Advocating the ambitious: The Apprentice & Dragons’ Den

Dragons' Den has become an international brand with variations airing around the world (Image credit: Dragons' Den)
Dragons' Den has become an international brand with variations airing around the world (Image credit: Dragons' Den)
Dragons' Den has become an international brand with variations airing around the world (Image credit: Dragons' Den) | Dragons' Den
The popularity of shows like Dragons' Den and The Apprentice demonstrates the public's interest in business acumen, entrepreneurial spirit, and deal negotiations.

Dragons' Den has seen the emergence of some exciting entrepreneurs throughout the UK, where many winners and runners-up have found success post-show. Similarly, the Apprentice provides the seeds for aspiring candidates to grow into a potential partner to British business magnate - Lord Alan Sugar.

Insider takes a look at the history of both of the shows along with the successes past candidates have achieved after airing.

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Dragons' Den

Originating in Japan 2001, where it is known as "The Tigers of Money", Dragons' Den has since become an international brand with variations airing around the world. The show's premise centres around hopeful business people pitching for investment from one of the dragons in the den.

The dragons take the shape of five entrepreneurs willing to invest their own money in exchange for company equity: Peter Jones, Deborah Meaden, Touker Suleyman, Sara Davies and Steven Bartlett. Along with series regulars, season 21's panel also features guest dragons: businesswoman and fashion designer Emma Grede and footballer-turned-entrepreneur Gary Neville.

Presented by Evan Davis, and first airing on the BBC on 4 January 2005, Dragons' Den has a long history of inspiring the aspiring, and collectively, the dragons boast an investment of millions of pounds over the course of the 21 seasons.

Show triumphs of recent years have turned into household names across the UK, including the likes of Skinny Tan, Magic Whiteboard, and Reggae Reggae Sauce.

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Local success

One pair that found success is Shropshire-based husband and wife team who secured investment for their range of smoothie drinks for dogs.

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Ian and Louise Toal from Much Wenlock landed a £50,000 investment for a 30 per cent share of their company from fashion retail entrepreneur and investor Touker Suleyman.

Elsewhere in the Midlands, a recovery start-up co-founded by a Nottingham-born rugby star secured investment in March 2024, following an appearance on the show.

MyoMaster was created by Joe Gray to treat a recurring Achilles tendonitis injury using a device made out of makeshift tools in his kitchen. He and co-founder Lottie Whyte secured a £100,000 investment from Gary Neville and Sara Davies, each investing £50,000 each.

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Diane Challender, who created the Zebedee system, a clothes-hanging system for sloped ceilings, also appeared in the 2024 season.

She founded her Grimsby-based interiors company in 2017, and although achieving steady growth since, she was keen to take the business to the next level. She received backing from Sara Davies, who offered £75,000 for a 40 per cent share.

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Redirecting rejection

Although receiving an offer on the show is the objective, all hope is not lost for contestants who go home empty handed. Manchester-based DiscreteHeat Company Ltd is a testament to this. The company had been previously rejected on the show and has since received a £250,000 Export Loan from GC Business Finance (GCBF).

The company's trademarked product, ThermaSkirt, was originally launched on the den, and is now on track for growth, driven by strong product demand from businesses looking to achieve Net Zero status.

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Martin Wadsworth, founder and managing director of DiscreteHeat Company Ltd, said: "After being rejected by the dragons, we wanted to make sure DiscreteHeat would be hugely successful. Now, we have a patented product that has some of the biggest housebuilders and developers knocking on our door."

The Apprentice

Operating with Lord Sugar at the helm, The Apprentice has overseen almost £3m in business start-ups in its close-to 20 years on air. The show was modelled after the US version, which starred property tycoon and would-be US president, Donald Trump. It began airing on BBC Two on 16 February 2005.

Over the course of 12 weeks, 14 budding entrepreneurs battle it out through a series of business-related challenges, under the watchful eye of Sugar and his business associates. Sugar – styled as Britain's toughest backer and the "unchanging heart of the show", offers the winning candidate an investment and the opportunity to go into a 50:50 business with him.

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The show proved to be a big hit from the outset - it moved to BBC one and was given a spin-off "The Apprentice: You're Fired!" in February 2006.

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Apprentice achievers

Several contestants that came from the show found themselves inundated with job offers after airing.

This was the case for 2011 runner-up Helen Milligan, who would go on to lead Newcastle baker Greggs' expansion in the South East. At the time, the TV star took on the role despite attractive offers, such as a £100,000 role with Ten Lifestyle Concierge.

Milligan is currently the president and CEO for Aramark UK and Global Offshore.

A digital marketing company founded by a winner of the show was acquired in a deal in 2022, in a deal supported by a North West-based dealmaking firm.

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Mark Wright founded London-based marketing agency Climb Online in 2015, after winning the BBC show the previous year. The company was formed as a collaboration following the airing of The Apprentice, and during the years, the company developed a blue-chip client base including TikTok, CV Library and Groupon. It was acquired by xDNA Group in the latter half of 2022.

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