Dungeons and dragons

By at home

They’re the high-flying, millionaire big shots of BBC2’s Dragons’ Den who invest hundreds of thousands of pounds of their own money into the business ventures of budding entrepreneurs. You can see them in action on Monday nights at 9pm – let’s dare to meet them…

DUNCAN BANNATYNE – the frank one
"Business is simple. People make it hard"
In the den since: 2005

The empire…A true tale of rags to riches, Duncan lived a poverty-stricken childhood and was dishonourably charged from the Royal Navy aged 19. After drifting from job to job, he decided to turn his life around and at the age of 31, brought an ice cream van for £450, expanded his business, and sold it for £28,000. The father-of-six then founded a nursing home business, Quality Care Homes, which he sold for £46m in 1996. Since then, Duncan has ventured into health and fitness with Bannatyne’s Health Clubs. Now 60, he is worth an impressive £320m.

The Dragon’s success…It was Denise Hutton’s pitch for Razzamataz, a chain of dance, drama and singing schools for children that left Duncan so impressed that he reached for his cheque book to invest £50,000 in the theatre franchise.

Red-hot business tips: 

  1. ‘Be concise. Don’t spend four minutes on a presentation if you can present it in one minute.’
  2. ‘Present yourself to as many investors as you can. If turned down, ask why and use the advice when preparing your next pitch.’
  3. ‘Stay focused and make sure you always work hard.’

Famous last words… ‘Keep thinking. Keep going down that road and you will hit on something and you’ll do well.’


THEO PAPHITIS – the joker
"Business doesn’t have to be that serious"
In the den since: 2005

The empire…Cypriot-born Theo started out in the business world by running his school tuck shop aged 15. He then took a job as a tea boy and filing clerk with a London insurance broker, before venturing into the world of retail and sales. The father-of-five set up his own property and corporate finance company aged just 23, and has revived retail brands such as Ryman and La Senza. The 50-year-old is now worth a staggering £145m.

The Dragon’s success…Theo’s biggest punt was Imran Hakim who created the iTeddy – an educational toy for pre-school children. With fellow dragon, Peter Jones, he invested £140,000 into the iTeddy, making millions for them, and its creator.

Red-hot business tips:

  1. ‘Always make sure you have enough cash to trade.’
  2. ‘Nail down the what-ifs and you will get people to support you.’
  3. ‘Get true feedback from those other than friends.’

Famous last words…‘Like some of the dragons, you can do it without degrees or a huge amount of money behind you.’


PETER JONES – the brash one
"I’m the most successful dragon on the panel."
In the den since: 2005

The empire…Peter dipped his toe in the business world by setting up a tennis academy aged 17. He then ventured into a computer business and set up a cocktail bar in Windsor. Peter may be worth £220m, but faced a huge knock-back in his 20s when he lost £200,000 after selling his cocktail business and losing his computer company. The 44-year old father-of-five launched Phones International Group in 1998. The company saw explosive growth and turnover today is a whopping £150m!

The Dragon’s success…Peter, along with ex-dragon Richard Farleigh, invested £50,000 in Levi Roots’ Reggae Reggae Sauce.

Red-hot business tips:

  1. ’Timing is vital – knowing when to start your business is key.’
  2. ’Only start something that you are really passionate about.’
  3. ‘Create a business plan that is short, concise and to the point.’

Famous last words… ‘I like the challenge of something new, something different…something with an opportunity to really, really become very successful.’


DEBORAH MEADEN – the serious one
"I can’t stand bullshit"
In the den since: 2006

The empire…A rose among thorns, Deborah, the only female dragon, launched a glass and ceramics export business at the tender age of 19. She then bought one of the first Stefanel textile franchises in the UK before setting her sights on several successful leisure and retail businesses. Keeping it in the family, Deborah became the MD of her family’s holiday park business, Weststar Holidays in 1988, selling her stake in the business for £83m in 2007. Doing it for the ladies, 51-year-old full-time investor Deborah’s net worth is an estimated £40m.

The Dragon’s success…Deborah invested £100,000 in Carol Savage’s pitch for MyDish.co.uk, a social networking website which allows its members to share their recipes and create a family cookbook of their own.

Red-hot business tips:

  1. ’Allow enough time to plan, pull the pitch together and rehearse in front of someone you respect and admire.’
  2. ‘Use your own language, don’t try to use ‘insiders’ jargon.’
  3. ‘Be yourself and be honest. Good investors have an in-built bullshit radar and being misleading is a dangerous game to play!’

Famous last words… ‘I think an entrepreneur’s job is to do all the research, weigh it all up and think: Is this a risk worth taking? You have to take risks to be an entrepreneur.’


JAMES CAAN – the fair one
"I make a point of investing in people"
In the den since: 2007

The empire…Pakistani-born James got off to a flying start when he set up recruitment company, Alexander Mann Group in 1985 at the age of 21. After achieving a turnover of £130m, James sold the business for £95m in 2002 and set his sights on co-funding executive headhunting firm Humana International in 1993, which he sold in 1999. James, 50, didn’t stop there. In 2004, he set up private equity company Hamilton-Bradshaw. James, who is now worth an incredible £83m, launched the James Caan Foundation in 2006 to help children in both the Western and developing world.

The Dragon’s success…James was so impressed with Sammy French’s pitch for Fit Fur Life dog treadmills, he invested £100,000 in the venture. The treadmills are designed for canine rehabilitation, training and exercise and are now used by vets, professionals and businesses working with dogs, and domestic dog owners all around the world.

Red-hot business tips:

  1. ‘Communicate face-to-face and over the phone – don’t hide behind a computer.’
  2. ‘Ensure your pitch is of benefit to you and the investor.’
  3. ‘There is no secret recipe to making millions. There is no substitute for hard work.’

Famous last words…‘Being a dragon is no different to what I do every day. Meeting someone, investing money and taking a risk is something I do naturally. But sitting there, investing your own cash, is much harder than people think.’


Pictures: bbc

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