Dragons’ Den: Sarah Willingham
The restaurateur turned an ailing Indian restaurant chain into the most successful in the country, now she’s looking to do the same in the Den...
Dragon from: Series 13 – ongoing, 2005 to current
Number of investments made: 3
Largest sum invested: £40,000
Most successful investment on the show: Sublime Science
Who is Sarah Willingham?
Having worked in the restaurant industry from the age of 13 and managing some of the world’s most successful food chains – she launched Pizza Express in Asia and Planet Hollywood in Paris – it’s not surprising that Stoke-on-Trent-born Sarah Willingham’s had the insight necessary to succeed in the sector.
After having a business plan for a chain of Indian restaurants rejected, the entrepreneur raised enough finance to buy The Bombay Bicycle in 2004. Originally a chain of six loss-making restaurants, by the time Willingham exited in 2007 for a seven figure sum, the business was thought to be the largest and most successful Indian Restaurant chain in the UK.
The mother of four also co-founded the Craft Cocktail Company and The London Cocktail Club and NeutralHealth Plc, an AIM-listed health firm she sold to Elder Pharmaceuticals in 2011.
Willingham as a Dragon
Willingham’s three investments in series 13 of the show included Grounded Body Scrub, Sublime Science and Vitilglow.
Neither Grounded Body Scrub, into which she invested £30,000 for 45% equity, and Vitilglow, £40,000 for 40% equity, went through after the show.
Willingham committed £50,000 for 10% equity alongside Nick Jenkins into Sublime Science. The company – which attracted offers from four of the five Dragons – provides science parties, workshops and stage shows for children and claims to have performed shows for more than 500,000 children in its eight-year history. It’s unclear whether either Willingham or Jenkins are still involved in the business.
Life outside the Den
In partnership with her husband Michael Toxvaerd, Willingham was an active angel investor long before she joined the Den, with a portfolio of 10 companies across food and drink, consumer finance, health food, banking, mining, technology, lead generation and entertainment.
Willingham and her husband also founded money-saving website Let’s Save Money, which offers advice and tips on where to find the best deals and how to save money on everything from travel to weddings and insurance. In this capacity she’s also appeared on The Wright Stuff and Sky News commenting on personal finance and consumer issues.
Additionally, Willingham has made other TV appearances as a restaurant inspector and investor in Raymond Blanc’s BBC2 show The Restaurant and Sky TV’s Cooks to Market.
Her business success has seen her recognised in The Sunday Times 500 Most Influential People in Britain 2016, The Times 35 Most Successful Women Under 35, Business Weekly’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Courvoisier Top 500 and the Who’s Who of British Business Leaders.