Bring on the technology Dragons

Many readers will have watched last week’s new series of Dragon’s Den, the cult BBC show that puts would-be entrepreneurs in front of a panel of investors in an attempt to get them to part with their cash.

The programme is an often entertaining insight into the world of venture capital, one of the key mechanisms by which bright ideas are turned into companies and given access to the cash they need for a fighting chance of success.

Like its sister programme, The Apprentice, Dragon’s Den is a result of the BBC’s stated aim of making the frequently impenetrable world of business accessible to a mass audience.

We don’t know how the new series will unfold, but from the viewpoint of those working in engineering and technology it is interesting to look at the types of business that have featured in previous episodes. The hard-nosed capitalists have been shown ventures in sectors as diverse as board games, circus production, aromatherapy, umbrella vending machines, fashion and even (may heaven preserve us) magazine publishing.

What could be described as engineering and technology businesses have been relatively thin on the ground.

An exception was a plan to provide high-speed wireless internet access to yachts, which was well received by the investors thanks to a combination of technical know-how and a potentially lucrative market.

The sparse showing from engineering and technology sectors is surprising. The UK is renowned for its technical innovation and its apparent difficulty in turning these into thriving commercial ventures. Surely this is the ideal combination for a show such as Dragon’s Den?

On further reflection, however, this is perhaps less surprising. Engineering is serious and difficult stuff. Technical innovation is hard to achieve, hard to explain and, to those not involved in the process, often hard to understand.

With the greatest respect to the other sectors represented in the Den, most are operating at a rather less demanding level. They will also be viewed as better TV by the show’s producers, who would be unlikely to relish the sight of their fearsome Dragons breaking into a sweat as they struggle to understand the intricacies of a new drive, sensor or antenna.

That, however, is the reality of bringing technology innovation together with the cash it needs to achieve its potential. It needs lots of hard graft by the innovators and a willingness and ability from the financiers to engage with the subject matter.

Increasing understanding on both sides of the equation is important for the future well-being of the UK technology sector at a time when innovation has never been more important to the economy.

The Engineer plans to do its bit in this regard when in the next issue we launch a new section of the magazine called Managing Technology, which will look at some of the key financial, legal and commercial issues surrounding technological innovation.

A few Dragons are likely to feature over the next few months, but we can promise a complete absence of aromatherapists and circus acts.

Andrew Lee, editor