Duncan Bannatyne, Kelly Hoppen and Piers Swinney said ‘I’m out’ for one final time last weekend, leaving three empty seats in the Dragons’ Den studio. But three new business experts are ready to breathe fire into the roles in the form of Moonpig’s Nick Jenkins, London Cocktail Club’s Sarah Willingham and Hawes & Curtis owner Touker Suleyman.
They’ll sit alongside longstanding dragons Peter Jones and Deborah Meaden, as they each battle to invest their own money in the most lucrative up-and-coming businesses.
Clearly these new dragons aren’t a superstitious lot, joining in what will be the show’s thirteenth series, with filming expected to start next week for a return to BBC2 later this year.
But who are these new dragons? We get to know the new faces:
The Bombay Bicycle Club, The London Cocktail Club, The Clapham House Group, the Craft Cocktail Company… there’s a pattern here and one that clearly works. Under Willingham’s guidance The Bombay Bicycle Club became the largest chain of Indian Restaurants in the UK. Once sold in 2007, Willingham continued in her role as board director at The Clapham House Group with 50 restaurants – including The Real Greek – to her name. The London Cocktail Club boasts six bars in London, and Willingham has a money advice website (letssavemoney.com) and previously owned six nutrition and pharmaceutical businesses. Fingers in pies aplenty.
Willingham makes regular TV appearances giving advice on money saving and appeared on Raymond Blanc’s The Restaurant as an investor and inspector. Willingham was also an independent investor on Sky’s Cooks to Market. She’s been compared to Simon Cowell and takes it as a compliment, but says for her it’s all in the coaching. “For me, investment must be back up by sound business advice and support from someone who’s been there. The real value is in the time spent mentoring, advising, coaching and inspiring.”
Touker and his brother Mustafa bought Hawes & Curtis for £1 and turned it from a disappearing shirt shop into the luxury brand it is today, with a turnover of £21million. The brand has 28 outlets across the UK and it’s set to expand worldwide. The duo have re-launched Ghost, which was in administration, and Touker himself is also the Chief Executive of fashion manufacturer Low Profile Holdings, which supplies clothes to, among others, M&S. Touker has experience investing in start-up businesses and is a mentor for the Princes Trust.
“I want to support those people with the guts to pursue their dreams and provide the financial backing, opportunities and support that will ease their path to success. I am a long-standing fan of the show and would have loved to have the opportunity to stand before the Dragons in my early days,” Suleyman says. “I know precisely what it takes to become a business success.”
Nick Jenkins is the man behind those Moonpig greeting card adverts. You’re singing the song, right? It’s been a challenge; five years of losses and four rounds of fundraising later the website is a household name. Jenkins eventually sold the company, named Moonpig from a childhood nickname, to photobox.com for a tidy £120 million.
Jenkins offers a wealth of investment experience, sitting on the investment committee of Impact Ventures UK, which invests in social enterprises that use innovation to find better solutions to the UK’s social issues. “I have always preferred the start-up stage to running a larger mature business,” Jenkins says. “It is a more exhilarating journey and requires instinctive, fast decision making.”