Why, in seeking to present "real life" business on television, do we end up with programmes that would put sane people off business for life?
There is the ghastly sado-masochism of The Apprentice, and the ghoulish schadenfreude that is Dragon's Den. In the Flintstone era who would dare walk up the stairs to the dragons' lair with a new-fangled object called a wheel, only to be sent packing for a contraption with so many holes in it and a failure to explain why on earth people would want it?
So when I was invited to be a judge on a Dragons Den-style show, part of the Edinburgh International Marketing Festival and backed by The Scotsman and the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, I was concerned that my questions to budding young business people would not be devastating enough. "A wheel, you say? Preposterous. Where's the five-year business plan? And do you really know the difference between turnover and profit?"
In the event, the six shortlisted finalists competing for a prize of 8,000 of business and marketing support put on a show at the Assembly Hall yesterday that would have had the TV dragons gagging to put up wads of dosh for a toehold stake. Not only was the audience treated to some outstanding presentations but it was also shown some credible and innovative products and great business ideas. The austerity gloom that has settled over the economy like dreich Edinburgh Festival weather lifted for the morning. The show also had ebullient radio and TV personality Simon Fanshawe as host to keep the proceedings not just in order but in positive and upbeat mood.
First on the stage was Ann-Maree Morrison with a fluent and professional presentation for her company, Labels4Kids. It was set up to meet a gap in the school market for vinyl waterproof labels. These can be stuck, sewn or ironed on a variety of items of clothing and kit such as gym bags, lunchboxes, shoes and sports equipment as well as clothes. "Individuality that sticks" is the marketing line, with the sub-head "Because kids lose stuff". Anyone doubting the size of this market need only to visit the kids' school, open the lost property cupboard and stand well back.
Next up was Gaynor Salisbury, pitching her company Loopy Lorna's Tea House. This opened in Morningside, Edinburgh in late 2008 and aims to bring together the appeal of the old-fashioned tearoom and traditional home baking in a trendy, quirky setting. We drink far more tea than coffee in this country. But why are our high streets studded with so many coffee bars? The company has now opened new premises at the Church Hill Theatre and aims to build a successful national franchise in five years.
Then came a knock-out presentation of a stunningly simple product – a devilishly cunning device called Safetray to make drink service trays in hotels and bars spill-proof. With one effortless sweeping gesture, Alison Grieve showed how the stability achieved with Safetray is so great that you can place a bottle of wine right at the edge of a tray and keep it totally horizontal. Never mind the global hospitality industry to whom this is targeted – I would love one at home so that I can carry a teapot and cup and saucer to the table without our foot-entangling cat Miss Lulubelle sending the contents flying across the room.
Tom Marsh and Trent Jennings caught the imagination with their company called Blue Marmalade. It turns discarded plastic into products for the eco and style conscious – home accessories including attractive chairs, lighting and design-led gifts. The company is already selling through independent design retailers such as The Conran Shop.
Language teacher Val Thornber presented her online educational story-telling resource GrowStoryGrow. It is a great tool that encourages children to engage with interactive stories. Great, too, for teachers struggling with the Curriculum for Excellence.
Arguably the show stopper of the contest was the product that didn't make it up the stairs and onstage: Alan Forbes' Dakota retro motor bike which had the petrolheads drooling. The bike, made by his Scottish-registered company, Indian Motorcycles, is already turning heads in the motoring press.
The winner? For its innovative product, clear proposition, solid values and tapping into a trend of the future – Blue Marmalade. Dragons? Eat your heart out.