Life after No: How to sell sea change

Written by Rick Spence

Appearing on Dragons' Den taught these entrepreneurs many hard lessons in fundraising. The most valuable? Rejection can be a blessing in disguise. Steven Campbell, North American Energy, Structures Inc. St. John's, NFLD Product: Tidal Power Generation Steven Campbell laughs about his time in the Dragons' Den. He says the show's five investors gave up a king's ransom by shunning his offer of a long-term royalty on his technology for making electricity from tidal power. By not making a deal, he says, the Dragons set his business back a year or two — but they gave up ongoing income that could reach $5 million a year. Campbell, a civil engineer from St. John's, earned his spurs helping build the Hibernia and Terra Nova drilling platforms off Newfoundland. But he's also an inveterate inventor. Today, he's working on his patented process for transporting compressed natural gas (CNG) by air, rail or ship in fibre-reinforced plastic pressure vessels — a cheaper alternative to today's liquefied natural gas technology, which requires vast pipelines or a complex infrastructure of liquefaction and degasification plants. By raising $1 million from friends, relatives and local private investors over the past four years, Campbell has led St. John's-based Trans Ocean Gas into the big leagues. He's currently working on an equity deal with MISC, a Malaysian shipping giant that wants to dominate global energy transport. With half the world's natural gas reserves "stranded" due to a lack of pipelines or shipping facilities, his technology could open vast new markets for natural gas, from Labrador to the Far East. But Campbell also dreams of harnessing the tides that sweep through the Strait of Belle Isle, which divides Newfoundland from Labrador. "People have no idea how much power is in the tide," he says. "There's a massive amount of water going through a confined space." He foresees mounting up to 80 paddlewheels in huge concrete caissons that would turn the five-knot current into enough electricity to power 150,000 homes. "It's really simple," he says. "It's just big." So Campbell entered the Den as the president of North American Energy Structures Inc., mainly to show off his tidal power idea. "I thought it would be good for publicity — just to see what's out there." To shrink his megaproject to Dragon size, Campbell offered a 10% royalty on his energy revenue for $500,000. The investors were confused; they wanted equity. Campbell said he thinks royalties — a common currency in the mining industry — are better. But the Dragons disliked his combative tone and turned him down. (Campbell says he was irked at having to wait around all day on the set, and had just missed his flight home.) Campbell says he didn't expect to make a deal, although he wanted to. With the funds, he could have hired a project manager, he says, "and we'd be in the water testing it right now." For now he is taking the slow road, tapping into funding from the National Research Council, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and Industrial Research Assistance Program. He expects a pilot project to cost about $30 million. The big project, producing up to two gigawatts, would cost about $8 billion. In the meantime, Campbell is focusing on Trans Ocean, which expects to receive certification of its containment systems by early next year. CNG transport could then start by 2010. Campbell is convinced his share of the company will be worth $500 million in a few years — which should make it easier to fund his tidal project.

Originally appeared on