Deborah Meaden on animals, innovation and the sectors to watch

Deborah-Meaden
When we think of female entrepreneur and Dragons’ Den stalwart, Deborah Meaden, furry pets don’t automatically spring to mind.

Known for holding her own against a panel of male entrepreneurs from the show’s third series, Meaden surprised some viewers with her cutthroat approach to shutting down pitches; her executive stance flying in the face of sexist tropes that say decisive men are successful, while women who do the same are simply bossy.

In real life, Meaden, (a serial entrepreneur from the age of 19), is a countryside dweller and animal lover, sharing her Somerset home with an abundance of dogs, cats and horses. Away from the Dragons’ Den spotlight, her latest venture takes her to pet food giant, Purina where she’s supporting a prize that’s encouraging business innovation through the human/animal bond.

RB: What is the purpose of the BetterwithPets Prize?

Meaden is one of the few female ‘dragons.’ BBC
Deborah Meaden, (DM): The prize is now in its second year and sets out to recognise inspiring examples of human/animal bond programmes changing lives for the better. The purpose of the prize is to encourage innovation and to celebrate and harness the special relationship between animals and humans to impact society in a positive way. This year there are two new categories, piloted/implemented innovations and ideas stage innovations which will hopefully attract commercial and not for profit organisations but also young entrepreneurs and inventors.

RB: What made you get involved?

DM: I first heard about the prize through Medical Detection Dogs, (a charity that trains dogs to literally sniff out the odours of human disease), it’s an organisation that’s very close to my heart. They received a prize last year. I was delighted to be asked to be involved in a competition which combines the things I hold very dear…innovation, entrepreneurship and animals.

RB: Can you tell me about the application process?

DM: The prize offers social and commercial enterprises, non-profit entities, organisations and young innovators the chance to win money awards totalling £90,000 to support the development of their projects. Finalists from the piloted/implemented innovations stream will be eligible to participate in an accelerator programme as well as being in with the chance of winning up to £78,000. Whereas finalists from idea-stage innovations will have the opportunity to participate in a co-creation lab and have the chance of winning £15,000. Ten finalists will be invited to attend the Purina BetterwithPets Forum in France in June, where the winners will be announced.

Meaden pictured with her horses.
RB: Could animals be used (humanely) in the corporate world to enhance productivity and wellbeing?

Absolutely. Provided it is a safe environment to do so I would encourage pets at work. Many of my businesses and businesses I am involved in have at least one “bring your pet to work” day. Apart from the initial “novelty” disruption, it is amazing how quickly life settles in with animals around and stress levels and intercommunications can definitely improve.

RB: Most of the businesses that apply for the prize are impact-based. What do you see the funding climate being like for these sorts of businesses in 2020?

DM: I think the funding climate will be difficult for many sectors and particularly the charity sector. There are still many uncertainties around and people will be more careful with their money. This means charities are going to have to be very clear and smart with their messages. This is also why competitions such as Purina BetterWithPets are so important.

RB: What will the next decade bring in terms of representation and equality for women in business?

DM: I find, if I pay attention to my gender then it signals to others they can or should too. Being an entrepreneur is a great place in terms of equality, consumers don’t choose your product or your service because of your race, gender or religion, they do so because they like it. Sense always prevails, sometimes not fast enough, but I see the next decade moving forward in strides as a generation of smart, confident female leaders work their way through the world of business.

RB: What are the most profitable new sectors investors should be looking into?

DM: Technology unsurprisingly sits at the top of the list but the important thing is to understand which sectors of technology. Anything associated with health, personal health tracking and diagnosis are great areas to get into. Virtual reality in terms of gaming and possibly even travel will become even more mainstream. Changes in our diet and the pressures on the planet will drive the need for changes in the food industry. I also see a shift towards repairing, reusing and recycling particularly in the fashion industry.

RB: Is an ‘innovative’ idea enough to start a successful business?

DM: There is a big difference between a business opportunity and an idea. We all have ideas all day and every day…good and bad. An idea does not become a business proposition until it has been tested for its credibility. A good business proposition does not have to be perfect, but it does have to have enough of the map to execution filled in, too many gaps and something will fall between them.

The application process for the Purina BetterwithPets Prize is open until 28th January 2020. *

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