With a passion for good design, entrepreneur and Dragon’s Den star Deborah Meaden tells
Andrew Stone why design can help the UK’s fi rms grow and prosper
DESIGNS ON BUSINESS I
n the smartly minimal central London offi ces of the Design Council, sitting among urban planning tomes, Deborah Meaden has found time
between fi lming for the latest Dragon’s Den special to champion a new business campaign.
Finding her in the Design Council’s
rarefi ed setting may seem incongruous to viewers of the show, now in its 10th series. They are familiar with her forensic dismantling of hapless wannabe inventors’ business plans, or her poker-faced deal-making with investment-worthy start-ups – currently 26 businesses worth £1.6m – in the hit BBC business programme.
THE SHORT STORY: DEBORAH MEADEN
TITLE: Entrepreneur and investor BORN: 1959 NATIONALITY: British CAREER:
• 1978: Aged 19, launched a ceramics
import business • 1980: Took on a UK franchise for Italian
footwear and clothing company Stefanel • 1988: Joined her family’s amusement arcade and holiday park business on the shop fl oor, rising to become MD of the holiday park arm, Westar Holidays. Grew
the company from one to fi ve holiday parks • 1999: Led an MBO with a majority share • 2005: Sold most of the company in a deal worth £33m
16 | springboard | www.ukti.gov.uk
But Meaden, far warmer and jollier out of the Den, is a passionate advocate of the value of design and its potential value for every business. In fact, design – good and bad – is almost a preoccupation for her. “Ask my husband,” she says. “I’m always looking at things and saying that’s not very good, it would be much better like this. I’m that annoying person who sees that everything could be done better. I fi nd inspiration all day, every day. An entrepreneur never switches off.” Called Designing Demand, the campaign she is championing is a Government-backed scheme, part of its Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth, and led by the Design Council. It has been developed to help UK fi rms create new products and services or inspire them to fi nd new markets for existing ones.
Designing Demand is not a campaign
for product designers, but potentially for any SME with a product or service to sell. “Design is not just about drawing pictures or coming up with a great chair,” says Meaden. “It goes beyond that. It’s about allowing us to think beyond our current boundaries and identify new opportunities.
“The businesses I work with will get involved in it. The people who we need to engage are those people, good business people, who think they are missing something and this gives them a format, a structure to be able to bring that out.” Every business, however well established in its market, could benefi t from thinking afresh, believes Meaden. “Successful businesses often think if it ‘ain’t broke don’t fi x it, we’ll carry on doing things as we are’,” she states. “But people change, as do their expectations. New opportunities open up all the time. Businesses often don’t take the opportunity to ask: are we doing this in the most effective way and are we tapping into all of our opportunity and all of our markets? That’s what Designing Demand is all about; it’s inviting you to take another look. A good business is a well-designed business.”
RETURN ON INVESTMENT The benefi ts of signing up to the programme may surprise those who take the plunge, says Meaden. After working with a Designing Demand mentor, participating companies to date experienced an average 25:1 return on investment for every £1 they invested in projects identifi ed during the process. But there are other benefi ts too, she adds. “You are working with great people and business leaders, so it’s not just about the process, it’s also about the people you will meet and the contacts you will make. I hope and believe that [participants] are going to get even more than they expected because they are going to be forever approaching their business in a different way.” The scheme, which has helped 650 businesses so far, has recently been extended and boosted with an additional £25m of money from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and
IMAGES: MARK JOHNSSON