BrewDog co-founder James Watt has said he is putting up £5 million of his own money to launch a new start-up funding programme that has been described as a rival to Dragons' Den.

The controversial entrepreneur has teamed up with Crowdcube to allow members of the public to also back the chosen companies in "The Next Unicorn" competition. "Unicorns" are those firms that have reached a valuation of $1 billion (£810m), a milestone that Scottish-headquartered BrewDog achieved in 2017 when San Francisco-based TSG Consumer Partners took a 23 per cent stake in craft brewing business.

The competition is taking submissions from European entrepreneurs from now until April 14. A shortlist of entrants will then pitch live in London to a panel including Mr Watt, Crowdcube chief executive Matt Cooper, and Evelyn McDonald, chief executive of Scottish Edge – which helped the brewing company get started 16 years ago.

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Mr Watt was knocked back from appearing as a contestant on Dragons' Den in 2009. He was more recently shortlisted to become a Dragon himself, but ultimately didn’t get a seat.

Spurred on by his double rejection, he has decided to create his own competition in which he will invest £1m into three firms, with a further £4m to be unlocked as the winning companies reach certain milestones.

In what has been described as a "world-first", members of the public will then be able to invest on exactly the same terms as Mr Watt.

“Building and growing businesses is a real passion point for me, and I have learnt so much on my journey getting BrewDog to unicorn status," Mr Watt said.

The Herald: James Watt and his 'unicorn' at BrewDog's headquarters in Ellon, AberdeenshireJames Watt and his 'unicorn' at BrewDog's headquarters in Ellon, Aberdeenshire (Image: BrewDog)

"Given the current economic climate, it’s never been more important to support companies, and I can’t wait to share my experience with some of the brightest business minds across Europe.”

The three winners will be invited to Las Vegas to receive their funding at BrewDog’s rooftop bar on Friday May 26. Following the Vegas announcement, the three winning businesses will be live on for the public to invest in the deal too.

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On top of a cash injection, the winners will also test their personal relationship and adaptability skills with Mr Watt in unusual scenarios include fishing on his grandfather’s boat, planting trees in the BrewDog Lost Forest, and working a day pulling pints at the beer firm’s Camden bar.

Mr Cooper of Crowdcube said: “We’ve transformed retail investing by creating more pathways for investors to invest in high-performing private companies than ever before. Now, with our partnership, the public can invest alongside leading entrepreneur James Watt in the search for Europe’s next unicorn.”