The new Dragons are Nick Jenkins, business investor and creator of one of Britain’s leading online retailers; Touker Suleyman, a global clothing manufacturer and serial retail entrepreneur and Sarah Willingham, a global restaurant entrepreneur, serial business investor and leading consumer expert.
The trio will join existing Dragons, Peter Jones and Deborah Meaden in a move which might be seen as a snub to former Ultimo founder Michelle Mone who had effectively announced that she was joined the Den to replace fellow Scot Duncan Bannatyne after being courted by the BBC on a number of previous occasions.
Kim Shillinglaw, Controller of BBC Two and BBC Four, says: “I’m delighted that Dragons’ Den is back to inspire and surprise BBC Two viewers for another series and it’s wonderful to welcome such an impressive line-up of new Dragons – together they’ll bring an exciting new dynamic to the show as they turn up the heat on the prospective entrepreneurs brave enough to enter the Den.”
Filming begins for the new series of Dragons’ Den in the next few weeks and the show will return to BBC Two later in the year.
So who are the new dragons:
Nick Jenkins is the founder of the online greeting card website Moonpig.com. It took Nick five years of losses and four rounds of fundraising before the website eventually made a profit; today Moonpig.com ships greeting cards to millions of customers worldwide and has become a household name. Nick sold the company to Photobox.com for £120million in 2011 shortly after Moonpig.com reached No 3 in the Sunday Times Profit Track 100.
Nick read Russian at University and had planned a career in the army but the collapse of the Berlin Wall led to more exciting opportunities and he gave up his place at Sandhurst to accept a job offer to work in Moscow. He spent eight years working as a commodity trader before returning to the UK. He spent a year studying for an MBA at Cranfield University as an opportunity to write several business plans. Within a couple of weeks of finishing the course, one of those plans became Moonpig.com.
Since 2008, Nick has been actively investing in other start-up businesses, mostly in the technology and internet retail space. He sits on the investment committee of Impact Ventures UK, an investment fund which invests in social enterprises using innovation to find better solutions to social issues in the UK. He is also a trustee of the educational charity Ark and he is a patron of Shivia, a charity that helps some of the poorest families in West Bengal to raise their standard of living through enterprise.
Nick says: “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. 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. I am very excited about joining Dragons’ Den and using my experience to back some great new businesses and help them through the turbulent first years.”
Touker Suleyman has 40 years’ retail and manufacturing experience and is best known as the founder of quintessentially British menswear brand, Hawes & Curtis and the man credited with reinventing the seminal 90s womenswear label, Ghost.
After a false start in accountancy, Touker kicked off his retail career at the age of 18. He entered into a joint venture in a leather factory and soon after established a clothing manufacturer supplying to some of the biggest names of the British high street.
Touker’s rise in the business world has not been without its challenge. In the 1980s auditors identified significant debt behind one of his business ventures and he had six weeks to find £2 million pounds. Unfortunately a potential investor pulling out at the last minute, forcing the business into liquidation, and he was forced to start again from nothing.
Touker went on to build a thriving international clothing manufacturer which still sits at the heart of his businesses and is now a serial entrepreneur, backing seven retail and commercial property businesses. Touker has a keen interest in supporting start-ups and invests in a number of small British companies.
Touker says: ‘It is a privilege to join the panel of Dragons’ Den and support the next generation of UK entrepreneurs. Dreams and big ideas are plentiful, but few people have the courage to realise their ambitions. 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. 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.’
Sarah Willingham is a serial entrepreneur and leading consumer expert who began working in the restaurant industry at the age of 13. She has ultimately managed to combine her passion for business, food and drink into a multi-million pound business empire.
In 2003 Sarah spotted an opportunity to create a chain of Indian restaurants, but her business plan was rejected, so she struck out on her own and raised finance to buy The Bombay Bicycle Club, turning it into the largest and most successful Indian restaurant chain in the UK. In the same year, at the age of 31, Sarah sat on two plc boards and successfully floated a nutraceutical business on the London Stock Exchange. A few years later, Sarah sold her shares in The Bombay Bicycle Club for a seven figure sum.
Sarah co-founded and invested in The London Cocktail Club and Craft Cocktail Company and has helped grow these two concepts into award-winning businesses. She is also the co-founder of Letssavemoney.com and regularly offers money saving advice on TV, print & online.
Today, Sarah runs her business portfolio from her home office alongside her entrepreneur husband and together they jointly invest and support more than 10 business ventures, from start-ups to established and growing brands 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.
Sarah says: “I’m so excited about joining this year’s great team of Dragons. I can’t wait to meet some more brilliant people with brilliant businesses to invest in and support. I’ve been at the coalface with every business I’ve ever launched and I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty and do what it takes to help small businesses grow. 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. For me, investment must be backed 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.”