Dragons’ Den surprise as Bannatyne, Hoppen and Linney replacements are named

Moonpig.com founder Nick Jenkins, fashion entrepreneur Touker Suleyman, and restaurateur Sarah Willingham join BBC investor show

The three investors joining Peter Jones and Deborah Meaden for the 13th series of the BBC’s Dragons’ Den are Moonpig.com founder Nick Jenkins, restaurateur Sarah Willingham, and Touker Suleyman of fashion brand Hawes & Curtis.

Ultimo bra brand boss Michelle Mone had been widely expected to join the panel following the exits of Duncan Bannatyne, Kelly Hoppen and Piers Linney from the show.

Instead, the BBC has surprised many with its new hires. Nick Jenkins, who sold Moonpig.com to Photobox.com for £120m having built the online gift card platform into one of the UK’s most distinct brands, is arguably the best-known of the three.

Nick Jenkins Moonpig.com Dragons Den

Nick Jenkins

Controller of BBC Two and BBC Four Kim Shillinglaw said the trio would “bring an exciting new dynamic to the show” in what the BBC hopes will breathe fire into a show that appeared to be on the wane.

It was recently revealed that over 50% of deals agreed on the show subsequently fall down during the due diligence stage after filming, which may surprise some but largely reflects the nature of angel investment.

Familiar with the travails of starting a business too, Jenkins’ business – so-called because of his school nickname and the availability of the unusual domain – sustained five years of losses before making a profit while also raising four rounds of finance to keep the business solvent.

Moonpig.com, prior to Jenkins’ lucrative exit, made it to third place in the Sunday Times Profit Track 100, demonstrating his ability to turn around and scale a business. The Russian-speaking entrepreneur who spurned a career as an officer in the British Army was a commodities trader in Moscow before taking an MBA at Cranfield University to develop his plans to launch a business.

He has been investing in early stage businesses for the past seven years and sits on the investment committee of Impact Ventures UK, which backs social enterprises, as well as supporting the educational and enterprise-related charities Ark and Shivia.

Jenkins, who spoke to Startups.co.uk in this video about the Moonpig.com’s origins, viral growth and expansion, expressed his excitement upon being appointed and outlined his enduring interest in the start-up phase of business. “I have always preferred the start-up stage to running a larger mature business. It is a more exhilarating journey and requires instinctive fast decision making.

Sarah Willingham restaurateur Dragons Den

Sarah Willingham

“There is often not much information to analyse and the risk of failure is ever present. Today’s technology means that it is possible for a business to succeed or fail much faster than ever before.”

Sarah Willingham will be familiar to some after appearing on all three series of renowned chef Raymond Blanc’s BBC reality programme The Restaurant, where she inspected contenders’ eateries each week, feeding in to each elimination.

She has worked in the industry since the age of 13 but was thwarted when she looked to start her own chain of Indian restaurants. Having had her own business plan rejected she partnered with Clapham House Group’s David Page – the former boss of Pizza Express – to buy The Bombay Bicycle Club in 2003.

Willingham exited in 2008 when Clapham House Group accepted a £4.4m offer from Gourmet Restaurants, a considerably lower price than the AIM-listed company had hoped for. “Given that we paid one or two million for it, £4.4m isn’t bad,” said Page at the time.

Among her other food and drink industry ventures were The London Cocktail Club and Craft Cocktail Company. She also set up Letssavemoney.com and alongside her husband has backed more than 10 start-ups and growing businesses across a range of sectors.

Willingham has promised to provide sound support, coaching and inspiration for any start-ups she invests in on the show. “I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty and do what it takes to help small businesses grow,” she said.

“I know what it takes to turn a great business concept into a thriving enterprise. It’s important for me to be a mentor as well as an investor.”

Touker Suleyman Hawes and Curtis Dragons Den

Touker Suleyman

And Touker Suleyman has grown Hawes & Curtis shirt and fashion brand across more than 25 locations nationwide, as well as expanding the quintessentially British tailor to Germany. He agreed a £3.2m deal to franchise the Jermyn Street shirt-maker in the Middle East in 2013.

Suleyman has also experienced business difficulties. Given six weeks to find £2m to pay off a debt discovered by auditors in the 1980s, he failed to secure last-minute investment and saw the business go into liquidation.

He started again and has now backed seven businesses in the retail and commercial property sectors. A “long-standing fan of the show”, he promised to back ventures with the “guts to pursue their dreams”.

“I know precisely what it takes to become a business success and I will certainly draw upon my own experiences when considering whether to invest. I can’t wait to get started and look forward to initiating new business partnerships over the coming months.”


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