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CBC Dragon, Ottawa billionaire help launch Big Brothers Big Sisters fundraiser

Arlene Dickinson of Dragon's Den fame and Ottawa's own billionaire Sir Terry Matthews each gave their own rags to riches tales to a group of high school students and business leaders Thursday to help raise money for Big Brothers Big Sisters Ottawa (BBBSO).

The first iteration of the Big Speakers fundraiser was held at the Ottawa Convention Centre with the goal of finding a new source of funding for the kids’ charity.

Dickinson shared her story of coming to Canada at three years old from her native South Africa with her family with only $50 to their name.

"We couldn't afford Campbell's soup. We couldn't afford Wonderbread," she told the crowd of about 800. "That lesson of having no money and coming from a very poor circumstance really did impact (me) and made me have the values that I have today. My values were taught on poverty."

Now, she is CEO of Venture Communications, one of Canada's largest marketing firms, and has a net worth of about $80 million.

Believe it or not, she says her parents’ divorce made helped shape her into the successful businesswoman she is today.

“My family was quite dysfunctional and I always feel like that has made me into a good marketer,” she said to a few laughs from the audience. “I think that's what makes me good on (Dragon's Den) in terms of business decisions I make because I'm listening intently to what the entrepreneurs are saying to me and what they're really trying to get to.”

Matthews’ motivational speech to the crowd started with his precarious move to leave his job to start a company with a $4,000 loan with Michael Cowpland in the 1970s.

“Even in 1973, it doesn’t last long,” he said. “It was probably the biggest risk I took.”

Acknowledging the younger crowd who, he told them to start their own companies instead of looking for a job.

“This is one of the best cities on the planet to start up a company,” he said. “This city is rich in know-how beyond belief.”

BBBSO executive director Jim Boone said the organization is looking for ways to “diversify our revenue streams” as to protect itself from an unforeseen decrease in funding from United Way and the City of Ottawa.

“It’s too dangerous to rely on them as an organization, because if they do any reduction for us, then we’re vulnerable and it will buckle our organization,” said Boone.

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