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June 24, 2013, by Kelly Cookson

Think you’re an entrepreneur in the making? It’s not as easy as it looks on TV…

By Dr Janine Swail

TV programmes like Dragons’ Den and The Apprentice depict entrepreneurial activity unrealistically and set budding entrepreneurs up for a fall, according to a new report published in the International Small Business Journal.

Dr Janine Swail, lecturer in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at The University of Nottingham, co-authored the report with Professors Simon Down and Teemu Kautonen from Anglia Ruskin University. The findings were drawn from the responses of 960 university students to discover whether so-called ‘entre-tainment’ programmes are perceived as being harmless fun or a true representation of what it’s like to be an entrepreneur.

The research found that through observing the staged successes and failures of contestants, viewers believe they are learning effective ways of carrying out entrepreneurship, such as communicating business ideas, evaluating risk and how to negotiate. But the researchers believe this does not provide the whole picture of entrepreneurship and its challenges. 

Success is far from guaranteed

The study found that programmes like Dragons’ Den give a skewed impression of entrepreneurship without stressing that success is far from guaranteed. For example – unlike in Dragons’ Den – pitching your idea or product for substantial investment funding is not an everyday entrepreneurial practice.

Dr Swail said: “The risk is that with increased entrepreneurial intent these individuals may embark on entrepreneurship with a heightened sense of optimism and their own ability, which in the longer term could result in a negative effect on overall entrepreneurial activity.

“Young individuals who start their businesses encouraged by positive perceptions of ‘entre-tainment’, only to fail, might be wary of starting businesses later on in their careers when they have accrued actual, as opposed to perceived, skills by virtue of increased human and social capital.”

Celebrity entrepreneurs

The programmes have a particularly strong effect on those who think that ‘entre-tainment’ is both positive for entrepreneurship and the UK economy, and believe that celebrity entrepreneurs – like The Apprentice’s Lord Alan Sugar – encourage entrepreneurial action.

Professor Down from Anglia Ruskin, said: “The rise of ‘entre-tainment’ reflects cultural changes in the public perception of entrepreneurship, which in the past, with dodgy characters like Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses, was generally less positive.

“Today we live in a more enterprising culture where the popularity of these programmes suggests that students are more accepting of entrepreneurship as a form of work. Becoming an entrepreneur is both more achievable and desirable than it once was. Governments are keen to encourage people to start their own businesses, especially in difficult economic times, and programmes such as Dragons’ Den provide an insight into the entrepreneurial world, so to speak.”

More information is available from Dr Janine Swail, lecturer in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at The University of Nottingham on 0115 846 6220,

The full report is published in the International Small Business Journal.

Posted in Entrepreneurship