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Harley Finkelstein to judge Canada’s entrepreneurs alongside the dragons

Harley Finkelstein was welcomed as a dragon on Next Gen Den. Photo courtesy of Harley Finkelstein.

Harley Finkelstein is the chief platform officer at the Ottawa-based business Shopify, and a graduate of the University of Ottawa’s Juris Doctor and MBA joint program. If that wasn’t already an impressive resume, he’ll also be taking the stage as a newly minted judge on the Dragons Den spinoff, Next Gen Den.

“I think I took a very different approach to academia and my education than most people do,” he said. “I didn’t go to law school to become a lawyer, and I didn’t do my MBA to go work in a consulting firm.”

Finkelstein chose Ottawa for its close proximity to Montreal, where Finkelstein had started a T-shirt business during his undergrad, and because a mentor of his was teaching law at the university.

“The entirety of my academic career was done in an effort to become a better entrepreneur,” he said.

“I really looked at the entire experience as leverage,” he continued. “I leveraged my professors in law school to help me understand complexities that I was having in my own business.”

“I look back really fondly on my time at the University of Ottawa,” said Finkelstein. “I think it’s one of the best schools in the world.”

He didn’t take to being a lawyer, but he soon found success working with Shopify, the wildly successful Canadian e-commerce company.

But if you think Finkelstein prepared extensively for his role as CPO at Shopify, you might be surprised to know he was preparing for the role of Dragon long before that.

Finkelstein said he’s been an entrepreneur since he was 13, when he started a DJ company.

“I was always entrepreneurial, always trying to figure out how to sell things to my neighbors,” said Finkelstein. “It taught me a lot about responsibility, it taught me a lot about customer service.”

After all of Finkelstein’s success as an entrepreneur and businessman, CBC asked him to be a judge on Next Gen Den, which deals with tech startups.

Finkelstein said he was invited by the CBC a couple months ago to be part of a mock pitch. A couple of weeks after that, they told him they wanted him to be their new dragon on Next Gen Den.

Finkelstein says he’s been very impressed by some of the entrepreneurs on the show.

“I think that the people that are pitching on Dragons Den are some incredible companies, I feel very lucky that I get to participate as an investor in some of them.”

So much talent on air could be a good sign for Canada’s tech industry in general.

Ottawa especially has had a strong showing in the tech industry. Invest Ottawa estimates that there are around 1,700 tech companies in the region, from startups to established players like Shopify. This has led to Ottawa being dubbed “Silicon Valley North”.

“Today, we’re moving away from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based economy,” said Finkelstein. “We have companies popping up all over the country that are not just good Canadian companies, they are the best at what they do globally.”