How to tame a Dragon

Dragon’s Den Ireland is back for a 7th series and began on RTE on the 17th April. The Director of Irish Company Health & Safety Publications Marek Szepietowski, pitched to the Dragons in 2014 and received investment offers from two of the Dragons, Barry O’Sullivan and Peter Casey. A close call, Marek decided to take up Barry’s offer of €60,000 investment in the company for 10% of the shares.
I was interested to find out what motivated Marek to apply for the programme, how he feels it has impacted his business and what tips he would give to other would-be pitchers in the Dragon’s Den.

What motivated you to apply to pitch on Dragon’s Den?
I do not watch much television but Dragon’s Den is one of the programmes that I do enjoy watching. As a business person, I enjoy hearing about the great ideas and innovative marketing systems that other entrepreneurs have come up with in different industries, over a wide range of products and services. You can always learn something, or find out about an approach that you can apply to your own business. I decided to apply to pitch on Dragon’s Den as I wanted to grow my business and felt confident that the basic business concept was one that could appeal to a potential investor. I thought it was a great opportunity to both raise the profile of what I was doing, and possibly get investment, which I did!

Did you have any reservations about standing in front of the panel to pitch your idea?
Not really, I viewed the experience more as an adventure and one that I could potentially learn from. I was focusing more on hoping that the producers would pick me, and less about the reservations of pitching.

Were you nervous?
I was very calm and relaxed up to the point where one of the members of the production team approached me and told me that I was on in 5 minutes. At that point my nerves kicked in, and I started to shake. I remember starting to speak and my voice was shaking, although once I got over my initial nerves, I settled into my presentation and just enjoyed the experience.

How did you prepare for the pitch?
I watched most of the Irish and UK Dragon’s Den seasons, I watched Dragon’s Den Canada and even Shark Tank. I knew from these previous episodes what questions to expect. I realised it was crucial to know my financial figures, turnover, gross and net profit, margins, and the value the company. I spent a lot of time making sure I knew my financials inside out and was confident that they were completely accurate. I’m used to public speaking (as an ex-safety instructor) but this was a completely different experience. I also ran though possible scenarios in my head whenever I had time – usually when driving. I spent significant time in preparation, which payed off well in the end.

What impact has appearing on the show / receiving investment had on your business?
I think the show gave us extra credibility, we were already known in the safety training industry but the programme further raised brand awareness. The investment received has helped us to hire more staff and to start expanding our business into the UK. Overall I think it was a great PR experience that has had a very positive impact on the business.

What advice would you give other individuals who are going to pitch on the show?
– Watch all the past Dragon’s Den episodes to pick up hints and tips and pre-empt the type of questions you might be asked.
– Know all your facts and financials, you need to know these all off the top of your head, under pressure.
– No dreaming – look for a realistic investment and be prepared to offer commensurate shares in your company
– Visualise the scenario where the pitch is going really well and you are confidently answering all the questions thrown at you. Try to imagine all the possible questions you might get asked and how you will answer them. In summary, prepare as best you can.
– Just do it! Don’t over analyse it – apply and give it your best shot!

For more information on Health & Safety Publications and what they do, see