Entering the Dragon’s Den

  Editor”s Note: Janet  L. Sernack  is one of our contributors from Israel, she gained her consulting, education, facilitation, training and executive coaching skills, from over 30 years …



Editor”s Note:

Janet  L. Sernack  is one of our contributors from Israel, she gained her consulting, education, facilitation, training and executive coaching skills, from over 30 years of experience in the manufacturing and retailing and learning and development businesses to Australia’s top 100 companies as Compass Learning Pty Ltd.She now resides on the Mediterranean Coast, in Israel where she founded an Israeli Start-Up, ImagineNation, which is an imaginative, generative & provocative global learning & development company that allows coaches, managers, leaders and organisations to develop their innovative and entrepreneurial leadership capability through enterprise gamification (The Start-Up Game) innovation labs and online learning programs (The Coach for Innovators ICF CCE Certified Program).One of the things Janet said to me recently was” how come everyone is talking about Innovation and no one talks about being Innovative




The World Economic Forum Global Education Initiative in June 2011 published the Entrepreneurship Education Work Stream Report; Unlocking entrepreneurial capabilities to meet the global challenges of the 21st century. The report states that:

 “Society faces a strong need to encourage people to practice believing the unbelievable, using imagination and courage, and tapping into the inner entrepreneur”.

This is not going to be possible with some of the current practice of key entrepreneurship resources who treat people’s courageous efforts of tapping into their “inner entrepreneur” as if it they are part of a reality TV show; where humiliation and callous equivocation have become the “rules of the game”. Speaking from my own recent, personal experience of entering the “Dragons Den”, there must be more effective and empowering, creative and innovative ways, than the shallow range of aggressive Trumpesque type behaviors, of honoring people’s imagination and courage, and nurturing their inner entrepreneur!

For those unfamiliar with the term “dragons den”, it involves pitching a start-up or new business venture to a potential investor, panel of investors or business mentor, to answer their questions and then receive feedback “warts and all”. Having been exposed to the popular UK “Dragons Den” show, and many of its various global “shark like” iterations, I suggest that these shows have more of a detrimental, rather than a positive effect on those entrepreneurial Knights entering them. Having invested more than two decades training and coaching high powered leaders and teams how to give one another constructive feedback, as a way of improving performance, I suggest that there must be a better way!

I still get shocked, surprised, and even horrified, to see, such diminishing and humiliating feedback processes. My own experience of being at the receiving end of it, left me wondering whether the “jolt” could have been achieved in a more conscious, respectful and compassionate way?

There must be a better way of evaluating and promoting the inner entrepreneur, than this aggressive, oppositional, often demeaning process!

The report also states that:

“Entrepreneurship and innovation are driving new ways of learning, living and working. Embedding entrepreneurship and innovation, cross-disciplinary approaches and interactive teaching methods in education require new models, frameworks and paradigms”.

It’s really tough being an entrepreneur and it is even harder to become an innovative one. This is because the first inner requirement is a huge dose of outright boldness and courage. Entrepreneurs need this inner emotional resource to ignite and sustain their passion, to say “no” to the status quo, to then cultivate the drive to “step up and away” from the crowd and to “make a stand” for something they intuit or believe in. They also need to cultivate the self belief and innate confidence, to “stay in the game”, often without any concrete evidence of it working or guarantees of success. Their next challenge is to “let go” of nearly everything they know, and adopt a mindset of “not knowing”, allowing them to see the world with “fresh eyes” and develop the growth mindset needed create openings and new thresholds for possibilities.

This process requires incredible focus, rigor and discipline, as well as exhaustive research and testing processes to consistently iterate, and then hopefully, quantify and qualify their innovative vision or intent. Following this clarification process is the prototyping phase, where a series of experiments, often resulting in a number of failures, when refining what may become their unique scalable business model. Whilst this enables them to “learn fast”, it also eats up time, cash and energy reserves, requiring another critical inner emotional resource, resilience.

Finally, once the value proposition, target market and business plan basics have been articulated, the start-up entrepreneur has something concrete and solid to pitch to a potential investor, supporter or partner.   This is the moment when they enter the Dragons Den, when all of their hard work, imagination and courage are put “on the line”. When someone who has either business acumen, or financial resources will determine, often after a 3-5, or perhaps 10 minute Sales Pitch, whether they “have what it takes”, to be a success, or not!

Having paid the highest level of personal income tax for the better part of my long standing career in corporate learning, I applied to the Australian government, where my learning and development company is a legal entity, for an Innovation Grant. It required presenting my start-up, which was then in its seed phase, ImagineNation™ to a panel of three government appointed “innovation” consultants. It was one of the most abusive, humiliating and diminishing experiences I have had in corporate Australia.  This caused me to wonder, how less resourced business people (and not a corporate trainer like me) ever manage to “hold their space”, and onto their inner entrepreneur, with the aggressive bullying and conventional manner these consultants demonstrated.

How do they ever manage to recover, regroup and refocus their efforts, after entering such a dangerous and pernicious Dragons Den!

So some practical advice to the Dragons please;

1.   Demonstrate genuine curiosity and interest in what we, as start-up entrepreneurs have to offer, and see if you too, can start with an “empty mind” to be open and receptive to the possibilities we are passionate about and driven to achieve!

2.   Acknowledge us in an affirming and enobling way, our courage, imagination, drive and persistence that we have invested in our brave efforts to be innovative start-up entrepreneurs.

3.   Note that aggressive oppositional behaviors are no longer acceptable “ways of being” in most organizations, and drop the “reality show” pretence, as it inhibits engagement, collaboration and ultimately sustainability. Please learn how to give constructive feedback that enhances our offerings, and encourage and support the development of our “inner entrepreneur”.

Additionally, a few words of advice to those innovative entrepreneurs brave, bold and courageous enough to enter the Dragons Den, please make sure that;

1.   Your start-up business is really, really focused, in that it does just “one thing, and one thing only”, really well. That you can articulate within 30 seconds, on one power point slide, in 2-3 lines max, in ways that clearly add value to the life of your target customer.

2.   You have validated your unique offer, via your target customer. That you have iterated and successfully pivoted your “proof of concept”, to potentially moneyatize your start-up, which is what the dragon is most interested in assessing.

3.   Your business model is clear, concise and scalable, because this is what the Dragon really wants to assess and or invest in. This is what distinguishes your unique value as a start-up and money making potential.  

At ImagineNation, we agree that:

“It is time to rethink the old systems and fundamentally “reboot” the entrepreneurial educational process”.

So we made an innovative effort to re-boot the entrepreneurial education process, by creating The Start-Up Game™. A business simulation that develops innovative leaders and start-up entrepreneurs, where a player’s imagination, creativity and courage are honored, encouraged and rewarded. We have shifted the corporate learning and dragon paradigms by creating a safe, yet intentionally provocative and generative, gamified learning environment. This gives players, budding entrepreneurs, a positive, yet visceral experience that generates not only a “jolt”, it also enhances and nourishes their inner entrepreneurship capability.

They then flourish, by experimenting and learning from mistakes, by collaborating and maximizing the diversity that exists with any group, and by reinforcing, in practical and pragmatic ways, what really works.

If we want to promote entrepreneurship globally, which is part of the World Economic Forums’ Global Education Initiative, it would be wiser and more beneficial for the dragons develop their competence, consciousness and collaborative abilities as how they support and educate those brave and bold Knights who have the imagination and courage to enter their dragons dens!

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