Ed Molyneux, CEO of FreeAgent, reviews the latest episode of Dragons' Den.
Episode six aired last night on BBC2. This opening title sequence is moodier than ever, the Dragons unsmiling, grim and aloof, a background of clouds fast-forwarding across a leaden sky. 'Business is not fun', is the message. Evan Davies is the effervescent antidote, the entrepreneur's friend, but even he at one point warns "there is a jovial atmosphere, but that rarely lasts long in the Den".
Marie, with black labrador Margot in tow, is up first with her Billy & Margot range of doggie ice-creams. It turns out that doggie treats are big business, and Hilary informs us that Harrods even has a range of doggie cupcakes for the discerning canine-lover. Peter Jones demonstrates his commitment to the due diligence process by tasting the product (with a positive verdict) but Duncan, ever direct, dismisses Marie's efforts as "ridiculous" and "something you've wasted nine months on". Ouch.
A nervous Dustin Toland is promoting his GigWam tent concept. Not satisfied with existing tent designs, his modular wigwam-and-tunnel design offers the festival-goer ('gigwam, geddit?') a new and different accommodation option. As well as a modular tent, Dustin also embraced modular naming, also proffering 'BigWam' and 'KidWam' as future variations. Perhaps after spending too long in one of his tents, he'd come up with 'GigLoo', 'BigLoo' and 'KidLoo' to complete his longer-term vision.
When a single adjective becomes the shorthand for your televised competition, even Google-able, business opportunities will surely follow. 'Strictly' continues to enthrall the nation, and entrepreneur Nick Gallagher-Hughes brought sequins and a glitter ball to help pitch his Top-line Dance Frame dance training aid gadget thingy. Nick was inspired by his bike's handlebars and created his device to assist dancers to achieve the correct arm position. Ever sporting, Peter takes up the offer of a demonstration and who would have thought a man so tall could float on air? But the rest of us are thinking more 'dungeon' than 'dancefloor' and Nick's suit material leaves us wondering if we should adjust our tellys. The Dragons are intrigued but are not convinced that the market’s big enough to be interesting - so he also walks away empty-handed.
Father and son Philip and Henry Blake aim to re-engineer the garden landscaping industry with their stackable WoodBlocX system. For once they have a real Patent to protect the dowel-and-wedge fixings. The Dragons, used to being fobbed off with patents ‘pending’, ‘in the post’, or ‘left on the bus’, are impressed - but not so impressed that they don’t declare out one by one until only Peter Jones remains. Then Dad realises he’s forgotten to include his existing stock in his financial figures. Peter, sensing an opportunity to get one over on the other Dragons, jumps in with an offer that becomes positively reasonable once he’s seen his money back. Smart. WoodBlocX just got the benefit of free advertising to more than a million BBC2 viewers. It doesn't get more 'target market' than that!
In these tough economic times it’s small businesses who are on the hook for delivering the recovery. Evan proclaims ‘it’s fair to say that the Den is doing its bit.’. In promoting entrepreneurship as a real career option, and showing us that there is a difference between genius and self-delusion, I think he's probably right.
But business can be, and should be, fun. I do wish the Dragons didn't feel the need to be so joyless about it.