[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 5 June 2006, 07:05 GMT 08:05 UK
Britain's biggest natural resource
Evan Davis
By Evan Davis
BBC economics editor and presenter of Dragons' Den

In the 1970s, we used to think of North Sea oil as the country's single greatest resource.

Dragon's den panel
Does Britain need more people prepared to brave the Dragon's Den?

With life having moved on and much of the oil now used up, what can the country call its greatest resource this decade?

Well, maybe Dragons Den provides part of the answer. It's not oil we are sitting on. It's huge underground reserves of untapped ideas.

Who would have known that there were so many people with high hopes, detailed plans and grand visions? Dragons Den - and its imitators - have uncovered a movement that had rarely engaged the public, and had only been a minority interest in the business community.

This movement is important not just for the welfare of entrepreneurs, but for the economy generally. Britain needs to manufacture ideas every bit as successfully as it used to manufacture textiles or automobiles in earlier eras.

New opportunities for old

Why? Because the world economy has evolved significantly in the last decade, and there is simply far more competition in making toys, clothes, electronics or furniture these days.

The returns that British companies and their workers can earn by manufacturing "things" have fallen; the prices of these goods have been driven down as factory jobs and investment have been outsourced to China and the rest of Asia where labour costs are low.

So Britain has to find something else to do.

And for economies like ours, the most attractive returns are usually to be found in more lucrative activities like management, business services, and best of all, innovation.

Paying our way

Which is where entrepreneurs come in.

They are one of the all-important sources of new ideas we have and the companies they create are the means by which ideas are turned into value.

Their companies can turn a profit, they can grow and prosper and they may eventually be sold. Whatever path success takes, it is one of the ways our economy pays its way in the world.

Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavour
Truman Capote

Indeed, the business headlines at the moment are dominated by foreign takeovers of British companies.

Investors in the UK are apparently doing well as foreign buyers bid up the prices of British shares. The higher share prices apparently help us all, by funding future pensions.

Creative destruction

For real long-term success though, Britain needs not just to sell off one generation of good companies, but to ensure that it constantly creates more new companies and more value.

Alas, that is not easy.

Just as it was difficult to get oil out of the North Sea - oil companies expect to strike lucky in a tenth of the sites they explore - it is equally difficult to find ideas that have value and entrepreneurs that have management skill.

For every spectacular success, there will be quite a few failures.

So the process of creating an entrepreneurial economy is inevitably messy and sometimes brutal.

As Truman Capote once said: "Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavour."

The only ways of uncovering successful ideas are to trawl for them widely, to encourage people to develop them, to test and critique them, and to support when they look like they have something.

Which is more or less what Dragons Den is all about.

It could play its part in stimulating a more innovative economy.

And the good news is, it makes for much more entertaining television than anything to do with North Sea oil.

If you are an entrepreneur with a fantastic business idea, the Dragons' Den team would like to hear from you. For an application form, email: dragonsden@bbc.co.uk, visit their website at: bbc.co.uk/dragonsden or call: 09011 110 825 (calls cost 25p).

Chastening the dragons
19 Dec 05 |  Magazine


Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific