When Christoph Kesting appeared on CBC's Dragons' Den earlier this year, the results were unexpected.
While the Waterloo, Ont.-based entrepreneur didn't get the $150,000 in seed funding he was hoping for, the appearance opened his eyes and set him on another path.
Mr. Kesting, who owns and operates a shipping-container-home business now called Kesting Homes, says the Dragons didn't understand what he was trying to do with his $40,000 homes, which can be built on or off the grid. The segment received tens of thousands of views within the first two days of its airing, and commenters expressed sympathy with his situation and anger toward the Dragons.
"One of the Dragons was saying things like, 'What is off-grid?' and not understanding really the general interest and need of the middle class to have homes that work [like these]," says the 36-year-old.
The experience caused Mr. Kesting to take a step back and think about starting a more general conversation about small or alternative living spaces. With 2,000 people on his website's e-mail list as a result of the appearance, he feels the time is right to put this in motion.
Mr. Kesting and his business were the subject of a Small Business Challenge feature in The Globe and Mail last May.
As a result of his Dragons' Den appearance, his website now hosts an online forum dedicated to making this type of home better understood and more accepted as an alternative to regular houses and condominiums. His aim is for participants to connect and generate solutions themselves.
"We just really need to connect people and give them the opportunity to themselves post, share and find solutions," he says.
While the Toronto native was originally hoping to sell two to three of his basic homes, dubbed Foxdens, in his first year of business, and seven to 10 during Year 2, the financing hurdle has caused him to reassess. "To be honest with you, I'm not investing a lot more energy into [my business]," he says. "I have to play to my strengths and learn from them."
One troubling development was that buyers had difficulty securing mortgages. The homes' price point is a little too low to qualify for a conventional bank mortgage and a little too high for an unsecured line of credit. Though he says that banks love to offer mortgages, they are usually secured by "large pieces of land and large homes in particular," and his shipping container homes are neither.
Mr. Kesting hopes that sparking a conversation will lead to a solution.
"It's been a little bit depressing," he says. "Institutions and even small-banking funders aren't really providing the solutions that are needed. So this is where we're at. It needs to be a ground-up solution; it needs to come from the people."
In the meantime, Mr. Kesting has gone back to school to study psychotherapy and behavioural sciences at York University in Toronto.
So he is making his original business less of a priority, as he lets a broader conversation take shape.
He has two clients, including a gentleman in a wheelchair for whom he is a building an accessible, six-container, three-bedroom home in Ontario's cottage country. He has also sourced a factory near Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont., that will allow him to prefabricate homes.
"My dream is to help people enjoy their lives and build what they need to," he says. "I think there's a real psychology behind project management that I'm interested in and have a lot of experience in now."