As I was watching Dragons' Den tonight I could not get out of my mind the comments that Luke Johnson made earlier this week in his column in the Financial Times.
Luke is a noted private equity investor and a very successful investor in his own right and in his column he asserted that the whole of the BBC assumes "that business is ruthless, domineering and egotistical," and that Dragons' Den is a farce, a cartoon, and ludicrous. He notes in passing that "when Dragons' Den was first shown in Britain, there was a degree of novelty and even a modest element of authenticity about it" but in the whole his view is that "the concept has been milked dry and has descended to the level of caricature".
Entrepreneur Doug was a Dragon from 2005 to 2007.
Watching tonight's show reminded me why I disagree.
For years, since I appeared on the show myself, I have given talks at primary and secondary schools around the country and the overall impact of Dragons' Den is clear: it inspires and empowers young people to think about entrepreneurship differently. They don't see the Dragons as harsh, although they can be. They see the entrepreneurs as foolish and see for themselves that a bad idea is not worth investing in. They see that they can do as well or better and stand more confidently as a result.
Dragons' Den is certainly entertainment but it is more honest and straight forward than most shows and tonight's was proof of that.
Layla Bennett's falconry business is never going to be a large scale business; but Layla is the sort of person whom anyone can admire. Independent from 16, owning her first property at 21, doing what she loves, confident with her numbers, she represents a breed of young entrepreneur that this country could use more of.
Doug on the programme
On the flip side, Tony Young of Buzz Games got a dose of reality from the Dragons who saw quite clearly that he had a product that, at first glance looked unimpressive and, the only thing that would offset that would have been clear interest of orders from retailers which of course he didn't have at the time of pitching to them.
I don't know how many times I have sat in offices in Mayfair and had private equity investors and venture capitalists, give far more unflattering feedback or even worse, give no feedback at all.
In the trenches where I teach I see a huge variety of informal and uninformed investment behaviour. But I also have seen how many people have had their eyes opened by Dragons' Den. Unlike Luke they don't see the Dragons: they see the entrepreneurs. They think to themselves, I have an idea, I can do better than that. And it has caused a lot of people to take that first step into entrepreneurship.
Tonight reminded me of that. It reminded me that Dragons' Den is entertainment, quite good entertainment at that. Luke, as the ex-chairman of Channel 4, I would have thought you would be tolerant of a show that manages to negotiate the fine path between being entertainment, and yet deliver a view of the real world that is often unseen and rarely understood.
Last updated: 2nd August 2010. Follow Doug on Twitter @dougrichard
These are the views of Doug Richard, not those of the BBC
Each week in the 2010 series Julie Meyer and Doug Richard offered their take on some of the key moments from the TV Den.
Week 1: Kirsty, the Best of Britain
Week 2: Called to account
Week 3: Where pitches go wrong
Week 4: A school for entrepreneurs
Week 5: Why evaluation matters
Week 6: When coup de foudre happens
Week 7: The role of an early investor
Week 8: What finishes a pitch
Week 9: Unlocking an investment
Week 10: Lessons from the Den
Missed any action? Watch, read, rate and have your say on the class of 2010.
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