Facing the Dragons



“Don’t expect anything from anybody, work hard, put your head down, be good at what you do and good stuff will happen…”

Deborah Meaden, Businesswoman

It’s that moment of high drama and pant-wetting tension.  Five infamous and be-suited business moguls scowling at you as you simper, stumble and struggle to communicate a complex presentation, imploring them for their understanding and agreement (as well as their cash…).  It’s excruciating.  Can you make them believe in you?  Does your business case make sense?  Or will the grumpy one look at you disgustedly and bark something dismissive like “You’ve got no idea what you’re talking about, it’s an awful business plan, the finances don’t add up – I hate it – and for that reason:  I’m out…”, as you redden, mumble your thanks and make an awkward bee line for the door…  Is this some kind of nightmare?  A bad reality show?  The moment when your business brainchild and legacy for your kids is cruelly exposed to be nothing but a castle built on sand?

Well, for participants of the One Planet MBA this was, in fact, a reality.  As part of one of their modules (the Entrepreneurial and Intrapreneurial Process:  Starting Successful New Ventures), Tuesday saw each participant facing a panel of successful business professionals to pitch their own, personal business idea.

The business proposals varied widely and included a kind of Thai Marigold Hotel care home for the rich/medically-unsure, plans for a local business/community hub to cater for all types of business needs; a Ghanaian CRM programme; a house-mate finding tool; an initiative to link independent cafés selling decent coffee and virtual wedding planner for techno-savvy Ugandan brides with a penchant for high quality.  Each presentation was then critically reviewed by the Dragons, and marks given for various areas:  communication; robustness of proposal, marketing and economics; awareness of risk and credibility under criticism.  Marks given to each participant will then contribute to the final MBA grade.

William Casely, module lead, explained the exercise:  “The idea of the Dragons Den is that you get to ‘learn by doing’ but also that you learn by seeing others. By the end of the day the participants will have seen eleven other pitches and they will have gained an excellent idea of what works and what does not when it comes to pitching. The Dragons will also give them a lot to think about when it comes to venture development. Ideally, they will then reflect on what they have seen and how it might affect their future ventures.  They should then remember ‘entrepreneurial learning’ as being experiential, observational, socially interactive, and reflective – that’s the aim of the exercise.”


Fortunately, the ‘Dragons’ on the panel were a little more forgiving and maybe had less of an eye on self-promotion than those of the famous television series.  The MBA Dragons consisted of:

  • Nick Sprague, founder of Cobell Ltd – suppliers of processed fruit and vegetables to the food and drink industry
  • Julie Hawker, CEO of Cosmic IT – a digital agency and social enterprise
  • Jasper Westaway, founder of Borders – a digital news provider
  • Jerry Rihll, Director of Bricks Finance – a financial technology firm
  • William Casely, MBA lecturer and previously general manager of Harvey Nichols, Debenhams and Bentalls.


“It felt like the X-Factor going in to it…” said one participant, “…and a huge high after the pitch.  It’s been a great opportunity to have our ideas and pitch technique judged by five seasoned professionals and to gain some key learnings:  be brief, keep it simple, have one killer insight and sell the sizzle!”

“Everyone should pull their finger out and start a business and believe in themselves. There is nothing else to it. Anyone can make a £100m. But most people don’t go out and try. They just stand in the pub and complain.”

Duncan Bannatyne, Businessman

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