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Dragons' Den Competition

Dragons’ Den Competition (no. 14) 2020

For the past thirteen years the Business School, with the support of blue-chip companies (E-On, Bentley and Santander, Yorkshire/Clydesdale Bank), as well as Business Durham, has held its own version of Dragons' Den*. This is a competition that gives an opportunity for students at Durham University Business School, individually or working as a team, to explore ideas for starting an enterprise and to have the experience of 'pitching' their idea. It is also a route through which students can obtain funding to take forward their business ideas. Past students have found that it’s an excellent learning experience and also a bit of fun - and teams have frequently gone on actually to start up their own ventures. Oh… and there is also £1000 in prize money!

*If you have not seen 'Dragons' Den' on TV ('Shark Tank' in the USA), just go to YouTube

Sponsorship for this year’s competition comes from Pharma-Entrepreneur Professor Bryan Morton and Social Entrepreneurs Graham & Diane Smith.

Either individually, or as a team, you are invited to develop and present a new venture proposal around one of the following:

1) a commercial/business start-up

2) a social enterprise start-up

3) University spin-out (i.e. with a member of staff in the team)

Venture proposals thatspecifically seek to address an aspect of the environmental crisis are especially welcomed. All venture proposals must be shown to operate in a way that is fully consistent with environmental sustainability

The competition itself involves making short oral ‘pitches’, and does not require you to submit a detailed written business plan. However, to support your business case you will obviously need to have investigated key aspects of your proposed enterprise - e.g. likely size of market, nature of the competition, cost and financial projections, environmental sustainability, and your ‘business model’ – which are normally elements of any business plan.

The competition

1. An independent Panel will consider outlines of your business idea submitted as Expressions of Interest

2. A long-list of ten teams to be invited to work up their proposals and present these to a small panel of entrepreneurs and business professionals – The 'Dragons', at the Dragons’ Den Semi-Finals

3. Four or five teams will be chosen to go forward to the Dragons' Den Final held at the end of April

4. At the Final, each team will present a 6-minute pitch, followed by questions from the Dragons, who will determine the winners and prize money winners, which can be drawn down to help develop the business idea or the skills of individuals/team members.

*Please note that the 'Dragons' are people with practical entrepreneurship experience. Unlike the famous TV Dragons, they provide constructive feedback, not insults!

The process…

  • Complete an Expression of Interest form and the team leader should send this to Competition Coordinator Julie Wilson ( by 6.00 pm, Friday 7 February 2020
  • Teams should consist of 1-5 students of the University, at least one of which should be a current Business School student (i.e. taking at least one Business School module). The competition is open to undergraduate and postgraduate students, including PhD students.
  • Durham University Business School entrants are encouraged to consider including in their team students from other departments/disciplines
  • Individuals/teams can enter more than one business idea proposal but normally only one idea from each team will go forward
  • Individuals can be part of more than one team
  • Each team going forward will be assigned a business mentor, to advise and support it.
  • Team proposals selected for the semi-final stage can also meet to work on their idea through Mentorship provided in the ‘StartGrid’ sessions during Term 2 at Durham University Business School, Mill Hill Lane, 2.00-4.00pm on selected Thursdays in Room 223
  • Dates for these sessions are: 13 February 2020 (Dragons’ Den general guidance and advice session by Professor Ian Stone); 20 and 27 February and 19 March 2020 (available for mentorship sessions/appointments)
  • All are welcome to the session on 13 February. To make a mentorship appointment on the other dates, contact Julie Wilson (
  • A Dragons’ Den Judging Committee will assess entries and select a long-list of ten teams to be invited to work up their proposals and present these to a small panel of entrepreneurs and business professionals – The 'Dragons' - at the Semi-Finals
  • At the Dragons' Den Semi-Finals (12th March 2020, 14.00-18.00), from 10 semi-finalists, 4-5 teams will be selected to go forward to the Final
  • The Dragons' Den Final will be held in the Business School on Tuesday 28 April 2020 (MBA Lecture Theatre 405). Each team will give a 6-minute pitch, followed by questions from the Dragons.
  • The best project(s) at the Final, judged by the Dragons’ Panel, will be presented with prizes (money and in-kind business support)
  • Certificates will be available to each team/team member for participation in the Semi-final and Final, duly recognizing performance (‘semi-finalist’, ‘finalist’, ‘winner’, ‘runner-up’)

What next?

  • Teams should submit their downloaded Expression of Interest form by 6.00 pm on Friday 7 February 2020, providing the following information:
  • Names and degree programme/department of each team member
  • Email address of each team member
  • The ‘team coordinator’/main point of contact
  • Venture title
  • Venture type (i.e. business enterprise, social enterprise, University spin-out)
  • Short description of proposed new venture (250-400 words) Important: You need to state clearly what the business idea is, why is it important (i.e. any social benefits), any strengths you feel you have in terms of launching it/gaining a market/taking it forward, etc.). You need to show clearly how it relates to the environment!
  • Submissions will be assessed on the strength of: (1) creativity, (2) preparation/research, (3) potential business viability, and (4) overall appeal of the idea
  • Confirmation is needed that you are available for the Dragons’ Den Semi-final on Thursday 12 March 2020, to be held at Durham University Business School.

Dates for the diary

  • Friday 7 February 2020 - Deadline for Expressions of Interest
  • Thursday 12 March 2020 - Semi-Finals Competition
  • Tuesday 28 April 2020 - Finals

Blueprint Startup Challenge

Participants in Dragons’ Den should note that the University-wide Blueprint Startup Challenge runs parallel to the Durham University Business School competition. Many teams choose to participate in both, to benefit from the synergies and overlap – and the chances of a prize are enhanced! For more information, contact the Careers & Enterprise Centre at