On 16th February I was, again, invited to the Royal Agricultural University in Gloucestershire, to be a ‘dragon’. Many people might take offence to being told they are a good dragon and invited back year on year, but I see it as one of the biggest compliments. So, what do I mean by dragon? And why do I see the term as a compliment?

Royal Agricultural UniversityAs you may have guessed, the dragon bit refers to breathing fire. No. I jest. I, along with two other professionals, judge a number of groups of final year students (nine groups this year) on their business ideas, marketing plans, financials and overall strategy. It’s part of the students’ final year studies and it’s fascinating to see the ideas that they come up with, as well as the plans behind how they could pull these ideas off. It inspires me and makes me feel ‘safe’ that the equestrian industry will be full of innovative ideas that move us all forward for years to come. I also get treated to lunch and get to spend the day with Phil Duff (if you don’t know who Phil is, have a look at his LinkedIn profile – he’s pretty impressive…not that I’d tell him that) and Ed Jenner (from Old Mill Group who is a complete whizz with numbers). Ashley Ede, who is a lecturer at RAU and has taught the students all they know, was marking them as they pitch. I’m sure he was extremely proud of them.

All the groups I saw on 16th had put a huge amount of effort into their presentations and some had some really great ideas that I, and my fellow dragons, felt could actually be made into ‘real’ products that would sell. The students had to give a presentation up to 10 minutes long about their idea. Some brought along prototypes, we had one group with some rather brilliant logoed kit – there was a huge diversity in the presentations and the product ideas which, from my point of view, made the day incredibly enjoyable and interesting. After their pitch, they were subjected to some pretty thorough scrutiny about their presentations and the info they’d provided us on paper.

But, what’s more (and I don’t want to sound like a real OAP here!), was that younger people often get a pretty hard time, don’t they? Think of the stuff that makes it onto the news, Facebook, websites. Generally it’s about ‘young people don’t know how easy they have it’, arrogance, entitlement…I’m not going to go on about this, but you know what I mean. And you know what? I didn’t see an ounce of any of this at RAU. Some of the groups were met with some pretty harsh scrutiny – that was what we were there to do – and all the students we had the pleasure of dealing with where just that, a pleasure. I know this is off topic and doesn’t actually address their business ideas, but if someone pitching a business idea is cocky and arrogant, the chances of you warming to them and, I’d say, are pretty minimal. I think without exception, all the people we spoke to and had pitch to us were engaged, receptive and respectful, even when they were given what could be seen as negative feedback.

With a HUGE range of ideas pitched covering transport to children’s products, yard equipment to products designed to support the tech we all rely on today, it was a really fascinating day and one that I hope very much I will invited to participate in again.

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