Was it me, or did presenter Evan Davis's wrapping up of last night's Dragons' Den sound like a bit of a rant about Britain's lack of action in stimulating economic growth? Many talk of the subject, Davis said, "as though it's the kind of thing you can buy from a vending machine". The Den, on the other hand, was "doing its bit" by making real investments in real businesses that are doing new things.
I've never really thought of the Dragons as white knights of UK business, perhaps because the show actively positions them as the opposite: steely-eyed sceptics who will not loosen their vice-like grip on precious capital without a fight, and take perverse pleasure in picking out the pitfalls of patchy business plans.
Of course, this is all in the name of entertainment - and actually I think Davis has a point. It's very difficult for companies to grow without investment, but that investment comes at a substantial risk. Venture capitalists need to clearly see potential for growth - for the business and therefore the economy - before they commit time and money to a project.
This is why a business that is moving in the wrong direction - like the toffee vodka company featured on last night's show which posted a profit in year one, but a loss in years two and three - hardly stands a chance of Dragon backing.
In contrast, Marie Sawle's Hampshire-based Billy + Margot, a company that makes nutritious ice cream-like treats for dogs with well-heeled owners (usually the type of product that gets short shrift in the Den), received a £60,000 investment from Deborah Meaden, because she spotted a great opportunity for exponential growth.
Meaden pointed out that many brands in this sector appear independent but are actually owned by larger players who already have efficient production processes and effective distribution channels in place. The product's branding and identity was very strong and it passed Peter Jones's taste test. Meaden stated very assertively that her expertise could help fast track Billy + Margot to highly lucrative big boy acquisition. Sawle was so convinced by Meaden's vision that she accepted her offer even though it was for a larger equity share than that proposed by Hilary Devey.
This struck me as the type of guidance a business stands to receive from GrowthAccelerator, a programme whose rationale for backing is very similar to that of the Dragons. This programme invites businesses to apply for customised expertise by demonstrating their potential for growth and their willingness to achieve it. It's a partnership between the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and specialists from the private sector such as Grant Thornton UK LLP.
Successful businesses are allocated a highly experienced and knowledgeable Growth Coach who takes a hands-on approach to helping the business achieve its objectives. Participating businesses can also attend masterclasses, take up networking and mentoring opportunities and gain insight from peer-to-peer advice.
The success of the scheme so far proves that talk of economic growth in Britain isn't always just hot air - and many other companies, programmes and organisations are trying to help the bigger picture. At Make It Cheaper, for instance, we believe we're mucking in by helping smaller businesses retain money that would otherwise find its way into the much deeper pockets of larger organisations.
Perhaps it was Peter Jones's willingness to eat dog food on national television that prompted Evan Davis to highlight the Dragons' commitment to the cause of economic growth - but let's be clear: venture capitalists are not the only ones who are doing their bit.
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