Dacorum's Den Cheque Presentation (group)I was lucky enough recently (with a bit of inspired action thrown in!) to be shortlisted for Dacorum’s Den. A local version of the popular TV Show Dragon’s Den (Shark Tank in the USA). Dacorum’s Borough Council, through the Den, offers grants of up to £1,000 for local business owners.

Like the show, you have to present your idea to a panel of judges for a chance to win the money (and perhaps some mentoring from the judges too). Fortunately, unlike the show, you don’t have to negotiate and offer a percentage of your business.

How did I find out about the competition?

After meeting the programme’s coordinator at a local networking event, I’ve become a regular at Dacorum’s Small Business Forum, a monthly meet for local businesses. Some of my new contacts there are previous Dacorum’s Den winners, and hearing talk of how winning the award had helped their businesses, I was inspired to have a go myself.

Here’s how it works:

Earlier this year I submitted a Dacorum’s Den application through Dacorum’s Look No Further programme. The process is very straightforward. You complete a simple form with 4 or 5 questions about your business proposal (why do you want the money, what will it be spent on, and how will you use it to start or build your business, or make a difference to the community?). Information typically found on any basic business plan, or funding proposal.

The  applications are reviewed by a panel at Dacorum Council who use a scoring system to shortlist the top 10 applications (out of about 80 I believe). If you make the top 10, you’re officially “in the running” and are then called to meet with a business advisor, before presenting in front of a panel of judges. Based purely on your pitch you are then awarded the money, or not.

This video gives a real flavour of the awards…..


The Judges

Include well known faces, such as Mike Penning, MP, and council leader Andrew Williams, as well as local businesspersons, Andrew Carr from Bull Information, Peter Willson of Hopespare, and Sue Davies of Bourne Leisure. They were all lovely (really!) and, for me, it wasn’t the idea of presenting that scared me, it was the questions. I got off quite lightly except for being told that I should have pitched for the money earlier on in the presentation (add that to the tips below!)

One big surprise for me was that we presented to the judges completely cold. They hadn’t seen our applications and knew nothing about us or our businesses prior to us walking in and pitching on the day. So the funding is awarded purely and completely on a 10 minute presentation!

Dacorum's Den Mike Penning (banner)Top Tips For Securing Funds:

  • [Tweet “You don’t have to have a business plan but it helps!”]
  • Show the judges how the money will make a difference to your business and/or the local community
  • Show passion for your business (enthusiasm counts for so much)
  • Be clear on why you want the money and what it will be used for
  • Make sure you answer ALL the questions on the application (every answer is scored as part of the overall scoring system)
  • Have fun!

What makes a winner? 

Here are some of this year’s winners (for the full list see Dacorum’s Press Release):

  • The Cinnamon Travelling Cafe (a pop-up Indian / Caribbean restaurant offering delicious street food.
  • The Tea Tree, a vintage tea room opening soon in Old Town Hemel offering local produce.
  • Designer horse wear from Jessica Spry at EQCO
  • A-1 mobile opticians (they visit the elderly and infirm at their homes).
  • 3SpiritUK

And for me? I presented the Modern Marketing Club, a unique online club offering ongoing marketing and social media training, support and masterminding for small businesses. The Club offers  2 “power hours” a month for busy entrepreneurs and business owners to focus ON their business and get the knowledge and support they need to find more clients, make more sales and move their businesses forward. (Thank you Dacorum’s Den judges and the Small Business Forum for your endorsement of my idea!). The Club launched in early June and is thriving.

How Not To Get The Money 

Don’t be vague or wishy washy with your application, or your answers on the day. £1,000 is a lot of money to be invested with someone who doesn’t have a clear plan for what they’re going to do with it. [Tweet “Clarity + Passion = More Chance Of Securing Funding “]

What does winning the funding really mean? 

  • As well as the money itself, winning any award means credibility, and an endorsement of your idea (the flip side of this is that good ideas are soon imitated – mine has already been copied! Flattery is the sincerest form of compliment, apparently)
  • Winning opens up new opportunities
  • Press and media interest
  • Invitations to speak and present
  • Increased awareness amongst potential customers, and new business

Which business awards or competitions could you enter, and what difference would winning make to your business? Hop on over to the MMSpark Facebook page and let me know