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An alternative vision for The Apprentice – you know it makes sense

5 min read

19 December 2017

Former editor

Now 13 series old, BBC TV show The Apprentice needs a shake from up Alan Sugar to better fit with its entrepreneurial leaning and investment prize.

The multi-challenge format The Apprentice currently employs made sense when the end prize was a £100,000 job in one of Alan Sugar’s divisions. Nowadays, however, it doesn’t really identify who is a good entrepreneur – one with an investable opportunity.

Rather than seeing if a bunch of aspiring business builders, who have never met each other before, can come together and create a gourmet burger offering or redesign a luxury hotel room here is a format I think would work better. It should also mean Sugar has far more insight available to determine where his £250,000 investment goes.

From week one candidates should be evaluated on how well they guide their fledgling business through the important stages a startup must deal with. Seeing how they deal with processes like marketing, website build, brand, recruitment, funding, cash flow management, legal considerations and sales would be far more interesting than rounding up a list of random objects from around London for Sugar’s birthday.

They should have a limited budget to work with – in theory demonstrating an ability to bootstrap and run a lean operation in the early days. Industry experts from each vertical can then join Sugar, and his trusted lieutenants Karren Brady and Claude Littner, in scoring every candidate.

The three candidates with the lowest score could then be thrust into the now famous boardroom environment where they’d have to back up their sales, marketing or fundraising abilities to stay in the process.

From high jinks to high quality

It’s true, we’d probably have less slapstick moments and opportunity for ridicule, but if The Apprentice is to ensure it doesn’t become a self-parody then an injection of credibility is urgently needed.

Fellow BBC business show Dragons’ Den has, like it or not, evolved into a show where entrepreneurs are more likely to appear to gain free TV marketing exposure than search out investment from the Dragons. It too is guilty of not innovating or changing in its 15-series history, preferring instead to rely on the personality of the five investors to draw a TV crowd.

Adopting a new format for The Apprentice will also be far more valuable to viewers who are tuning in hoping to obtain some advice and guidance on starting their own business. I’m sorry, but spending half an hour watching six people walk around begrudgingly pick up dog poo during week eight of this series was hardly insightful.

Too much of The Apprentice in recent years has focused on putting candidates in circumstances they are clearly inexperienced and uncomfortable in so that their eventual failings can be picked apart in the boardroom. But if your business idea has nothing to do with conducting guided tours or hosting corporate boxes at sporting events then why should abilities there be used as a stick to beat with?

Week by week candidates should be “fired” for failing to prove they have an adequate grasp of how to market, sell, recruit for and fund their actual business idea. If that were the case, then maybe Sugar wouldn’t have had to worry in week 11 about whether James White could land big customers for his recruitment business, if Elizabeth McKenna’s floral business was scalable or whether Joanna Jarjue could actually find any wholesale suppliers for her fashion brand. He’d have seen first hand over the previous weeks their efforts do address these issues.

It remains to be seen whether Sugar and the powers that be at the BBC decide to change the format at all. But in an era where entrepreneurship has never been more popular, they have a prime audience to target with a TV show that actually helps people start and grow a business.


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