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Dragons’ Den success for eco-friendly graduation gown business

"It was probably one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve ever done"

Two Cambridge entrepreneurs received a £60,000 investment when they pitched their business supplying graduation gowns made out of recycled bottles on the BBC television show Dragons’ Den.

Ruth Nicholls, who graduated from St John’s in 2013 with a law degree, co-founded Churchill Gowns with Oliver Adkins in 2018.

Churchill Gowns manufactures and sells graduation attire made from recycled plastic bottles to students, colleges and universities across the UK. The company has already supplied gowns to more than 2,000 students across 30 UK universities and turned 53,000 plastic bottles into gowns.

Two entrepreneurs on Dragons' Den

Ruth Nicholls and Oliver Adkins pitch to the Dragons

"Thankfully we’ve had practice pitching and we know our business inside out but we were still very nervous"

Dragons’ Den is an opportunity for budding entrepreneurs to present their ideas to a panel of five investors, the ‘Dragons’ of the show’s title, and to pitch for financial investment while offering a stake of the company in return.

The pair spent three minutes selling their business and received offers from two of the five dragons – Deborah Meaden and Touker Suleyman.

After each pitch, the investors have the opportunity to quiz the entrepreneurs about their ventures and are renowned for asking difficult and direct questions which can make seemingly good business ideas unravel on screen.

Nicholls and Adkins accepted the investment offer from leisure and retail businesswoman Deborah Meaden in exchange for 22 per cent of the business after a gruelling time in the den.

Nicholls said: “It was probably one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve ever done. Thankfully we’ve had practice pitching and we know our business inside out but we were still very nervous.”

“But it’s nice to get immediate feedback; a formal yes or no straightaway is helpful. Sometimes you think a pitch has gone very well and only after waiting a long time for the potential investor’s response do you find out they aren’t interested.” 

Three people throw mortar boards into the air

Ruth Nicholls, Deborah Meaden and Oliver Adkins celebrate their new business partnership. Photo credit: Fay Summerfield

"To have a vote of confidence from not one but two Dragons was really overwhelming"

Churchill Gowns faces challenges breaking into a business landscape that has long-standing suppliers but Meaden said this is what appealed to her because she enjoys supporting fledging companies that ‘disrupt’ the market.

Nicholls said Churchill Gowns will finalise the details of Meaden’s investment in the coming months and with her investment they intend to expand their business.

Adkins explained: “We were really just hoping to walk away from the Den with one offer, so to have a vote of confidence from not one but two Dragons was really overwhelming.

“Deborah’s investment will enable us to expand to more universities around the UK offering students a more sustainable and affordable choice when it comes to their graduation day.”

Published: 21/08/19

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