What an honour it was to be asked to take part at Warwickshire College, Rugby for the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy negotiation challenge and also being a ‘dragon’ hearing the student pitches.
The Peter Jones Enterprise Academy was set up by Peter Jones, CBE, entrepreneur and star of ‘Dragon’s Den’, with a view to encouraging more entrepreneurial activity within the UK, based on a philosophy of ‘learning by doing’.
The Peter Jones Enterprise Academy has set out to be a catalyst for cultural change by bringing the boardroom into the classroom. It aims to equip future generations of entrepreneurs with the skills and mind-set to run their own business, thereby supporting the future of the British economy.
From what I have seen of the students work so far this is certainly a successful model. The skills they are showing during case studies and their business plans are years beyond their ages.
Warwickshire College expects a higher standard of turnout and professionalism for these students, they all arrive in business dress and I was certainly greeted with firm hand shakes, eye contact and confidence.
My day as a dragon made it all more worthwhile because excellent prior planning by the Business Enterprise Manager, the lecturers and staff. During the day we had 14 pitches, each having an allocated time of 8 minutes maximum to show case their business plans to the dragons and to demonstrate why their proposition needed an investment. This must have been such a daunting task in front of 4 dragons and 2 supporting staff. Other dragons were local business entrepreneurs and the College Principle.
Entrepreneur’s of the Future
The broad range of business plans ranged from local nanny services, local coffee shops to national online bespoke fashion and national power supply service for personal devices. As you can appreciate I shouldn’t go into too much detail, but there are certainly names that I will be looking out for in the future.
The academy has its own boardroom and an area called ‘the void’ where they are able to work on their projects in an open plan environment. All the students held their own in the board room in front of the dragons. As dragons we were just as direct with our questions and wanted to see financial skills, good communication skills and planning skills in their business cases. It was great to see the level of application in their work; they had certainly taken on board their lectures.
The pitching criteria was that they had to deliver a pitch which should explain the case for investing in their proposed micro-business, but in some cases it was evident they were looking beyond the micro business. They presented their pitch on pre-prepared presentation board, but just like in the TV ‘Dragons Den’ series we were able to touch and smell some of the merchandise. The students needed to be able to show they could negotiate for funding, presenting their views and then be able to answer and handle the challenging dragon questions.
There were a couple of really high quality pitches where the students were able to demonstrate their assumptions behind their sales forecasts and return on investments. All of the students however nervous they may have been did not flounder with any of the tricky questioning; where they hadn’t thought of a particular area they were honest. Clearly the students had done their research and followed the guidelines they had been given as they all covered the key areas of any business plan;
- Key Activities
- Key Resources
- Cost Structure
- Customer Relationships
- Key Partners
- Customer segments
- Value proposition
As a panellist for these pitches all had score on the following criteria, but also ensuring we provided feedback on scoring for reflection;
- Personal presentation
- Finance; sales forecast, ROI demand capacity
- Negotiation skills
- Preparation of questions
- Presentation of their pitch
- Added value
This was such a hard task as the pitches were short and very fluent. Listening, asking questions and scoring at the same time was a test to my multi-tasking skills!
The Preparation Challenge
In preparation for their pitches I was invited to help facilitate and present at their CIPS Negotiation Challenge 2014. The event took most of the day, providing the students with refresher presentations on negotiation, some of which I delivered.
There was a group challenge, 2 teams had to prepare for their negotiation.
Team 1: Parents
Team 2: Teenagers
The Challenge: The teenager’s objective was to negotiate with their parents for them to purchase a car.
Given only 10 minutes to prepare the teams took this challenge with gusto, both teams held powerful arguments, using all the tools they had been given during the earlier sessions including listening carefully and using the tools at the appropriate time.
The finale of the day was the challenge, the winners of which have just recorded their polished video to post on You Tube. Where is will be scored by CIPS. This challenge was teams of 5, they were given 6 different case studies to work through and to present back their 6 step negotiation process and why.
Everyone’s performance was outstanding, some of the teams demonstrated excellent explanations, great team participation and knowledge and understanding of their tasks.
My day as a “Dragon” was truly inspiratonal and it was great to meet some of the rising business stars of the future.