I'm still amazed, horrified, and moved by the pitches in Dragons' Den
I can't believe I am in my sixth series of Dragons' Den. After many hours, days, weeks of sitting in a darkened Den and listening to countless pitches ranging from the brilliant to the frankly absurd, it still amazes me to see how relevant and refreshing the programme remains.
Fellow Dragons Peter Jones and Duncan Bannatyne have been there from the beginning. Each year all of us wonder if people will still want to watch us and each year, thanks in a very great part to the amazing, brave and innovative entrepreneurs who come and pitch to us, it seems you do.
In case you were wondering, Dragons have feelings too. We cringe, we laugh, we cry, we fail, we triumph, and emotions run the full gamut.
Watching Kirsty Henshaw, a 24-year-old single mum deliver a superb pitch for Worthenshaws "not ice-cream" - a frozen dairy-free dessert - telling us her motivation to succeed was her four-year-old son and the desire to give him a better life was a real lump in the throat moment.
On the other hand please tell me you were as horrified as I was when Derek Cozens tried to convince us that he had a safer version of the No Entry sign which, despite being told categorically by the Highways Authorities they did not like, he was going to pursue.
It's not often I beg but I could see his life, not to mention money, just being poured into a big black hole and I pleaded with him to stop. Am I right? Should he stop? I doubt he will.
The great thing about Dragons' Den is that it sparks debate. Everyone I ask has an opinion on something they saw in the Den and I bet you do too. You will also like and dislike some of the entrepreneurs and some of us Dragons and our styles of doing business and you will agree and disagree with our decisions at times.
In fairness Dragons rarely agree with other Dragons, but that is generally sorted out in the playground afterwards and doesn't last long.
So, who IS the best Dragon? We are a competitive bunch but there is a definite sense of mutual respect and a lot of humour, most of which I couldn't possibly repeat here!
We have our own busy lives but when we can we make time for dinner, although last time we did that we played spoof for the bill. It's a guessing game where one player holds a number of coins in a closed hand and everyone has to guess the value of the coins. It changes every time and bearing in mind I had never played it before - guess who ended up paying!
But when all is said and done we are in the Den for business. Serious business. I have offered around £1.3m over 21 investments in my first five series of Dragons' Den with many more to come in this series. I have some real winners, usually because the investees have lived up to their promise.
My very first investment was from my neck of the woods, in the West Country. A young man, Ian Chamings, had written and patented an algorithm to mix dance music perfectly.
We are now the largest providers of mixed dance music to the fitness industry in the United States and FitMixPro just launched in the UK. I can't pick a favourite investment but there is always something special about your first!
The £100k I invested in MyDish, a recipe-sharing website, was definitely at the riskier side but I saw in Carol Savage someone with huge energy and real ability and it was her that won the investment. MyDish now powers the recipe websites of some of the biggest household names in media and major supermarkets.
Neil and Laura Westwood from Magic Whiteboard now have magic blackout blind and magic blackboard with more products and substantial profits in the pipeline. All have one thing in common and that is seriously good people driving a well-conceived business proposition.
This Dragons' Den series will see the highest number of investments ever made in the Den. This may seem surprising in the current economic times but I can see why. More people are thinking about doing it for themselves than ever before and they are finding it more difficult than ever to get funding.
Never has the Den been more relevant, not just for those braving it but for those wanting to gather some inside information on how investors think, what they are looking for and tips on what really works from people who have learned through experience what it takes to make a business work.
Deborah Meaden is one of the five Dragons from Dragons' Den.