A former contestant on The Apprentice is to collaborate with the Sussex Innovation Centre, the business incubator unit of the south coast university that has a base in No1 Croydon, which will see a “start-up studio” established where small and medium-sized businesses and start-ups can network and collaborate.
Raj Dhonota was on the first series of the quasi-business TV show in 2005, but he failed to impress the then mere “Sir Alan”, who pointedly announced “You’re fired” at Dhonota after the ninth episode.
According to the announcement yesterday, “The collaboration between Dhonota and Sussex Innovation Croydon is to drive growth for both pre-seed start-ups and SMEs in the area.”
Yes, “pre-seed” start-ups. So start-ups without any money. Businesses that have barely started up at all.
On The Apprentice, Dhonota arrived as a director of an estate agents, and announced “I’m an entrepreneur, not an angel.” In the 12 years since, Dhonota has been working as an angel, a funder of start-up businesses.
Some of the publicity around him describes Dhonota as “one of the biggest individual start-up investors in the UK”, which seems a little odd, in a couple of respects. For a start, high-roller investors tend not to blab too much about the exact value of their investments, so it is hard to say who is, or is not, “one of the biggest … investors” anywhere, because it is impossible to make any real comparisons.
What is known is that with his own cash Dhonota launched a £1million start-up fund in 2014, which at the time said that it aimed “to help establish two businesses a week”. Since when, from its Mayfair offices on Curzon Street (handy for Annabel’s and The Ritz) Igniva Solutions has invested in more than 60 start-ups, trebling the fund in the process.
Dhonota’s investments have included technology, e-commerce, property, marketing, recruitment and what acronym addicts refer to as FMCG, when they really ought to be saying fast-moving consumer goods – those cheap but tempting products positioned close to the check-out on the way out from the supermarket.
Dhonota has been signed up for the innovation centre next to East Croydon Station apparently to sprinkle a little star dust on their operation.
According to Mike Herd, of Sussex Innovation, and their announcement yesterday, “getting finance is one of the biggest pain points for the incubation network’s many members”. Who’d have guessed?
“It’s not just about getting funding any way that you can. It’s about bringing in the right kind of investment at the right stage in a company’s growth,” Hurd said.
“We’ve got a great track record of matching businesses with suitable investors who can help them to achieve their full growth potential, but we also have a duty to help our members understand this bigger picture and get themselves ‘investor ready’.
“We’re confident that Raj will be a huge asset to our community, not just as a successful serial entrepreneur and seed investor, but also for the experience and knowledge he brings from the other side of the table.”
The announcement was light on detail about exactly what Dhonota will be doing in Croydon, and the swooning over the arrival of “some bloke off the telly” might be a little over-played.
After all, while 12 years on Dhonota is still revelling in the minor status he acquired by appearing on a reality television programme, he didn’t actually win the show, did he?
And maybe we should also remind ourselves The Apprentice in its various formats has given celebrity status to, among others, Alan Sugar, Katie Hopkins and Donald Trump.
Is Sussex Innovation Centre going to be inviting any of them to Croydon any time soon?
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