16/03/2012 10:52 GMT

The Apprentice: Lord Alan Sugar 'Not Looking For A Friend'

"I'm not looking for a friend, if I want a friend I'll get a dog", says The Apprentice boss Lord Sugar.

Speaking at the launch of the eighth series of the hit entrepreneurial show, he confirms that this year's prize will, like last year, be an investment into a business, rather than him offering someone a job.

The Amstrad founder adds: "I'm looking for a partner, the Marks to my Spencer, the Lennon to my McCartney.

"This is about me investing £250,000 into a business with one of you and I'm expecting you, as the so-called entrepreneurs, to make the money for me."

In the first episode of the new series he's seen warning his 16 Apprentice hopefuls: "We're not playing 'Where's Wally?' here. I'm not looking for Lord Lucan, I'm looking for somebody who is going to put themselves forward and show me that they have got the aggression and business acumen to be my partner."

But has 64-year-old Lord Sugar, who started his first business venture boiling and selling beetroot from a stall while still at school and who is now a multi-millionaire tycoon, mellowed at all over the course of the eight series?

Laughing at the suggestion that he’s possibly softened, he jokes: "Yeah, I'm building a softer image so when they drop George Clooney from the Nespresso ads, they give me call. No, I just suppose as you get older, you learn to get less worked up about things."

And the belligerent business man defends the fierceness of the famed boardroom scenes, where he is seen firing candidates, explaining that the hopefuls have been through "a long audition process to check they’re resilient, articulate and of a calibre who can stand up to scrutiny.

"Besides, the producers make it look tougher than it is. On screen, you see 20 minutes of a boardroom session that actually lasted up to two or three hours."

As ever, the contestants come out with some cracking lines as they are first introduced to us on screen. One says: "I can be like an animal, I will roar my way to the top," and another boasts: "When it comes to business I'm like a shark… I truly am the reflection of perfection."

Does Lord Sugar really take these people seriously?

He admits he "needed a reason to continue doing the show", explaining the change in prize meant he feels like - despite it being an entertainment show - it still has a very important purpose.

"I want to prove that small businesses can be started successfully. I hope it provides a useful service and helps promote some kind of enterprise culture.”

He continues: "Too many youngsters look up to Mr Zuckerberg, Mr Gates or the late great Steve Jobs, who are all phenomena, and wait around for the opportunity to become one of them,” he said.

"What they don’t realise is that it’s a trillion to one chance."

Instead, he wants The Apprentice to show how things can be done on a smaller scale - without the need for bank loans.

"What we’ve lost is the culture of starting with £100 and working for a day to turn it into £200, then £200 the next day and by the end of the week you've got a grand.

"We need to dispel the fast buck mentality and instill how you really start a business from scratch.

"The programme is designed to demonstrate how you can start something from virtually nothing. It’s there to show people on the street what can be done."

Meet this year's contestants in the slideshow below...