In 2013, three years after she started an office organics waste collection business, Growing City, with a $15,000 loan from the Canadian Youth Business Foundation, Lisa von Sturmer went on Dragons’ Den and blew the Dragons away.
Her business did $100,000 in sales in 2010, she told the Dragons, and doubled that in 2011. She asked for $100,000 for 25% of her business, and started a bidding war.
Ultimately, she went with Jim Treliving’s offer, which included a provision that he assume franchising responsibilities. That deal fell through, as Dragons’ Den deals often do, and von Sturmer also dropped the franchising idea.
“We actually became so busy after the episode aired that we grew organically,” she said.
A landfill ban on organic waste in Metro Vancouver in 2015 proved von Sturmer’s business idea to be prescient.
Von Sturmer had no business background. She had worked in television as an editor and compositor. But she decided to start her own business after reading The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss.
“I knew it had to be a recurring revenue model because that was the one thing I had really taken away from Tim’s book,” she said.
She had always been bothered by how much organic waste her own workplace at Goldtooth Studios generated, so she decided to start a pickup service. The studio became one of her first customers. Starting with one old right-hand-drive Japanese truck, she went around picking up organic waste from offices and took it to a composting facility.
Initially, she worked a second job – working at a nightclub – while she expanded the business. Today, Growing City has a fleet of seven trucks and revenue exceeding $1 million annually.
Her accomplishments as a young female entrepreneur have landed her a number of speaking engagements, including a TED Talk event and a keynote address at Harvard University’s Women’s Entrepreneurship Day.
Where you live now: Vancouver
Highest level of education: Bachelor’s degree, film and media, Emily Carr
Currently reading: Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success by Phil Jackson and Hugh Delehanty
Currently listening to: Al Green Essentials playlist
When you were a kid, what you wanted to be when you grew up: A director
Profession you would most like to try: A cartoon voice actor
Toughest business or professional decision: Leaving my career as a senior editor in film and television to start a compost collection service 10 years ago, when organics recycling and composting were relatively unknown for most urbanites
Advice you would give the younger you: Don’t hold on to mistakes. Learn from them, never repeat them, forgive yourself for making them and move forward unfettered
What’s left to do: We have three divisions expanding in 2020 and we have some transportation companies lined up to beta-test the driver performance-bonus system we built
Join us to celebrate the 2019 Forty under 40 Awards on January 30, 2020, at the Westin Bayshore. For tickets and event information visit https://www.biv.com/forty-under-40