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Into the Dragons' Den for College Students


Students on the College’s Level 4 Creative Enterprise course were thrust in front of a panel of four formidable dragons earlier this month, as they pitched their creative ideas and received some much-valued professional business advice.

The one year Creative Enterprise course is designed for anyone interested in starting up their own projects or company, as it provides a valuable opportunity to develop a creative business concept, build a strong creative portfolio and expand industry contacts. 

Making up the panel of dragons were Geoff Smith, Relationship Manager at Lloyds Commercial Banking; Sasha Mills, Relationship Manager at HSBC Commercial Banking and Abbie Freeman and Harry Watson from Parndon Mill based graphic design company Snootie Studios.

Among the students pitching their ideas was Oliver Skinner, 19 from Harlow. “Just before I gave my pitch I was terrified but the dragons were really nice people who were very helpful. They gave me some great tips on managing my cashflow. I’d love to have my own graphic design business - I just really want to make my parents proud.”

Nile Taylor, 20 from Roydon, was another who had the opportunity to face the dragons. “I was pitching my company, ‘5 Leaf Clover Games’, which makes board games and video games. Getting the responses from professionals is the number one thing. You can do this with other classmates and teachers but having it coming from the mouths of actual investors and creators is definitely a big thing.”

It was also an opportunity for the dragons to step outside of their normal day jobs and share some insider industry knowledge and experience. Geoff Smith from Lloyds said: “I think what’s important is that the students need to learn to be confident in themselves and to follow their passion. If you’re running a business or you want to go into business you should be very passionate about what you are doing.”

Those thoughts were echoed by Sasha Mills from HSBC. “Stick with your ideas, it won’t be easy all the time. There will be hard times, especially at the beginning but just stick with it and it will pay off in the end. They say that when the economy starts to struggle it’s those who can set up a business who will thrive and do well.”

Abbie and Harry are both former Harlow College graphic design students who now run their successful design and illustration company. Harry: “I think it’s a good time to be starting up a business. It’s great to see creative people having business ideas and thinking this is my passion, this is what I love to do but also that I can make a living out of this.”

Abbie spoke about the College’s Creative Enterprise course. “I had a necklace business when I was in college. I sold acrylic necklaces that paid for my first MacBook. I would have loved something like this course because it would have helped me develop my business better. You can be really talented as an artist or a designer but you need that business head to be able to make it sustainable - I would have jumped at the chance to do it.”

Hannah Bennett is the tutor at Harlow College who delivers the course and who set up the Dragon’s Den experience for the students. “I think it is so incredibly valuable to them because they are having a chance to present for the first time to professionals. They get industry feedback from specialists who understand what it was to be a student and launch their own business. 

Being able to have first-hand professional banking advice is so valuable. They were able to get a balance of creative input and feedback and financial advice and guidance. Because of this experience I’ve seen their confidence levels rising and they were pitching their ideas with such passion. I think today has been a real turning point for some of them who maybe didn’t believe in themselves.”

More about the L4 Creative Enterprise course at Harlow College

Apply for Creative Enterprise Professional Diploma

Dragons panel

Photo: The Dragons Panel (L-R) Geoff Smith - Lloyds Bank, Sasha Mills - HSBC Bank, Abbie Freeman and Harry Watson - Snootie Studios