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Dragons’ Den with a difference

Environmental sustainability was the focus of our fourteenth Dragons’ Den competition, which received a number of great entries resulting in eleven teams contesting the semi-finals, and producing eight finalists.

The difference this year was that from March 2020, Dragons’ Den went online due to the UK COVID-19 lockdown. All entry project pitches – already prepared for a classroom context – were submitted by video, with questions and feedback given online. 

The entries

This year’s entries included two technology/manufacturing business ideas, four web-based applications, two food-related businesses and two that looked at teaching and consultancy support. Many who submitted their projects had taken part in supporting entrepreneurship masterclasses that looked at effectuation, business models and creating the perfect pitch. 

All of our would-be business moguls offered a service either directly aimed to reduce waste, or that would cause no additional pollution through its activities. Ideas included: turning unwanted pre-loved clothes into toys and gifts (JA Squared); formal dress-hire (Sew Good); reducing food waste through a recipe app (Cool Cuisine); and the winning entry, ShareMe.

The winner

ShareMe is a community based rental marketplace platform allowing the sharing of household items by linking owners with users. The overconsumption of household goods is becoming more of a problem with thousands of items going to landfill each year, and a changing trend of consumer behaviour moving towards access instead of ownership. ShareMe offers an opportunity to reduce overconsumption by sustainably creating access to one-off items whilst promoting the sharing economy. The business will operate locally, creating social benefits to local communities in the North East. 

The winner, Zoe Brain, MSc Management student, said: "The Dragons’ Den competition provided me with an exciting opportunity to develop a business idea and to learn from the experts how to craft my business plan and effectively pitch my ideas. My prize will help me to develop a website so I can begin to generate revenue, whilst tweaking the business plan to prepare for seed funding, in order to develop the mobile application platform of ShareMe in the future." 

Innovation award and other prizes

Winner of the Professor Ian Stone Innovation Award 2020 went to Ken-Z for their project to create a marketplace from the intrinsic value of musical artists. This ‘out of the box’ idea is a collaborative venture between Durham and Cambridge University students.

Prizes Awarded:

  • Winner: ShareMe (Zoe Brain) - £500
  • 2nd Place: Cool Cuisine (Yunfei Gao and Sunjun Hu) - £250
  • 3rd place (shared): Sew Good (Yuru Guo) and JA Squared (Amy (Juhyeon) Lee, Annie (Xiaoyin) Huang and Jeffery Tse) - £100 each
  • 4th Place (shared): Build the Seed (Wai I Fong), Knock Knock (Wenjia Wu) £50 each
  • Professor Stone Innovation Award: Ken-Z (Odia Daley & Alexander Akinbile from Downing College, Cambridge University)

Thank you

We are grateful to the Dragons who judged this competition: Dr Ian Drummond, recently retired Principal Policy Officer in the Government’s Enterprise Agency, and Michael Wilson, a North East hospitality sector entrepreneur. As part of the assessment process, both offered extensive feedback to the student teams, along with practical advice on how to turn their ideas into reality.

A big thank you is due, also, to the students, who stuck with the competition, in spite of the many changes forced upon it.

Thank you to our Dragons’ Den competition sponsors - School alumnus and pharma entrepreneur/Visiting Professor Bryan Morton, and University alumnus and social entrepreneur, Graham Smith.

More information

  • This piece was written by Professor Emeritus Ian Stone, who organised the competition alongside Dr Julie Wilson.
  • The School has an MSc Management (Entrepreneurship) programme.
  • Read Issue 7 of IMPACT magazine, which focuses on entrepreneurship and innovation.