Call for hardy souls to enter Dragons’ Den

DO YOU have this business idea that you think just might work? Do you fantasise about turning your dream into reality and earning millions if only you had the cash and know-how to get your idea off the ground?

In these recessionary times, there is little prospect of raising cash, but an appearance on RTÉ’s new show Dragons’ Den could sidestep this issue, if participants are willing to run the gauntlet of a grilling from self-made millionaires.

Modelled on the highly successful BBC television show, fledgling entrepreneurs will pitch their ideas to five of Ireland’s most successful business people and face tough questioning in order to get the dragons to part with their cash.

The programme format was first broadcast in Japan.

The dragons, Gavin Duffy, Bobby Kerr, Sean Gallagher, Niall O’Farrell and Sarah Newman, are willing to invest anything from €40,000 to €200,000 in good business ideas. The extent of their investment depends on the potential of the idea — and those behind it.

“These are shrewd business people who have heard it all before and who are not afraid to say ‘no’ in the harshest of terms. But if they spot an idea with that extra special something, they will have the power to make dreams come true by investing from their own pocket,” an RTÉ spokesperson said.

The broadcaster’s director of programmes Clare Duignan said she thinks the Dragons’ Den format will translate well in this country: “Dragons’ Den has a natural appeal for Ireland given the high percentage of entrepreneurs in this country. It is compelling television: the sheer jeopardy of it, the fact that there are winners and losers.

“Not only that, it’s also the fact that it could be you: you could be that person in that make or break situation. The RTÉ series will have great Irish would- be entrepreneurs, and fierce Irish Dragons of proven business acumen and astuteness.”

The eight-part series is being produced by Screentime ShinAwil and will be presented by Sunday Business Post deputy editor Richard Curran. The show will be broadcast on RTÉ One in early 2009.

* Potential applicants to the show can apply online at or call 01-4066433.

Bobby Kerr

Bobby Kerr is chief executive of Insomnia, the coffee chain. In 1999, Kerr set up Perk Coffee Shops with cafés in Grafton Street, Baggot Street, Dawson Street, and UCD. In 2003 he bought out Fitzers, who held 50% of the company, and then sold Perk to Insomnia. Kerr invested all proceeds of the sale in Insomnia and became its chief executive. He led the expansion from 17 to 50 shops and increased turnover from €5 to €17 million. In the past year, he sold 51% of Insomnia to the Icelandic Penninn group, valuing the business at €16 million.

Sean Gallagher

Sean’s early years at school weren’t easy due to his impaired vision but the advice of his primary school headmaster never left him: “If you can dream it, you can become it”.

At age 18 he wrote his first life plan; to become a farmer, a youth leader, a trainer, a martial artist, a fitness instructor, a politician, and an entrepreneur.

By 21, he’d bought a farm, by 26 he’d commissioned the first National Alcohol Education Programme for Young People and by 28, he was political advisor to the then Minister for Health, Rory O’Hanlon. In 2002, he set up Smarthomes cabling company. It received the Deloitte Rising Star Award and the SFA National Award for Innovation.

Sean is also a qualified fitness Instructor, massage therapist and has black belts in Judo and Karate.

Sarah Newman

Born in Essex, Sarah left school aged 16 with few formal qualifications. She moved to Ireland in May 1994 and set up Starting with zero funding, sold hotel accommodation wholesale to travel agents and tour operators in Ireland at heavily discounted prices. Needahotel picked up contracts with the likes of Ryanair and within 10 years was worth €100m. Sarah has since sold the company and now runs Newmac Equity with Tom McEneany. The company works with people seeking business opportunities in Ireland and Belarus.

Gavin Duffy

By the age of 18, Gavin Duffy had set up a local radio station employing 20 people. He then went on to establish LMFM, the country’s first provincial radio station which broadcasts in Meath and Louth. He later sold it to UTV for €11 million.

He also enjoyed significant success in the property boom. In September last year, his property portfolio was worth €100 million. He is also part owner of the HRM Group, a big player in the recruitment sector.

Niall O’Farrell

Dubliner, Niall O’Farrell, 43 , has a raft of businesses from men’s fashion to property and smoothies. He set up and still owns the suit rental company Black Tie which can be found in every large town in Ireland. The company has sales of €6 million per year and employs 130 people. He has just moved into the British market with his Jermyn Street shirt shop in Piccadilly. The owner of an extensive property portfolio, he has also recently set up the Simply Direct snack food business.


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