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

23 Apr 2013 10:58:03.733

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.

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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.”

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottinghamhas 42,000 students at award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It was ‘one of the first to embrace a truly international approach to higher education’, according to the Sunday Times University Guide 2013. It is also one of the most popular universities among graduate employers, one of the world’s greenest universities, and winner of the Times Higher Education Award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Sustainable Development’. It is ranked in the UK’s Top 10 and the World’s Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong and the QS World Rankings.

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise. The University aims to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health. The University won a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education for its research into global food security.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest ever fundraising campaign, will deliver the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Janine Swail, lecturer in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at The University of Nottingham, on +44 (0)115 846 6220,

Fraser Wilson - Communications Officer

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 846 6691 Location: University Park

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