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Q&A with Tej Lalvani: Dragons’ Den 18th series returns on new home BBC One

It’s always a fun moment when you win a deal over one of the other dragons, it annoys them, and they annoy you when they win.— Tej Lalvani

Were you impressed by the standard of the pitches in the den this year?

Yes, because I really didn’t know what to expect. I did wonder if we’d get the quality of businesses we could invest in, considering the pandemic has had a massive effect on entrepreneurs throughout the country.

I was completely surprised to see such incredible businesses in the den, with some great ideas, fighting to survive. It was really refreshing and the entrepreneurs came in really well prepared. In the end it was a huge series, with the highest number of investments ever. There were some businesses destroyed by the pandemic, looking for help, but also new companies emerging from it, which was really interesting – a lot of mindfulness activities and art businesses, because people are spending time doing different things.

How competitive do the dragons get this series?

Very competitive! It’s always a fun moment when you win a deal over one of the other dragons, it annoys them, and they annoy you when they win. But magically by the end of the day everything’s fine and I’m good friends with all of them.

It’s been really exciting this year, because many businesses have had five offers on the table, and you’ve got dragons throwing each other under the bus trying to get a deal sometimes. It makes for exciting television for the audience. There’s also a lot of humour in there and some of the pitches are really funny.

Do any entrepreneurs face the wrath of the dragons this year?

Of course, some entrepreneurs get a grilling when their figures are wrong and some of the dragons can get irate. I am generally quite calm and collected, you realise it’s an unnerving experience for the entrepreneurs and I try to hear them out. But of course, if they want to pull the wool over your eyes, I will definitely get annoyed about that, and you will see some of the episodes where I lose it a little bit. 

Is it a good time to start your own business?

There’s no better time in history. Restrictions have been taken away, it’s easier to do everything from accepting payments to getting your website sorted out, and a lot of people who have lost their jobs in the pandemic have taken things into their own hands and figured out how to create income streams. I think we’ll see more of that going forward as people realise that there is money to be made. 

Can anybody start a business?

Absolutely, I don’t think you’re born an entrepreneur. Take my wife for example, she was a dental surgeon for 11 years, she never thought she would set up her own business, but she came up with the idea, realised that no one else had a product like that anywhere and with a bit of encouragement she launched it in the middle of the pandemic. She’s doing really well now, so it just shows you how it can be done. When she came up with the idea I asked to invest and she said no, she said she was happy to get free advice and mentorship instead!

How has the pandemic affected your business?

Every business has a different story to tell. Fortunately for us, we are in the healthcare business and vitamins are so important at the moment, vitamin D in particular. So we’ve seen a huge growth in some of our supplements. We’ve changed our supply chain, and we’re doing a lot to support the NHS which is extremely important to us. It’s been a time of growth for the business. 

This is your final series of Dragons’ Den, why did you decide to leave?

It has been an incredible experience being a dragon, I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve built some fantastic relationships with the other dragons and invested in some great businesses, but I can’t take my eye off the ball. It’s a critical time of growth for my business and some of the businesses I’ve invested in have been so successful, but that only happens when you have time to help the entrepreneurs and add the value. So I think it’s the right time and I’d like to spend more time with the family too.

Who do you think could replace you on the show?

Good question. Whoever it is, I don’t think they will be as cool and shrewd as me! It’s a great show, I watched it long before I was on it and I think it’s just going to get bigger and better. 15-20 years ago, being an entrepreneur just meant you couldn’t get a job, but it’s the opposite now, it’s like being a rock star.

People enjoy the freedom to create something new and Dragons’ Den shows you how ordinary people can do it – anyone with a great idea and a bit of focus can have a business. Like Wool Couture, in my first series, which was an incredible wool business started by an NHS nurse and mother of three, Claire, which has grown hugely.I’m excited for this series to go out, it’s going to make fantastic viewing because it’s broken all investment records.

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