DRAGON’S Den investor Deborah Meaden loves making money and for new entrepreneurs looking to make their millions she’s got one crucial piece of advice – go green.
Deborah, 62, has invested an enormous £5million of her own money since joining Dragon’s Den 15 years ago and not only has she earned it all back, she’s also still seeing the returns flood in.
But for new businesses starting out, Deborah warns they haven’t got a chance of making millions if they haven’t considered sustainability and the environment.
Deborah, who has just finished filming the forthcoming series of Dragon’s Den, told The Sun: “When I first started, I was called Swampy by the other Dragons because I have always been worried about the environment.
"At the time, it wasn't really at the forefront, now it is. I would say every business pitched is either sustainable from their heart or they understand how their business affects the environment.”
Thanks to the pandemic, more people than ever before are thinking of starting new businesses or developing ideas they hope will make them rich. Having watched all kinds of people come into the Den, Deborah knows that entrepreneurs come in different shapes and sizes.
Deborah said: “Everybody's got a little bit of entrepreneur in them. Everybody's got an idea. At the moment, people are thinking about owning their own businesses and it unpeels what that actually means. I'm really proud of being part of Dragon's Den, because it has brought business out from behind the doors.
"People realise that being an entrepreneur is a very creative, very dynamic, very interesting thing to do. It's one of those shows that you can look at intergenerationally. You get great-grandchildren, through to their great-grandparents, and they'll all have a view. It's a very interactive programme.”
Deborah is currently working with Smart Energy GB, to encourage businesses to get a smart meter to help manage soaring electricity prices and reduce their carbon footprint. She said: “It’s really important with energy prices absolutely soaring. For businesses who are a bit worried about what's ahead of them this winter, the more control you can give them, the better. If you get a smart meter you’re managing and controlling your electricity, instead of getting to the end of the month and thinking, ‘Oh, my goodness, did we spend that much?’”
A good example of a new millionaire is Deborah’s new fellow Dragon Steven Bartlett. He’s only 29 but he’s made £50million from his social media marketing agency Social Chain. The new Dragon will make his debut in January and open up a whole new range of business investments for viewers who have tech ideas.
Deborah said: “Every time a new Dragon joins, the dynamic changes and that keeps it lively. Steven is an absolute expert in his field. He's definitely sharpened us all up again.”
The BBC only pays the Dragon’s a nominal amount that barely covers their costs but the real money is made in the investments. However, the pitches don’t stop when the cameras stop rolling. Whenever a wannabe investor sees a Dragon, they can’t help but beg for investment.
Deborah said: “Once I was at a train station, the train was just coming in and I got to the front of the ticket queue. And the lady says, ‘Oh, I'm so pleased I've seen you because my nephew's got this great business idea…' And she wouldn't give me my ticket until she'd pitched. I get pitched all the time.”
When I first started, I was called Swampy by the other Dragons
However, Deborah is keen to stress that a street pitch never opens her purse. She laughed: “I have never ever invested in anybody who has run up to me the street with a bit of paper. I really don't want the 1,000 people trawling after me.”
The show is a huge commitment and every year Deborah admits she wonders whether or not her time has come to leave the Den.
Deborah, who just finished filming her 16th consecutive series, said: “It’s not my job. I don't have to do it. The minute I don't like it, trust me, I won't be doing it.
“I've reached the age of my life where I only do what I want to do. Every year I think maybe this is the last year, then every year I sit down in the chair and I think to myself, ‘I love this. This is my home. This is what I do. These are the people I want to be amongst.’ It’s great.”
Part of the appeal is filming on location in Manchester with her fellow Dragons Peter Jones, Strictly Come Dancing’s Sara Davies, Touker Suleyman and 29-year-old newcomer Steven Bartlett because they go out for dinner and drinks every night after filming.
Deborah, who is happily married to her husband Paul and made her money in holiday parks, laughed: “I probably spent more time with the Dragons than I do my husband because we always eat out together – pandemic depending. We all get on. That doesn't mean we don't have our battles in the Den, we are competing for businesses, but when we're out and about now, we've all got a lot of respect for each other. We get on really well.”
Her nickname might be Swampy but Deborah loves a bit of sparkle – and still likes to tango eight years after appearing on Strictly Come Dancing. She last had dinner with her dance partner Robin Windsor just a week ago and she’s stayed friends with her fellow celebrity contestants Rachel Riley, Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Natalie Gumede.
She said: “We’re real friends because you go through something together you know it's an amazing thing Strictly.”
Watching fellow Dragon and friend Sara Davies on the show this year added to the thrill. She said: “Her first dance wasn't the greatest but boy she's come on, her foxtrot was beautiful, and it was just so lovely to see. And that's what Strictly is all about.”
Sara faced some tough comments from judge Craig Revel-Horwood but Deborah says Sara found his criticism motivating.
And she’s found dancer-turned-judge Anton Du Beke a revelation. Deborah said: “I found Craig really helpful because you want to know if you've got things wrong. The whole judging panel this year is really good. Anton's great. They're giving constructive comments. I know Sara appreciated that.”
Deborah might have earned tens of millions from her business ventures but she insists money isn’t what motivates her. She said: “Life is not perfect you just have to get more good than bad, more right than wrong, more ups than downs but when I look at my balance in life I’m really thankful that I got here.”
And while she loves a business plan, Deborah insists she’s never planned her own life and simply seizes opportunities that come her way.
She said: “I have discovered in life that some of the best things that happen come completely out of the blue. It will surprise people to know that I have not planned one step of my life at all. I know that life is going to present something that I'm going to think 'oh that's amazing'. I know that's going to happen but I just don't know what.”
Deborah Meaden has teamed up with Smart Energy GB to show businesses that getting a smart meter installed at their premises can help manage their energy spend. Installations are happening now, so contact your energy supplier to find out if your business is eligible to get one.
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