How to train your dragons

Back and forth they went across the Atlantic Ocean.

Sales pitches. Dialogue. Discussions. Negotiations.

It was all part of the learning process for those who enter the Dragon’s Den, a twice-a-year international classroom exercise in which Radford University College of Business and Economics students link via satellite with enterprising students France’s Blaise Pascal University.

Modeled after "Dragon’s Den," a popular BBC show in which entrepreneurs pitch business plans to actual venture capitalists, the exercise placed RU students, camped in the COBE Building’s telepresence room, as dragons being courted by the entrepreneurs at the 14,000-student public university in south-central France.

This year’s RU participants were students enrolled in Associate Accounting Professor Mike Chatham’s international accounting class.

RU students utilized the large TV screens and high-tech equipment telepresence room to see and communicate with the Blaise Pascal students. The RU dragons viewed slide presentations and videos on a 90" monitor and could see the students at Blaise Pascal on an 85" monitor. Cameras and microphones in the telepresence room beamed video and sound from Radford to France.

Six groups of students from Blaise Pascal pitched ideas for a variety of products and services, including suitcases fitted with wheels and designed to easily roll up and down stairs, a money changing machine that gives small change, a baby monitor system and a pay-per hour coffee shop.


Emily Fletcher, Tyler Swarmer, Conner Hayden and Deidre Didomenico listen to the sales pitch from a team from Blaise Pascal during the sixth annual Dragon's Den at COBE. The meeting took place via teleconferencing.

“It’s definitely different. I’ve never done anything like this before,” said Emily Fletcher, a senior accounting major from The Plains, about her first experience in the Dragons Den. “It was great to see how hard they have worked to come up such good ideas and present them, especially with the language barrier. They did a really good job presenting to us.”

All participants in the exercise spoke English throughout. However, accents and differing business terms sometimes served as stumbling blocks. In addition, the Blaise Pascal students spoke mostly in terms of Euros.

“The biggest thing they learn is the value of communication and the difficulty of communicating with someone who speaks a different language when you are conducting business where there are peculiar, esoteric terms to begin with,” Chatham said. “That’s the big thing they come away with every year.”

A good example from this year’s exercise, Chatham said, was a discussion of a product that potentially could have liability issue: the baby monitor.

“One of our guys, Eric Hoosier, asked about potential liability. There was a pregnant pause from the Blaise Pascal group,” Chatham said. “Then, Eric asked about insurance or the insurability of the product. The question was still not being communicated. So, I suggested the group use the word ‘warranty,’ and that resonated with the Blaise Pascal students.”

Bridgette Burchett, a junior accounting and finance major from Courtland, was part of the RU group that was pitched the suitcase with wheels product. She and her fellow Dragon investors were offered 40 percent of the profits for an investment of 250,000 Euros.

“That’s a good deal,” Burchett said afterward. Her group bought in. Everyone on both sides of the Atlantic appeared to be happy participants.

“It was nice to get a global perspective,” Burchett said. “It was great hearing their ideas and how they developed everything.”

RU and Blaise Pascal have been participating in the exercise together for the past six years. Chatham, along with Geoff Heels, who teaches the graduate logistics course at Blaise Pascal, established the practice. In the fall, RU students will pitch business ideas and Heels' students will play the role of venture capitalists, or dragons.

Feb 24, 2015