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Former Dragons’ Den investor Sarah Willingham tells how her Stoke-on-Trent roots nonetheless form her enterprise choices

Former Dragons' Den investor Sarah Willingham tells how her Stoke-on-Trent roots still shape her business decisions


Stoke-on-Trent-born businesswoman Sarah Willingham has advised how she went from engaged on Stoke Market to proudly owning the biggest chain of Indian eating places within the nation and changing into one of many UK’s most profitable feminine entrepreneurs and buyers.

Sarah began her working life on the age of simply 11 with a paper spherical, progressing to a job at a neighborhood hairdresser’s and later a market stall in Stoke when she was 13.

However the 47-year-old – who was born within the Potteries and raised in Newcastle-under-Lyme – admits that she rapidly found her ardour for the hospitality trade after taking a job at Gio’s bar on Newcastle Excessive Road at 14.

Sarah mentioned: “I’ve all the time actually beloved hospitality. I beloved eating places, beloved the social side of it, and all the time discovered enterprise actually attention-grabbing.

“I used to be all the time fairly within the industrial aspect of issues, I did not actually know essentially that it was enterprise that I used to be occupied with, however I typically puzzled why all of us wore the identical manufacturers and ate the identical meals and had the identical stuff in our cabinets.”



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Decided to comply with her ardour, Sarah accomplished two levels – in Worldwide Enterprise and Worldwide Finance – within the UK and in France, all whereas juggling jobs on the Paris Inventory Alternate and the Frog and Roast Beef pub.

She went on to pursue a company profession at Planet Hollywood and Pizza Specific and ultimately took over the Bombay Bicycle Membership in 2004.

Sarah mentioned: “I needed to create the biggest chain of Indian eating places within the UK, and one of many principal causes for doing that’s I realised fairly rapidly in my late twenties that if I used to be going to proceed dwelling out of a suitcase it was not possible I used to be going to have the ability to have a number of youngsters and spend a variety of time being a mum and have a extra balanced life in my thirties.

“So I believed I will should make a major change to have the ability to have the life that I wish to have in my thirties, which was my principal drive to do it myself.

“So that is what I did, I ended up managing to lift the cash, and did find yourself having the biggest chain of Indian eating places within the UK.”



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Sarah Willingham

Sarah added: “I began to have youngsters, and once I received to quantity two I simply thought I truly cannot have 1,500 employees counting on me getting up within the morning and all my infants – I had 4 in 4 years.

“In order that’s once I determined to promote the enterprise (in 2007) and began to have a look at extra energetic investments.”

However Sarah by no means utterly stopped being ‘arms on’ when it got here to enterprise and went on to run quite a lot of corporations together with her entrepreneur husband Michael Toxvaerd, together with listed nutraceutical enterprise NeutraHealth plc.

She additionally grew to become a well-recognized face on tv after being approached to participate in BBC 2’s The Restaurant and fellow BBC present, Dragons’ Den.

Sarah spent two sequence ‘within the den’ in 2015 and 2016 and invested in probably the most profitable companies to ever seem on the present – Craft Gin Membership.

She mentioned: “I completely beloved my expertise (on Dragons’ Den). I bear in mind strolling into the den for the primary time, my coronary heart was beating so rapidly. I couldn’t fairly imagine that I used to be going to be sat in a type of chairs.

“I walked over to the elevate, rotated and went and stood on the spot the place the entrepreneurs stand and simply appeared on the chairs. I simply thought, God, it is spectacular that they do that.



Sarah Willingham first appeared on Dragons' Den in 2015. She is pictured here (far left) with Touker Suleyman, Deborah Meaden, Nick Jenkins, Peter Jones
Sarah Willingham first appeared on Dragons’ Den in 2015. She is pictured right here (far left) with Touker Suleyman, Deborah Meaden, Nick Jenkins, Peter Jones

“It is not straightforward, and it is scary – and that by no means left me truly, it meant that each single time someone walked via the door I had an enormous smile ready for them.

“And the primary man that walked via the door – Gold Disc Dave – was a Stokie,” Sarah continued.

“He’s my first pitch ever on Dragons’ Den, and I simply felt just like the universe had despatched him to me to make me really feel at dwelling.”

After vowing “by no means to run a enterprise once more” mother-of-four Sarah now runs a rising variety of corporations alongside Michael, together with Nightcap plc, London Cocktail Membership, Journey Bar Group and Barrio Familia.

And earlier than each acquisition, Sarah says she asks herself one query – “Can I put this in Stoke-on-Trent?”

“I ask myself that query each single time, as a result of I do know that when I can get it in Stoke-on-Trent, I’ve received an enormous nationwide rollout alternative, not simply in massive cities however a number of the smaller cities too.”



The Stoke-on-Trent BusinessLive Awards in association with The Sentinel and StokeonTrentLive is open for entries

The Stoke-on-Trent BusinessLive Awards in affiliation with The Sentinel and Stoke-on-Trent Dwell 2022 are again and open for entries.

Companies and people from throughout Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire are being inspired to enter throughout 14 classes together with the coveted Enterprise of the Yr award.

You will discover extra details about the entire classes here.

The deadline for entries is Monday, January 10 and the ceremony will happen on Thursday, April 28.

To investigate about sponsorship please electronic mail paige.jackson@reachplc.com or nikki.kandola@reachplc.com.

And regardless of the pandemic and numerous restrictions, Sarah believes that the hospitality sector will proceed to bounce again over the subsequent 12 months.

She mentioned: “The calls for that now we have seen over the past six months since we have been allowed to open has confirmed to us that hospitality will, given an opportunity, thrive once more.

“So long as we stay unrestricted, I believe we are going to see a 12 months of recallibration and a 12 months the place hospitality and retail sort of rebalance once more after having the worst 18 months we may have ever presumably imagined.

“I believe we are going to go right into a interval the place demand is excessive, and so long as we’re capable of provide that demand, then the hospitality trade will increase.”

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