Is entrepreneurship being devalued by reality television?

This week two brand new online platforms have been launched with aims to support the UKs bustling scene of budding entrepreneurs. Both Toucan and Ideas Britain have generated a star-studded  panel of ‘mentors’, which are on hand to help give the next generation of business innovators a firm push in the right direction. But the question we’re asking is: are mobile apps and reality TV shows undermining the value of true entrepreneurship and is there a happy medium?

When it comes to evening entertainment, we all love to watch a reality television contestant squirm as much as the next guy. C’mon, admit it… We join in poking fun at the Big Brother underdog, we gawp in disbelief at the opera granny on The X Factor and we gasp in sheer horror as TV personalities gulp down a cockroach cocktail in I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! However it begs the question: should there really be the same entertainment value attached to a programme showcasing the business ideas of hopeful entrepreneurs?

Fool’s gold…

You read the headlines everyday – ‘small businesses call for more help’, ‘bigger steps needed to support small businesses’, ‘high anxiety for small businesses’. Starting and growing your own business is no mean feat, especially in an economy in the process of recovering from a crushing recession. It’s then therefore questionable whether mockery of resilient ambition in the face of challenge should really be used as a vehicle to create light-hearted entertainment for mainstream consumption.

You may be thinking ‘yeah, but that’s only the chumps who choose to go on there wanting £100,000 for their roller skates for knees’. However a report done on the first 11 series of BBC Two show Dragon’s Den, by phone comparison brand Tiger Mobiles, who were rejected by the panel in 2008, revealed some shocking statistics. A mere 76 of the 153 businesses that ‘won’ deals in the den throughout the first 11 series actually saw any of the promised angel investment, meaning less than £6million of the £13million pledged was actually spent.

Dragon’s Den was first aired in 2005 by the BBC and features a panel of 5 ‘Dragons’ who listen to 3-minute long pitches from wannabe entrepreneurs. They then decide if they wish to invest some of their mega-millions into the development of the venture in question but not before giving the pitcher a good grilling. Quite often these inquisitions leave a once-buzzing hopeful exiting the Den as fast as they can, a shadow of their former more confident self. Some might say this experience is an important life lesson that has allowed them exposure along the way. Others might say it’s making a spectacle out of a situation many of the UKs SMEs are battling with every day: the fight for alternative funding in regular absence of bank loans.

American television series Shark Tank adopts an almost identical formula while the BBC’s other business-focused reality series, The Apprentice features a group of hopefuls hungry for the £250,000 investment from Sir Alan Sugar himself. Great for the ones that are “hired” but where does it leave the ones who are “fired”? Tossed back onto the pile of hardworking business owners who are investing immeasurable amounts of time and compromising on product quality, marketing plans and decent accountants because crippling budgets just won’t allow such luxuries.

A happy medium?

Credit where it’s due, candidates are afforded exposure to industry knowledge, expert advice and the contacts they might never have connected with otherwise. However, surely there’s a way to bridge the gap between business heavyweights and emerging entrepreneurs without relying on cheap laughs and public humiliation to do so. This is where innovative new platforms like Rasha Khawaja’s Toucan and the Ideas Britain app come in.

Built with the average Joe in mind, these platforms both invite anybody to sign up and submit their ideas. These submissions are then analysed by a team of professionals who sift through each one and compile a collection of potential ventures to present to a panel of mentors. The Toucan mentor team includes Innocent founder Richard Reed, while retail giant Jonathan Wall and Chef Bobby Chinn get on board with the Ideas Britain team.

While Toucan presents itself as an online platform, Ideas Britain will manifest itself as both an app and a broadcast channel aimed at encouraging the “next generation of entrepreneurs”. The Ideas Britain app also invites other users to support and promote ideas they like in order to push them up the Ideas Britain Chart, by investing with virtual currency.

Is this sense of solidarity not a much more amicable way of doing business? We always love to hear your opinions so leave us a comment below and let us know your thoughts on the matter.

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