelowna, she decided to take a leap and see what would happen.

The culmination of what has been an eight-month journey will happen on Nov. 21 when the episode of the popular television show featuring Zurwick airs on CBC.

Happy Gut sells water kefir beverages and kits to make your own water kefir at home. Zurwick was inspired to start the company after being introduced to the fermented probiotic beverage herself and not being able to find the products and tools necessary to make it in her hometown.

“I started making it and I started feeling more energy and my bloating had gone down, my skin had cleared up … and I didn’t get sick at all that winter, so I knew something had shifted in my world,” said Zurwick.

Her Dragons’ Den audition took place in March and she got great feedback from a producer right away.

“Three weeks later, I got the phone call that I was accepted,” said Zurwick.

She headed to Toronto the beginning of May to tape her episode. But it wasn’t until just a few weeks ago that she heard it would actually air.

“It has been very secretive,” said Zurwick.

Zurwick says the whole experience is not what most people think.

After being selected, she was given a producer to work with. He helped her through the process including developing her script.

Zurwick was supposed to have her turn in the den first thing in the morning, but due to several different circumstances didn’t actually get on until 4:30 p.m.

“I was very exhausted by the time my turn came,” said Zurwick. “Emotionally spent is the best way to put it. It was the hardest emotional thing I have done in my life.”

Presenters have 30 minutes to pitch their ideas to the Dragons but not every pitch airs, and of those that do, everything gets cut down to a six minute segment.

Zurwick says there were some surprises during her presentation including what happens when the Dragons open up her drink for a taste.

As for deals and offers — Zurwick said nothing moves forward on those until after your episode airs.

In the meanwhile, Zurwick has continued to work hard and grow her business.

“Before, I was just a small business in a small town, but now it is becoming much more global and expanding,” she said.

Zurwick can’t talk about the results of her appearance until after the show airs, but one thing she can talk about is her selection to the GoodSpark program by Dejardins. Businesses with a social enterprise component that have appeared on Dragons’ Den are eligible to become candidates for the program. Desjardins’ aim is to demonstrate that socially responsible ventures can also be financially viable.

Nine candidates from this season have been selected, including Happy Gut.

Happy Gut has been employing people with disabilities since the beginning through the Kootenay Society for Community Living’s Employ Me! program.

The company is profiled on the GoodSpark webpage, will be featured in the Toronto Star and will be promoted by the program.

For those not familiar with water kefir, Zurwick says it’s a bit like drinking an Italian soda. Although the drink is fermented like kombucha, it does not have the same sour vinegar type taste. Water kefir takes 48 hours to ferment compared to 15 to 20 days for kombucha. Another difference is that water kefir does not contain caffeine.

Developing her products has been an involved process, with Zurwick bringing on a microbiologist to ensure her cultures were growing optimally and having an engineering student come in several times a week to feed and grow the grains and take care of the data entry.

“It is a very scientific process,” explained Zurwick.

Zurwick has big plans for the future and the public will get a glimpse of them on Nov. 21.

“A whole new life is going to begin — but I just don’t know what that is. Life is going to change, but I don’t know what it is going to change into,” said Zurwick.

“It is going to be good.”

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