Business Irish

Saturday 3 December 2016

Are the investment Dragons starting to run out of puff?

Entrepreneurs on the TV series Dragons' Den are not immune to the country's downturn, writes Roisin Burke

Published 06/02/2011 | 05:00

DRAGONS' Den is back on TV this month. "The Irish dragons are successful entrepreneurs and business leaders who have been there, done that," the programme website declares. But are they the pillars of entrepreneurial savvy we're been led to believe?

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Some of the five dragons can boast solid portfolios of investment and entrepreneurship, and some ... well, less so -- especially lately.

Coffee king Bobby Kerr's business activity is still highly caffienated (sorry). He chairs Insomnia, the coffee chain he co-founded, which has opened more outlets, even in the current economic chassis.

Kerr recently bought into Bang, the popular Dublin city restaurant that went, er, bang under the ownership of the Stokes brothers.

From a well-known Kilkenny hotel family, he owns two small posh hotels in London, The Pelham in South Kensington, and The Gore Hotel, Westminster.

He has a share in gold and diamond jewellery distributor Emarno, which supplies several Irish jeweller names and the Paul Costelloe line, and is launching a range by former Riverdance star Jean Butler.

His Dragons' Den investments include a gadget called Bintrasher that crushes down the rubbish in your bin so you can fit in more; Surf Seeds, a healthy snack range; and Kaylite, a handbag light gizmo. Surf Seeds is sold in 350 outlets in Ireland and has moved into Britain and Europe, Kaylite has yet to set the world alight and Bintrasher is sold online, only in the Irish market so far.

Glossy magazine publisher Norah Casey is the new girl in the den, replacing Sarah Newman. She and her husband own and run Harmonia, which publishes titles including Irish Tatler and Woman's Way. Casey ran Smurfit Communications in Ireland and Britain before buying out the loss-making publishing side and revamping it.

Last accounts for Harmonia show a €182,000 loss in 2009, and a slight (€9,500) profit for the year before, down from €670,995 in 2007.

Casey has said she doesn't want to hear magazine publishing pitches, instead she wants to see fashion, beauty or food ideas.

Former broadcaster Gavin Duffy owns Dorland, a media training consultancy coaching senior execs to be 'on message', where a three-hour session costs €1,800. Dorland showed a loss of €14,400 in last accounts for 2009, which was an improvement on the losses of over €85,000 for 2008. Duffy part-owns recruitment company HRM, which can't be doing as well as it did in the days of the Celtic Tiger. He and his wife have a property portfolio that was valued at €100m in 2007 but may have seen depreciation since.

One of his first den punts was on Animatazz, a toy animation kit where kids can make little animated films and upload them to YouTube. It has gone international; British Toy brokers Drumond Park bought the global rights and Argos,Tesco, Toys R US, Hamleys and Harrods are stocking it. Animatazz gets €1 royalties for every game sold and Duffy owns 45 per cent of the company.

Duffy bought into henparty.ie with fellow dragon Niall O'Farrell, a site selling everything from blow-up men to flashing garters and hen activity packages. It has moved in the UK and Polish markets.

Along with Sean Gallagher, Duffy took a share in PedigreeCattle.ie, an online advertiser of cattle for sale that looks disturbingly similar to a dating website in format. He also put money into Takker, a picture-hanging kit sold in Woodies and Atlantic Homecare; and TanOrganic, a "natural fake tan" product that had over €1m in sales in the last year.

Judo and karate blackbelter Sean Gallagher founded Smarthomes, a cable installing company that once had revenues of €10m -- but had losses of close to €500,000 in last accounts. He has stepped down as MD at the company but is still a shareholder. He has a business consultancy in Dundalk with wife Trish.

In the den, he's bought into Surf Seeds, Pedigreecattle.ie and Bad Boy Sauces, a Caribbean condiment range.

Niall O'Farrell's Black Tie clothing group is "back in profit" now, he has said, after a radical cut of branches and staff. Last accounts showed a loss of €2.7m up to the end of June 2009 and a major write-down on property asset values, plus debts of over €5m.

According to the British companies register, he has quit the boards of the UK's Black Tie and Henry Jermyn brand interests. His Dragons' Den profile says he owns "extensive property in London and Ireland".

Investments via the TV show include a veggie hamburger firm called Dee's Burgers, which has just secured a listing in Tesco and is launching in Britain; and Buttons & Co, a luxury jewellery line stocked in 20 Irish jewellers.

Dragons' Den has led to a raft of speaking engagements and appearances at 'networking events' for all of the dragons. These pay thousands a pop and are possibly more lucrative than anything they might invest in on the den.

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