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Is 'The Apprentice' Giving Entrepreneurship a Bad Name?

23/05/2013 14:08 BST | Updated 22/07/2013 10:12 BST
BBC

So, it's started again. For the next three months the viewing public will be treated to and will lap up a 'fly on the wall' vision of what makes an entrepreneur - except we won't and it isn't. But many people, who aren't in the know, will think it's meant to be this way.

The Apprentice is back on our screens with its collection of over-inflated egos and arrogant point-scoring antics, as the contestants attempt to outdo each other in the race to secure first prize and backing for their own business ventures; which might be quite innovative and entrepreneurial but we'll never know as we will only be shown the inevitable faux pas and occasional flashes of brilliance associated with each of the weekly tasks.

Whilst I've been an enthusiastic supporter of all television programmes like this, including Dragon's Den, The Fixer and The Big Idea, where they bring the feasibility and real potential of people starting-up and running their own businesses to a wider audience and deliver a few worthy lessons on the way, I'm becoming increasingly concerned about the unreal and distorted image of enterprise and entrepreneurship that many of these shows currently present. I begin to wonder whether, rather than encouraging more people than ever to seriously consider starting up their own business, as the Government wishes to happen, these programmes and the images of business that they portray will actually start to put people off from doing so.

For those of us who are more in the know, we don't recognise these images and perceived stereotypical impressions as representative of most of the entrepreneurs and small business owners that we regularly deal with on a day to day basis.

I have been running The Hive, Nottingham Trent University's centre for enterprise and entrepreneurship, for the last 10 years. During this time my small team and I have supported more than 500 students and graduates who have wanted to start their own business and/or explore the potential opportunity and viability of their ideas, and virtually none of them conform to the images portrayed by the contestants on The Apprentice.

I'm not suggesting that all the potential entrepreneurs and business owners that we support are shrinking violets who wouldn't say 'boo to a goose'. Of course, to be successful they must have and publicly demonstrate a high degree of confidence in themselves and their product. There is no doubt that sometimes this may come over as self-opinionated and arrogant, but not in the unremittingly overbearing way that these programmes portray. It's giving entrepreneurship a bad name.

I would be the first to admit that most of those who pass through our hands are not true entrepreneurs a la Alan Sugar. But they are just (if I can use that word without being seen as too pejorative) committed enthusiastic people, mostly but not all young, with strong ambitions to run their own business. And we and they have been very successful in doing so, with more than 300 businesses started and almost 70 per cent of them still surviving today.

The successful ones are those who have been prepared to take calculated risks, have shown unlimited passion and enthusiasm for their product or service, are dedicated to spending the hours necessary (and that's lots) to make it happen and are determined to keep going even when everyone and everything seems to be against them. They are the truly enterprising people and entrepreneurs of this country today that we should be showcasing; not the overblown caricatures that the TV persists in presenting us with.