Dragons’ Den’s panel of would-be investors may have adopted a cruel and opportunistic tone to boost TV ratings, but drama aside, one can’t deny that the show has cultivated a new generation of entrepreneurs who are quite savvy about what venture capital is – and what it isn’t. After eleven seasons of the reality show, the innovations of these talented individuals are seen as one of the most important assets in the business world.
Risk-taking is valued as much as ever. Sanjiv Gossain of the New Statesmen advances the argument that companies need to foster an entrepreneurial spirit within their employees, recognizing that the ingenuity of individuals is paramount.
All of this may be part of a larger trend, one that recognizes and celebrates the genius of Richard Branson and Nick Robertson of ASOS, even Jamie Oliver. Watching pitch after pitch on Dragons’ Den seems to have given the UK a newfound respect for not only how hard the entrepreneurial project is, but how much creativity and tenacity abounds even in the minds of those who get shot down. It has also demonstrated how successful some of the ventures can be once funded.
Levi Roots’ Reggae Reggae Sauce is one such example — a successful business funded to the tune of £50,000 in 2007. Roots’ sauces have now begotten a whole line of products. Another success story to emerge from the Den is the Magic Whiteboard, the brainchild of Laura and Neil Westwood, which, like Levi’s sauce, went on to spawn a line of products, unto a clear board. One pure gold story was that of Kirsty Henshaw, who stood before the firing squad as a single mum with equal parts nervousness, unassuming humility and steely resolve. Lips a bit a-tremble, she nonetheless answered every question quickly and persuasively, and netted three offers. Her healthy dessert snack, made with brown rice milk and fruit extracts, took off and has been developed into a line of products.
Bringing a human face to the entrepreneur is one of the biggest things Dragons’ Den has done. While people might feel uncomfortable watching the pitchers squirm, that very impulse wins our sympathy. We see that behind every frozen meal, phone app, or hardware pitch, is a very real person like those we see on the street every day. Getting to see the pitches shows both dreamers and potential investors the process that people go through, what they might have done better, and how they themselves might improve their project and outcomes.
At Midven, we are fortunate to see creative entrepreneurs from a range of backgrounds walking in the door daily to pitch innovations that span from small arts and crafts’ tools to multi-million dollar 3D simulation systems; education psychology services to educational geo-domes; labelling and packaging products to event-planning software. The drive that turns an idea into a business plan and gets an entrepreneur determined to make their idea a reality is something we surely want to cultivate.
Dragons’ Den may have played some part in the rise of the entrepreneurial spirit and the successful partnership alongside venture capitalists. The show has spawned many books, columns, and essays on how to pitch investments and what a venture capitalist is seeking, and that that might ultimately be its biggest contribution. Love it or not, the program has forged a vocabulary for accessible conversations about venture capitalism and start-ups.