Who is Dragons’ Den’s Sarah Willingham?

Restaurateur, TV star and cocktail connoisseur, Startups examines the businesswoman who joined Dragons' Den for the BBC show’s 13th series

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  • Henry Williams

Dragon from: Series 13 to Series 14, 2015 to 2017
Number of investments made: 3 in Series 13
Largest sum invested: £40,000 in Series 13
Most successful investment on the show: Sublime Science in Series 13

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.

A popular face on daytime TV and restaurant shows, Sarah Willingham may be a familiar name to some but just who is the businesswoman who stepped up in series 13 of Dragons' Den as one of three replacements for Kelly Hoppen MBE, Duncan Bannatyne and Piers Linney?

The former owner of the Bombay Bicycle Club with two degrees and an MBA to her name – Startups brings you 11 key facts about the BBC’s latest hire…

1. She’s a serial entrepreneur

In 2004, Willingham purchased The Bombay Bicycle Club with Clapham House Group’s David Page; the former boss of Pizza Express. The business grew from a loss-making chain of six Indian restaurants to 17. She exited in 2007 when she sold her share back to The Clapham House Group but continued as board director of the Group overseeing Tootsies, The Real Greek and the Bombay Bicycle Club. Her other food and drink ventures include the Craft Cocktail Company and The London Cocktail Club which she co-founded in 2007. She is also the co-founder of AIM-listed health firm NutraHealth Plc which she established in 2004 and sold to Indian competitor Elder Pharmaceuticals in 2011.

2. She claims to be an expert when it comes to personal finance

She’s appeared on a number of daytime programmes including The Wright Stuff and Sky News commenting on personal finance and consumer issues. In 2012, she launched a money saving website to help people be “smarter with their money” with her husband Michael Toxvaerd– Letssaveymoney.com. The Mirror recently reported that the company is running at a £640,000 loss.

3. She’s managed some of the world’s most successful food chains

Willingham spent the earlier part of her career managing some of the biggest names in high street restaurants such as Pizza Express and Planet Hollywood. She helped to open over 50 of these restaurants nationwide.

4. She's invested in a number of start-ups

Along with her husband, Willingham has backed over 10 business ventures in the food and drink, consumer finance, health food, banking, mining, technology, lead generation and entertainment sectors. Most of which are located across the UK, Middle East and North America.

5. She  holds three business degrees

Willingham has an MBA from Cranfield Business School and two university degrees; one from Oxford Brookes University and the other from the École supérieure de commerce de la rochelle business school in France. She also acts as an advisory board member for Cranfield.

6. She’s no stranger to TV

As well as her personal finance appearances, Willingham has appeared as a restaurant inspector and investor in Raymond Blanc’s BBC2 show The Restaurant and has also taken part in Sky TV show Cooks to Market where amateur cooks get the chance to turn their home-made food products into a business.

7. She’s a millionaire

Willingham made an estimated profit of £2.8m from the sale of Indian restaurant chain Bombay Bicycle Club in 2007. Of the three new Dragons’ investors she's said to be worth the least.

8. She's been passionate about business since the age of 13

Willingham started working in the restaurant industry aged 13 and says that she “ultimately managed to combine her passions for business food and drink into a multi-million pound empire”.

9. She’s a mumpreneur

Willingham serves as a great inspiration to other businesswoman juggling enterprise with family life – she has four children; Minnie, Nelly, Marly and Monti, with her husband Toxvaerd.

10. She's won a series of industry awards

For her contributions to business, Willingham has received several industry accolades including featuring in Management Today's 35 most successful women under 35 in 2007 and the Courvoisier The Future 500 in 2008.

11. She a proud Northener

Willingham has mentioned her Northern roots on a number of occasions; the entrepreneur was born in Stoke to a working class family and says her upbringing gave her a “positive work ethic”. We predict that Willingham will be backing plans to build a “Northern Powerhouse”.

Henry Williams
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