The OPPrentice: the entrepreneurial top five

Posted 17 July 2013 by
Leonie Nicks with Rob Bailey
The path to success

With the final of The Apprentice tonight we ask: what does it take to be an entrepreneur? The gruelling process of The Apprentice may entertain us, but it’s a long way from answering the question. So we’ve taken on the challenge and devised our own ‘Entrepreneurial Top Five’.


1. Vision

Despite winning only three tasks out of ten, 2011’s winner Tom Pellereau definitely has our first feature. Vision is seeing business opportunities where others see none, and thinking creatively to come up with innovative solutions. Taking a broader view and looking beyond what’s right in front of them enables entrepreneurs to make the leap from thinking about starting a business to actually doing it.


2. Perception of risk

We might envision the perfect entrepreneur as a dangerous, adrenalin-driven, risk-taking action figure. However, it’s not that they indulge in gambling, cliff-diving or motorbiking, but that they see what some may consider to be ‘low potential’ business scenarios as opportunities. To them, they’re just more insightful in business than others. Take 2013 finalist, Leah Totton; she appears to be risking a stable career in medicine for something in which she is totally inexperienced. Yet she’s in the final. Maybe it’s our own lack of vision that compels us to label entrepreneurs as ‘risk-takers’.

3. Self-belief

If you make someone believe they’re highly capable at making decisions, they take more risks. Not only that but they see these risks as opportunities (see previous point), because they believe they are capable at succeeding in them. It’s a virtuous circle, with success leading to higher self-belief, which leads to more experience, and so on. However, if it’s out of line with reality, you’re in danger of becoming a Neil McClough, semi-finalist this year. The King of Self-Belief was dubbed by Lord Sugar as “the right man with the wrong plan” due to his abysmal business idea.

4. Funding

The change made in the eighth series of The Apprentice, from the previous offer of a job with Lord Sugar to a £250K investment in the candidate’s business, transformed the show from looking for a top businessperson to an entrepreneur. Only 17% of self-employed people receive their initial funding from bank loans. A successful entrepreneur will find the money, but it most probably won’t be from a bank, perhaps due to their off-the-wall ‘vision’. On the upside, self-made billionaire Richard Branson says, “It can be better to start with very little money, since the skills you’ll develop as you overcome the challenge of growing your business will be invaluable.”

5. Need for achievement

Every year we hear how everyone in The Apprentice ‘wants it’ more than everyone else. An entrepreneur doesn’t just want to succeed; they have a compulsion for success. When 2013 finalist Luisa Zissman was asked in the interviews why she wanted this when she’s already so successful, her answer was, “because I always want more”. The studies show it: ‘achievement motivation’ stands out as the most important personality factor for entrepreneurial success.

So how do the finalists fare with our Top Five? 




Her business plan identifies an emerging market

Her business plan identifies a gap in the market

Perception of risk

Saw The Apprentice as worthwhile despite a medical career

Saw The Apprentice as worthwhile despite three successful businesses and has demonstrated business insight throughout the series


Pursued medicine despite no one else in her family having gone to university

Set up her own business after deciding she could do it better than her “idiot” boss


More in need of this

Already making a healthy profit from her current businesses

Need for achievement

Leah is quietly determined, which emerges most when she’s under pressure and vigorously defending herself in the notorious boardroom

Luisa is very vocal about her determination, to the extent that she overthrew a project manager for the first time ever in pursuit of winning

Verdict: both candidates have demonstrated these qualities well, and each in their unique ways. Luisa has more business insight than Leah but Leah is more in need of funding.

Will Lord Sugar use these Top Five to decide between Leah and Luisa? We’ll find out in tonight’s final...

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