"As emergency room doctors we
see trauma on a daily basis. The thing is, it's completely
preventable. What we're talking about is... the traumatized
So begins the sales pitch of three
Vancouver emerg docs on the CBC reality show Dragon's
Den earlier this fall. David Agulnik, Amin Sajan
and Sunil Mangal, business partners and workmates at
St Paul's Hospital, were intent on convincing the cutthroat
venture capitalist 'dragons' on the show to invest in
their product, the Banana Guard, a simple invention
that Dr Agulnik began working on several years ago in
his spare time. The next generation of life-saving stents
it is not, but the hard plastic case designed to shield
bananas from the trauma they often suffer in the lead-up
to snack time has serious market appeal. Sales of the
Banana Guard are now hovering near the million unit
"We are fortunate enough to have
a product that looks like a penis," quips Dr Agulnik
with unconcealed adolescent glee.
Unfortunately their time in the
Dragon's Den wasn't quite so carefree. Though
the double entendres did come hard and fast ("the Banana
Guard does not prevent premature ripening," dead-panned
Dr Sajan as 'dragon' Arlene Dickinson caressed the rigid
plastic sheath), their confrontation with the five jaded
capitalists intent on poking holes in their business
plan landed them all in recovery. "It was mind-numbingly
intense," says Dr Sajan.
The Banana Boys: (from
left to right) Amin Sajan, David Agulnik and Sunil
Mangal on CBC's Dragon's Den
Image courtesy CBC
Fed up with the modest pleasure of snack breaks at St
Paul's being ruined by bruised and smashed fruits at
the bottom of his gym bag, Dr Agulnik decided to do
something about it. After a few failed attempts, he
finally developed a mould with a fibreglass compound
normally used to repair car bodies.
The prototype was the easiest step
for Dr Agulnik who admits he doesn't have an entrepreneurial
bone in his body. "I had no idea what to do next, I
had no idea where to go. How do you find somebody to
make something for you? So, I was listening to the radio
and I heard this ad: 'If you have an idea, call this
number now' and that's what I did."
Next Dr Agulnik drafted in his
work buddy Dr Sajan to help cover the cost of the business
planning and patent application process. "I was the
closest fool with some money," jokes Dr Sajan, who admits
he doesn't even like bananas.
The pair concentrated on their
day jobs for the next two and a half years until the
patent was approved in late 2003. Enter Dr Mangal with
another ED-earned cash injection. Soon the trio began
turning out their Banana Guards in earnest.
Surprisingly, given that ribbing
one's colleagues is an Olympic sport at most hospitals,
the docs' St Paul workmates haven't given them too hard
a time about their fruit-saving sideline. "Everyone's
been really supportive." says Dr Sajan.
Not so the world of business. The
banana protection racket has roughed them up a few times
along the way, says Dr Agulnik. "We've definitely been
beaten and bruised," cracks the MD.
The greenhorns got taken for a ride by some unscrupulous
business associates along the way, admits Dr Agulnik.
He names a failed partnership with someone they found
to put their product in European stores as just one
instance. They lost several thousand dollars, and as
for their contact, "there are rumours the guy's in jail
somewhere in the US," says Dr Agulnik.
Dr Mangal says working in a hospital
sure didn't prepare them for this. "There is implicit
trust whenever you deal in medicine, you trust what
you're told. You can't in business," he explains. "You
have to be hard-nosed and draw a firm line," adds Dr
The three took this hard-won self-possession
to their showdown with the investment 'dragons' in May,
when the show was filmed. In the end the MDs didn't
walk away financially independent they just walked
away. A $400,000 offer for half of the company wasn't
good enough. "We think the company is worth more," says
Dr Mangal (the MDs wanted to relinquish 25% at most).
The hard lessons they've
learned haven't put them off expanding their venture.
They expect to have small and large-sized Fruit Guards
to secure everything from kiwis to pears on the market
in time for Christmas. The end goal, they say is to
give them a little more freedom to choose how much time
they spend at the hospital - "To work because we want
to, not because we have to."