Thursday 25 December 2014

Right on the money or just breathing hot air – how the 10 TV Dragons have fared

Published 02/03/2013 | 05:00

Dragons: Barry O’Sullivan, Gavin Duffy, Sean O’Sullivan, Peter Casey, Ramona Nicholas

IT was launched when the economy was in a nosedive, but the dragons remain in their lair, waiting for investment opportunities.

The business-pitch reality programme 'Dragons' Den' returns to our screens tomorrow night for its fifth successive run. With the economy's emerging green shoots, this series will see a record investment of more than €1m awarded to fledgling enterprises by the judging entrepreneurs, with 28pc of pitchers talking their way to dosh.

In total, the changing cast of 10 dragons has committed cash to 80 new Irish enterprises to an estimated value of €4m – having been touted everything from organic sun tan products to a film-animation kit for children. Controversially, however, it later emerged that many of deals made in front of the TV cameras didn't actually make it across the finishing line.

Because on-screen promises lack detail and are therefore not legally binding, the dragons have fallen out of bed with many of their new-found enterprise partners and on-screen deals have disintegrated afterwards. And in times of economic turmoil, the dragons' own varied fortunes off camera have become equally riveting.

The coming series has new dragons – Barry O'Sullivan, vice-president of Cisco Systems, and Ramona Nicholas, the boss of the Cara Pharmacy Chain. They'll be joining stalwarts Gavin Duffy, Sean O'Sullivan of Avego and Peter Casey of Claddagh Resources.

So which dragons put their money where their mouths are – and which ones just breathed hot air?

Niall O'Farrell

• On camera: A prolific investor, with more than 16 enterprises supported, including Taste of the Caribbean sauce, Button & Co Jewellery and Beal Cheese. Most have since praised his support but it is believed that not all of his deals reached completion on the terms originally outlined on air.

• In business: He owns a number of Jermyn Street shirt shops and has been involved with the drinks company Simply Direct. But his Blacktie chain has just gone into liquidation as he offloads his luxury Shrewsbury Road, D4, home for just over €5m. His extensive Irish property portfolio has tanked since the crash.

• Verdict: The starched one has obvious problems at the moment... for that reason, we're out.

Gavin Duffy

• On camera: The razor-sharp but block-hammer-blunt Mr Duffy is the most prolific and effective investor in the history of the series. The only dragon to have lasted the full five-year run, his notable investments have included Animatazz, the children's film-animation kit which was a Christmas bestseller, www.henparty.ie and Tanorganic, the eco-tan product now selling in 44 countries.

• In business: The founder of LMFM is a part owner of the successful HRM recruitment group and a part owner of Dorland which owns mediatraining.ie.

• Verdict: Always worth a punt.

Sarah Newman

• On camera: The Essex girl has been compared to Marmite – you either love her or hate her. Known for administering the verbal lash while clinging to the cash, Ms Newman promised four investments – but the makers of 'Dragons' Den' couldn't confirm if all had been followed through as promised.

• In business: Ms Newman founded and sold Needahotel.com, giving her a personal fortune in 2006 of €35m. Having engaged in romance and in business with DJ Carey, the golf-mad 'Queen of the K Club' invested in property and building the mother of all luxury Swiss ski lodges, Chateau Grace in Zermatt, which was eventually offloaded for €12m. She leveraged off her property portfolio in 2007 at the peak of the property market and, more recently, ended up on the wrong end of a financial judgment for €9.5m awarded to AIB.

• Verdict: We're definitely out. But she'll be back.

Ramona Nicholas

• On camera: New dragon, Ms Nicholas from Tyrone is the youngest-ever dragon. Independent and strong-willed, she gets stuck in, making five investments in this series.

• In business: Founder of the 15-strong Cara Pharmacy Chain, with a turnover of €24.6m, as well as the three-strong Cara Home chain.

• Verdict: Likely to go with retail and product-based plans.

Norah Casey

• On camera: The publisher and radio presenter committed to nine enterprises during her two-year stint. She left because of media and business commitments.

• In business: The CEO of Harmonia, the gloss magazine group, saw her company recently report profits of €279,000, no mean achieve-ment in a struggling sector.

• Verdict: Glossy prospects.

Sean Gallagher

• On camera: Well liked, but just two of his 11 pledged investments played out as described on TV. Three more took place on different terms, scoring him five from 11.

• In business: The failed presidential candidate who lost out in controversial circumstances started Home Wiring Systems with a grant from the Louth Enterprise Board. The former Fianna Failer then founded Smarthomes. Controversially, Home Wiring Systems was left with debts. From 2007 to 2010, Smarthomes lost €1.38m while it was reported that Mr Gallagher and his partner paid themselves €860,000 between them in 2008 and 2009. He left Smarthomes to run for the presidency. In the meantime, the company has returned to profit.

• Verdict: We'd be pushing the envelope here.

Bobby Kerr

• On camera: Newstalk's enthusiastic 'Back to Business' presenter has made more than 10 'Dragons' Den' investments totalling €250,000, although he says that returns so far have amounted to just €5,000. These include the Pregnancy and Baby Fair, Surf Seeds, Uncle Aidan's Flour and Bintrasher.

• In business: His main concern is his Insomnia coffee-shop chain and franchise, which posted single-percentage sales increases in each of its last two years. He is looking to expand out of Ireland. Has interests in manufacturing and is a director of Titan Marketing.

• Verdict: Energetic grafter, is worth a bob.

Sean O'Sullivan

• On camera: The straight-talking American software supremo credited for inventing the term "cloud computing" has clocked up nine investments between this season and the last.

• In business: Founded several technology companies, including the $200m (€154m) online-mapping services company Mapinfo and, more recently, the Kinsale-based Avego, an international tech company which increased in value by 100pc in 2011. He's also an investor in SOS Ventures and Ireland's own Silicon Republic website.

• Verdict: Go all in with your microchips.

Barry O'Sullivan

• On camera: The 'Cisco kid' from Cork is looking for some Irish-based opportunities that he can gear into. This season he bites on five. As a mentor, his contacts in Silicon Valley are priceless for techie pitchers.

• In business: Senior vice-president of the global giant Cisco Systems group in charge of their $2bn-a-year voice-products business.

• Verdict: Kid him not.

Peter Casey

• On camera: Straight-talking, bottom-line merchant who supports four enterprises in the coming series.

• In business: The Derry man founded and sold a successful recruitment business in Australia before moving back to Ireland to found Claddagh Resources, an internationally successful staff-sourcing company. He has invested heavily in property since 2009 to cash in on tumbling prices.

• Verdict: Steely Street Smarts.

Irish Independent

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