Entering the Dragon’s Den

Entering the Dragon’s DenFor those unfamiliar with the term “dragon’s den”, it involves pitching a start-up or new business venture to a potential investor, panel of investors or business mentor, to answer their questions and then receive feedback “warts and all”. Having been exposed to the popular UK “Dragons Den” show, and many of its various global “shark like” iterations, I suggest that these shows have more of a detrimental, rather than a positive effect on those entrepreneurial Knights entering them. Having invested more than two decades training and coaching high powered leaders and teams how to give one another constructive feedback, as a way of improving performance, I suggest that there must be a better way!

The World Economic Forum Global Education Initiative was conceived in 2003 with a mission to help make national education systems more relevant, sustainable and scalable. Entrepreneurship education has been the focus of this initiative since 2009, when the Entrepreneurship Education Work Stream Report; Unlocking entrepreneurial capabilities to meet the global challenges of the 21st century, was published in June 2011. As part of this initiative, the European Action Group for Entrepreneurship Education (“EAG”) has contributed to a work-stream focused on promoting entrepreneurship education in Europe. Initiatives have also been implemented and are ongoing in the Middle East and South America, aiming to educate, empower and enable emerging generations of young people to become entrepreneurs as:

“Society faces a strong need to encourage people to practice believing the unbelievable, using imagination and courage, and tapping into the inner entrepreneur”.

Reinforcing the fact that Entrepreneurship requires courage, determination, imagination and enormous doses of resilience, no matter what age a person embarks on this extraordinary journey. It is not going to be possible to empower and enable anyone, at any age, considering some of the current practice of key entrepreneurship resources who treat people’s courageous efforts of tapping into their “inner entrepreneur” as if it they are part of a reality TV show; where humiliation and callous equivocation have become the “rules of the game”. Speaking from my own recent, personal experience of entering the “Dragon’s Den”, there must be more effective and empowering, creative and innovative ways, than the shallow range of aggressive Trump-esque type behaviors, of honoring people’s imagination and courage, and successfully nurturing their inner entrepreneur!

I still get shocked, surprised, and even horrified, to see, such diminishing and humiliating feedback processes. My own experience of being at the receiving end of it, left me wondering whether the “jolt” could have been achieved in a more conscious, respectful and compassionate way?

There must be a better way of evaluating and promoting the inner entrepreneur, than this aggressive, oppositional, often demeaning process!

The report also states that:

“Entrepreneurship and innovation are driving new ways of learning, living and working. Embedding entrepreneurship and innovation, cross-disciplinary approaches and interactive teaching methods in education require new models, frameworks and paradigms”.

It’s really tough being an entrepreneur and it is even harder to become an innovative one and developing a sales pitch to a potential investor, supporter or partner is an incredibly challenging exercise.   This is the moment when an entrepreneur enters the Dragon’s Den, when all of their hard work, imagination and courage are put “on the line”. When someone who has either business acumen, or financial resources will determine, often after a 3-5, or perhaps 10 minute Sales Pitch, whether they “have what it takes”, to be a success, or not!

Having paid the highest level of personal income tax for the better part of my long standing career in corporate learning, I applied to the Australian government, where my learning and development company is a legal entity, for an Innovation Grant. It required presenting my start-up, which was then in its seed phase, ImagineNation™ to a panel of three government appointed “innovation” consultants. It was one of the most abusive, humiliating and diminishing experiences I have had in corporate Australia.  This caused me to wonder, how less resourced business people (and not a corporate trainer like me) ever manage to “hold their space”, and onto their inner entrepreneur, with the aggressive bullying and conventional manner these consultants demonstrated.

How do they ever manage to recover, regroup and refocus their efforts, after entering such a dangerous and pernicious Dragon’s Den!

So some practical advice to the Dragon’s please;

  1. Demonstrate genuine curiosity and interest in what we, as start-up entrepreneurs have to offer, and see if you too, can start with an “empty mind” to be open and receptive to the possibilities we are passionate about and driven to achieve!
  2. Acknowledge us in an affirming and enobling way, our courage, imagination, drive and persistence that we have invested in our brave efforts to be innovative start-up entrepreneurs.
  3. Note that aggressive oppositional behaviors are no longer acceptable “ways of being” in most organizations, and drop the “reality show” pretence, as it inhibits engagement, collaboration and ultimately sustainability. Please learn how to give constructive feedback that enhances our offerings, and encourage and support the development of our “inner entrepreneur”.

Additionally, a few words of advice to those innovative entrepreneurs brave, bold and courageous enough to enter the Dragon’s Den, please make sure that:

  1. Your start-up business is really, really focused, in that it does just “one thing, and one thing only”, really well. That you can articulate within 30 seconds, on one power point slide, in 2-3 lines max, in ways that clearly add value to the life of your target customer.
  2. You have validated your unique offer, via your target customer. That you have iterated and successfully pivoted your “proof of concept”, to potentially monetize your start-up, which is what the dragon is most interested in assessing.
  3. Your business model is clear, concise and scalable, because this is what the Dragon really wants to assess and or invest in. This is what distinguishes your unique value as a start-up and money making potential.

At ImagineNation, we agree that:

“It is time to rethink the old systems and fundamentally “reboot” the entrepreneurial educational process”.

So we made an innovative effort to re-boot the entrepreneurial education process, by creating The Start-Up Game™. A business simulation that develops innovative leaders and start-up entrepreneurs, where a player’s imagination, creativity and courage are honored, encouraged and rewarded.

If we want to promote entrepreneurship globally, which is part a global education initiative, it would be wiser and more beneficial for the dragons develop their competence, consciousness and collaborative abilities as how they support and educate those brave and bold Knights who have the imagination and courage to enter their dragon’s den in the first place!

image credit: discoverytsx.com

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Will Entrepreneurship Create the New World?Janet Sernack has 30 years of consulting experience to the manufacturing, retailing, finance and telecommunications businesses to Australasia’s and Israel’s top 100 companies as Compass Learning Pty Ltd. She relocated to Israel, where she joined the Start-Up revolution and founded ImagineNation, a generative and provocative global learning company that develops innovative leaders and entrepreneurship in global corporations.

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One Response to Entering the Dragon’s Den

  1. Adi Gaskell says:

    In our age of crowdfunding, the whole concept of Dragons Den seems kinda outdated, apart of course from the free advertising your product gets, but then crowdfunding gives you a great chance to build a customer base from amongst your backers, so even that must be a moot point.

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