So why are so many entrepreneurs emerging with horror stories of their experiences? And what happens once contestants step away from the bright lights of the Dragons’ Den?
There have been allegations that the programme is an ‘exploitative sham’, with the Financial Times saying: ‘Dragons’ Den is a cartoon masquerading as factual television.
'It has more in common with broadcast wrestling than the real world of investing. Does it serve the cause of enterprise to have multi-millionaires humiliate inventors, and cackle like schoolboys while treading on people’s dreams? ’
Furthermore, several contestants who have been turned down by the Dragons have gone on to become very successful — calling into question the Dragons’ judgment.
So, is the programme little more than a contrived and increasingly jaded entertainment formula, or does it really give British entrepreneurs a chance of hitting the big time?
Shaun Pulfrey appeared on the show in 2007 with his Tangle Teezer hairbrush, but his pitch was rejected.
He has gone on to stock the £9.99 device in Boots and recently secured a lucrative tie-in with Walt Disney, which gave his product away during promotion for the movie Tangled, a new version of Rapunzel. He expects a turnover of £2.2 million this year.
He describes his experience of Dragons’ Den as ‘crushing’.
‘A friend convinced me to submit my proposal through the website, and the next day I was called in for a screen test and asked for my business plan, ’ he says.
‘It was all a bit of a whirlwind — suddenly I was up at Pinewood studios being filmed.’
There, he was shown into the Green Room, with six other contestants.
‘Suddenly you find yourself at the bottom of the stairs, about to go into the Den, ’ he says.
‘You don’t meet the Dragons until you are under the lights, being filmed. It’s like facing a firing squad.’
A hair colourist for 25 years, Pulfrey was mocked by the Dragons, with Peter Jones calling his invention ‘a “hairbrained” idea’.
Pulfrey says: ‘They were nasty. Peter Jones, in particular, was quite vicious. Afterwards, I was driven in a golf buggy to the studio gates, and pitched out to wait for a cab. Everyone is friendly on the way in, but if you’re rejected, no one talks to you on the way back out. I felt very deflated.’
A further shock came when Pulfrey watched his performance on TV. ‘The way it was edited made me look as if I didn’t know what I was doing. Of course, I knew that they were making an entertainment show, but I didn’t want to be the butt of their joke.’
Pulfrey has had the last laugh, however. He says: ‘I’m now more successful than many of the winners.’
Another contestant, James Nash, went on the show last year, asking for £250, 000 for a 25 per cent stake in his business.
His invention — a single-serve plastic glass of French wine with a tear-off lid — was pilloried by the Dragons.
Duncan Bannatyne mocked: ‘People don’t want to buy wine in plastic glasses like that with a seal on top.’
Several former Dragons have also come out of the woodwork to criticise the programme. Simon Woodroffe, one of the original Dragons and the founder of Japanese fast-food restaurant Yo! Sushi, says the show is a battle of egos — not a forum for business innovation.
He says: ‘The thing to remember is that when you walk up the stairs to pitch, it’s not five people necessarily thinking: “How am I going to be able to make an investment here? ” They’re also thinking: “Am I going to be the star of this next little piece? ”’
For her part, Wright is pursuing her claim against the Dragons. Her lawyer says she is unable to speak to the Mail, because of the legal proceedings.
A lawyer for Caan, who amassed an £85 million fortune through his recruitment businesses, says: ‘James Caan has offered Sharon Wright nothing but support and encouragement since her appearance on the Den.
‘However, all parties agreed by mutual consent to terminate their relationship and Sharon then went on to secure a £100, 000 investment in her company, which James publicly congratulated her on.’
It seems his congratulations were not warmly received. Sharon says: ‘I didn’t get the money. I didn’t feel I received the support I needed. I felt hugely disappointed and disheartened.’
It would seem that, away from the TV cameras, the fire-breathing Dragons can sometimes deliver nothing more than hot air and empty promises.