THE showdown with investors on Dragons’ Den has become a staple part of the BBC television output – but what is the experience like as an entrepreneur.

With the latest series of the show currently on air, we caught up with two local businesses that faced the challenge of pitching to the panel.

Kate Bell took her Fordingbridge-based company Zip Us In maternity jacket panels into the Den in the summer of 2019 with the show airing in April 2020 when lockdown hit.

Meanwhile, founder of Rethinkwrap, a reusable wrapping paper business, Mary Ann Dujardin, who lives in Poole, had her pitch filmed in Spring 2019 before it was aired in the run up to Christmas of the same year.

Both businesswomen failed to secure investment from the dragons and have provided their reflections on the experience from a “gruelling” 11-hour day at the set to being surprised by how the pitch went out on air..

Kate Bell – Zip Us In

Looking back at the show, Kate told the Daily Echo it was really difficult to have all the aspects of what the business looks like covered in a short space of time.

“There was those three or four minutes they actually air, but I was in the Den for two-and-a-half hours,” she said.

“There is an awful lot that doesn’t come across. I was quite happy with the way it aired. It was a fairly good perception of what the company was doing at the time.

“They focused a lot on the company debt, going on about how the fact we had £110,000 of company debt, but what they cut out and didn’t air was the amount of stock we had in inventory at the time, which was over double the debt.

“It wasn’t debt, it was investment in stock and without that you do not have a business. A lot of people contacted us afterwards saying ‘we think you have a fantastic idea, we hope you recover’. That was unusual because the hadn’t aired the most important part of the information.

“Two-and-a-half hours compressed into the couple of minutes that’s aired doesn’t always give you a really good idea of what’s going on in a business.

“The episode sort of made it look like the company was in trouble, where as in fact we had just heavily invested in stock because I had big plans to grow the business.

“After filming that stock came in and we sold out. When it aired the website just went nuts and it has really helped to raise the profile within the UK.

“At the time we were doing an awful lot of business outside of the UK – Germany and France were our strongest market places and we’d just launched into the States and Canada.”

After being on the BBC show and despite the pandemic, Kate said things had gone “really well” for the business.

“Since then revenues have lifted by about 65 per cent,” said Kate.

“We have grown really well, which considering this has probably been the hardest year for any business to trade, has been positive for us.”

The day after seeing the dragons turn down putting money into her business Kate secured an investor.

And things have continued to go from strength to strength, with four investors secured since Dragons’ Den and new products in the pipeline, including one which Kate described as a “game-changer”.

She admitted going on the show was her “toughest” pitching experience and took her “completely out of my comfort zone” by being in front of the cameras – a fear which had previously seen her turn down an approach from the show.

“I think I went in thinking they would understand my concept and I would be able to get that across. I think my pitch went pretty well but the drilling afterwards,” added Kate.

“Although this is their money, so they have to ask all of those questions and I was prepared for that, what I probably wasn’t quite prepared for was it is a TV show and they were putting on a show, so they are going to make it controversial and they are going to push me really hard.

“At the time I was as brave as I could possibly be but coming out the other side I think it took me a really long time getting over that experience because it was a huge knock to my confidence to have been so publicly pulled apart.

“It took me quite a long time to remind myself these are just opinions, and these are four businesspeople but that is just their opinion at the time and that is their opinion about what they can learn about the business in a very, very short space of time. It is practically impossible to really explain what has happened over four years of trading at the time.

“It made me really question my decisions, what I had done and the vision I had for the business.

“It took me quite a long time to reflect and think ‘I have made mistakes, but I wouldn’t change any of them because that has what has shaped the business and I have learned from them’.

Mary Ann Dujardin - Rethinkwrap

An appearance on Dragons’ Den for Mary Ann came after her business caught the attention of the producers but in reflection she feels the time might not have been right for her.

She told the Daily Echo: “I was approached by the BBC and I thought it was too early for my business, but they invited me to apply and I took the chance because it is my favourite show, so if I’m approach I’m going to jump at that.

“In hindsight I wouldn’t have done a Christmas show because it really puts you in a niche. You can only be aired the week before Christmas, so I don’t think that was great for the business.

“For me, my experience in the Den was different from what went out on air. It felt like my answers were taken a bit out of context.

“My experience was really positive when I was there but when I saw it air it was so different and it wasn’t a great experience for me.”

Like many business, Mary Ann has suffered a “tricky” period over the past year due to the pandemic.

She described the Dragons’ Den experience as a “very, very gruelling day” which saw her arrive on set first thing in the morning and playing a waiting game until eventually delivering her pitch at 5.30pm.

Discussing the feedback she received from the potential investors, she said: “They really went off about my packaging, which is fair enough, but my product is different from just the packaging, so I have revisited the packaging and I totally took some of the comments on board.

“I think it was really too early to go on. I jumped at the chance but in hindsight I would have probably waited a bit longer into my journey so my numbers were better and my product was a little bit more solidified.

“Reuseable gift wrap in general isn’t what people know about that much, so a whole new concept and a whole new product meant it was probably a little bit too early.”

“As people get back to normal there is a huge potential for people wanting to use renewable and to get more eco friendly and there is lots of hope for that.”

After her pitch went out on television, Mary Ann experienced the negative side of the online community with trolls questioning and being condescending towards her business.

She said the way the show is edited can change how the pitch is presented and the final broadcast had left her “surprised”.

Asked for her advice to other entrepreneurs thinking about applying for Dragons’ Den, Mary Ann said: “Make sure the timing is right and remember it is for TV, so what you say, even if you have a positive experience, may not be how you or how your product is portrayed.

“If you want to take that gamble, great. It is good PR, my website traffic jumped and I got more sales, but you have no control over if it is even going to air.

“Wait until you have solid sales and make sure you have a thick skin and you are okay with things not going how you think they might have done.”