As one of only two original Dragons’ Den panellists still on the BBC2 hit show, Peter Jones has seen his fare share of budding entrepreneurs run their ideas past him. But having just launched his new Enterprise Academy, for which funding came from both the public and private sector, he’s really putting his money where his mouth is. Startups spoke to Peter about his ambitions for the academy, why he thinks Britain’s entrepreneurial mindset is in dire need of a change, and what he really thinks about his fellow Dragons.
You’ve just opened the doors for the September term of your new Enterprise Academy. What’s the journey been like?
I first wrote about the introduction of an academy for enterprise back in 2006 in my book Tycoon. From inception to launch it’s been three years but it was only the latter part of 2007 that we started to make real headway. It’s been amazingly refreshing working with the government on this. We’ve clearly hit a nerve and I feel very lucky to have established Britain’s first enterprise academy.
Is launching the academy your proudest moment so far?
From a career perspective it’s definitely up there in the top three. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. But my absolute proudest moment is becoming a dad. Nothing can beat that – not even the best deal of my life.
What are your long-term goals for the academy?
We’re going to change the complete landscape of enterprise learning in this country and start with a cultural shift. I truly believe that anybody and everybody can become a successful entrepreneur but first they have to change their belief system. Being typically British we always ask ‘Can I?’ but we will be teaching the students the meaning of ‘I Can’. That might sound flippant but it’s at the heart of where we need to be. We clearly have a lack of skills when it comes to entrepreneurship in this country and we need to change that.
The academy will offer complete support from a mentoring based system where seriously successful entrepreneurs will lay down the foundations of how they made it. But also, all our tutors are successful enterprising people in their own right. It’s very difficult to find a business man or woman that also has teaching experience but we’ve done it.
What’s the single most important entrepreneurial skill?
One of the things about being an entrepreneur that we often don’t like to accept is that it’s a lonely road. You’re continually motivating people and patting others on the back. Although you’ll always need specific people to go out and do a multitude of things for you, a big part of being an entrepreneur is the ability to understand the overall business from a helicopter’s perspective and then get each of the components working with applied focus to the best of their ability.
Do you have a favourite Dragon’s Den investment?
I don’t have a favourite but I am lucky enough to have the most successful Den investment. Who’d have predicted that a singer songwriter from Jamaica would walk up the stairs singing about his product and he would end up a multimillionaire. Reggae Reggae Sauce now generates 12-14 million bottles a year and has licensed out the brand to a range of different things. It’s become a brand that’s right up there, and the next step it to take it over to the States.
Are any of your investments purely financial transactions?
No. I don’t have any investments that I’m not personally involved in. I’m not a person that likes to just give money. I just don’t see the point in that. I’m a people investor and I’ve active in all deals to varying degrees.
Which other Dragon do you enjoy working with the most?
I haven’t had the opportunity to work with Deborah yet despite sitting next to her in the Den, but I do get on really well with her. Theo and I work together a lot. We’re friends and we know each other well. He likes to jump on the back of a lot of my investments and likewise, I often like to follow his lead.
Much to everyone’s, even my, shock and horror, I also work well with Duncan. I couldn’t describe in words what I used to think of him, but over the last 18 months I’ve really started to understand what he’s all about. I respect him because he’s straight talking but also a really charming guy, and he’s become a good friend.
What about James?
James is a nice guy but I like to call him the cat – as in copycat. If I set up a website, he copies it. If I decide to set up my own fashion label, he’ll do one too. He hasn’t got a shred of fashion sense in his body. He’ll go into a house and think the flowery curtains would look good on him. My message to James would be to stop dressing like the interior design of property and learn about true fashion. He needs to go back to copying me but I can’t see him in stripy socks. He’s not that cool.
Can money buy you happiness?
Yes. Without a doubt. Money gives you choices. I’ve been in both camps and I’d much rather have money than not. It’s great to walk into your garage and see a lovely Ferrari in there. Money can make you happy as long as you remember it isn’t everything.
What’s your biggest tip for business success?
For a dream to become reality you need to make it real enough to believe in. If you’re pitching an idea to somebody, make it real to whoever you’re aiming the pitch at.