Dragons' Den has seen all manner of weird and wonderful pitches over the years, but the latest installment of the show was a victory for practical products rather than off-the-wall inventions.
First up was Brian O'Reilly, who unveiled an energy-saving device which automatically switches off household appliances when they aren't in use. It was an edgy pitch that wasn't helped by the business's complex structure, but the product itself presented a solution to two very topical problems - the spiralling cost of electricity and energy inefficiency in the home.
With Brian also planning to integrate a smartphone app to work alongside the technology, computing guru Piers Linney unsurprisingly took a keen interest. After some tentative moments, Brian was able to secure himself a deal - providing he finds room for Piers alongside the business's existing investors.
If you can find the right mix of creativity and usability in designing a product that serves a helpful purpose, it seems a Dragon or two will always be willing to listen
When explaining why he had decided to invest in the energyEGG, Piers highlighted the simple nature of the product and the helpful purpose it's intended to serve. Anyone who turns up in the Den with an invention that has these qualities usually has a winning formula on their hands, although Brian still had to work hard to show the Dragons how his business would make money.
This trend for problem solving was continued by many of the entrepreneurs who followed Brian, like former Royal Marine Simon Weatherall pitching his Glowfaster product. Designed as a more suitable and attractive alternative to high-vis jackets, Simon had used illuminated piping to line the outside of runners' and cyclists' clothing in a bid to improve their safety. Despite a confident pitch and a stylish product, the lights weren't as user-friendly as the Dragons would have liked and Simon left with nothing.
Another pitch featuring a practical product came from Chris Gibson, who presented the Dragons with SuperTie - a tie that you place over the neck and fasten rather than tying up. It's a good way to save time, but the business gurus decided it wasn't an innovation they wanted to invest in. Creativity is all well and good, but you have to present a solution to a problem that's worth solving in the first place in order to get the Dragons onside.
Fortunately that was something Jo Kerley managed to achieve with PlayAway - a suitcase built to carry children's toys alongside more essential items. With board games and a detachable case full of fun activities forming part of a larger storage space, the invention got the Duncan Bannatyne seal of approval as he agreed a deal for 35% of the business.
It was a strong evening in the Den - especially given that no deals were done in the previous episode - and showed just how valuable a simple idea can be. If you can find the right mix of creativity and usability in designing a product that serves a helpful purpose, it seems a Dragon or two will always be willing to listen.
Dan O’Sullivan is Make It Cheaper's Web Content Manager, which means much of his time is dedicated to ensuring we have plenty of online material to help business owners understand the energy, insurance and telecoms industries. With years of experience working alongside SMEs, Dan is committed to making life as easy as possible for smaller firms. You can email Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org
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