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Dragons, container homes and a dogged determination

Small home visionary Christoph Kesting expanding business
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Container home visionary Christoph Kesting is back in the Guelph area, pursuing his dream of building affordable, sustainable small homes. (Rob O'Flanagan/GuelphToday)

Christoph Kesting has faced the dragons. He came away a bit scorched, but fired up about pursuing his dream of helping people in Ontario, particularly a younger generation, gain access to an affordable, sustainable home made from a steel box.  

His episode on CBC’s Dragons’ Den, where he pitches his FoxBox container home idea in hope of attracting investment, airs in the next few weeks. Kesting is back living in the Guelph area after a brief sojourn in Vancouver, and has started his company Kesting Homes. 

Kesting is well-known in Guelph and area for his dogged determination to build a container home business and culture.

More than just a business enterprise, Kesting said he is eager to foster a strong sense of community around the idea of building sustainable, affordable homes from shipping containers.

“It’s gone from being focused on the product to more about the process,” he said in an interview. “It’s the way in which we are helping people access the market, and the joy of building.”

A few years ago, Kesting embarked on a project that would take about three years to complete. He sold his home in Guelph, used the proceeds to purchase a shipping container, found a place near Guelph’s downtown to set it down, and began gradually turning it into a living space.

Steel is heavy, and building a home, any home, takes many hands. Kesting turned to friends to help with the heavy lifting and fine details. Over time, he said Monday, a small, close-knit community of workers grew up around the project.

The project’s purpose, he found, exceeded the building of a practical, affordable, environmentally-sensitive living space. It also had a strong philosophical and human element. It brought people together for a higher purpose.

After catching some flack from the city over building permit regulations, Kesting found a taker for the home in Peterborough, where it was moved. Kesting also moved — to Vancouver for about a year. But he is now back in the Guelph-area.

What emerged from first building experience was a how-to book entitled “How to Build a Container Home.” It has done well. A blog on the process also attracted a lot of followers. The Globe and Mail did a feature on him. And then he got on television.

Kesting recently landed himself a spot on CBC Television’s Dragons’ Den, a popular show where entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas in hope of attracting investment from a group of intense investors.

He said he was both encouraged by the investors, and eaten alive by them. On the episode, Kesting pitches the idea of a do-it-yourself container home kit for under $50,000. The kit includes the shipping container and all that is needed to build “the most carbon neutral container home in the world.”

His DIY book and a solar panel to power the building tools are included. The home, he said, can be built over 10 weekends.

“Part of the way the show works is to get you off your rocker, to challenge you,” he said. “I made the wager that not only would it be good business to get the story out there, but it would also be good for myself personally to be able to face down the dragons.”

He said he is proud of the Dragons’ Den experience. His efforts on the show were acknowledged, at least by one dragon, as credible and visionary. Another, however, found the idea somewhat ludicrous, even shameful.

“There was a moment there where I had to ask myself if I was really ashamed of it,” Kesting said. “It was a solidifying moment where I said, 'no, no, no.'”

He said he is grateful for the experience, which was like a high-powered coaching session. An important lesson to come out of it was the realization that he needed to become more efficient in his business approach. He’s putting that lesson into action.

Kesting currently has two clients for this container idea. One involves building a home using three, 40-foot containers in Haliburton. The other is a five container student housing project in Kitchener.

“For me, it’s about craftsmanship – how to keep the quality high, build it with other people who put some love into it,” he said. “We can do it.”

As a result of recent publicity, many inquiries were received about the building approach. Kesting found that the highest percentage of potential customers (70 per cent) are in Ontario. So, he hustled back to the province.

“So, I wanted to come back to Ontario and bring the idea back here,” he said.

View the building of Kesting’s first project here.