The female factor

By at home

Anyone who tunes in to Dragons’ Den has seen a score of successful women receive incredible investments for their ideas. We speak to two of these savvy ladies who wowed James in the den with their innovative and practical inventions.

Simeone Salik – blindsinabox
The investment: £40,000 | Dragon’s stake: 15%

Go-getting grandmother Simeone Salik, 68, from London went before the dragons in September 2008 with her business partners to pitch their simple but incredibly useful product – cost-effective, temporary blinds. Hoping for good exposure and help with marketing more than big investment, the team was seeking £40,000 which James Caan and fellow dragon, Duncan Bannatyne, were happy to put up in return for a 40% stake in the business.

‘When my husband retired in 2003, we bought an old cottage in north London which we had knocked down and rebuilt from scratch. The project took about two-and-a-half years, and when it came to furnishing, I consulted an interior designer, Janice Dalton, but I spent ages deliberating over curtains. The prospect of spending weeks in a house with no window coverings gave me the idea for Blindsinabox. ‘I’d seen temporary blinds in the States so I located a company that sold them. Everybody who visited thought they were terrific and asked where I’d got them from, so it seemed logical to look into getting them manufactured for the UK market. My designer, Janice, agreed and we decided to go into business together.’

The business takes off
‘We spent time searching for a company to manufacture the blinds for us and were introduced to a young man, Dominic Lawrence, who sources goods from the Far East. Dominic came on board as a partner and Blindsinabox was born. It took us well over a year to launch the business. We had to obtain design registration, trade mark registration and negotiate rates with the supplier. The company finally got off the ground in December 2007.

‘As a partnership of three, it felt natural to take on different areas of the business. I used to do PR for Liberty’s department store, so I wrote press releases and talked to journalists. I got us featured in several newspapers including the Telegraph which syndicates its stories – so we were also published in the Manchester Evening News. The BBC saw us in this article and approached us to audition for Dragons’ Den.’

Entering the den
‘I wasn’t nervous before the pitch. At my age, you have so much experience, it’s all great fun. I loved being around all the young people – at 68 I’m always the oldest person in the group, but I don’t feel it. I have a lot to offer from my experience. We were in the den for one hour and eight minutes – the dragons really put you through your paces, but we’d rehearsed thoroughly. ‘When James Caan and Duncan Bannatyne said they’d invest in us; we were ecstatic. We wanted exposure more than money – to get our business in the public eye, so we only asked for £40,000. It wasn’t a quick process when we left the den as the paperwork took three months, but it’s been so helpful being associated with the den, and with James in particular. ‘We have regular meetings with James and the business has gone from strength to strength. We have a strong website, we have money in the bank and are doing well despite the recession. We’ve sold stock to Australia, Spain and Ireland and are in discussions with other countries. We are looking to supply other retailers such as B&Q, Homebase, Tesco and Sainsbury’s.’ 

Patti Bailey – motormouse
The investment: £120,000 | Dragon’s stake: 40%

Sales consultant Patti Bailey went before the dragons with husband David looking for investment in their fledgling business – Motormouse – selling sports-car shaped computer mice. James saw such potential in the couple that he invested £120,000 for a 40% stake in their business. ‘My husband David has always wanted a Bentley Continental, so for his 50th birthday I had a cake made for him with a model of the car on top. A couple of days later he was driving the car round his desk – as boys do – when he realised it sat in his hand nicely as a mouse. I got on the phone to Bentley and a host of other manufacturers to see if I could find him a classic car-shaped mouse, but there was nothing around. You could get ones for children but not an executive level, quality mouse in the shape of a sports car. ‘David had 23 years’ experience as a sales marketing consultant but had just been faced with redundancy so it felt like the right time to start a new business.

David met with a Chinese manufacturer who was able to produce our product and our next step was to take a tiny kiosk at The Gadget Show on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We’d brought what we imagined to be enough stock, but by 4pm on Friday we’d completely sold out. That was when we realised our product had a real market. ‘The producers of Dragons’ Den saw us at The Gadget Show and invited us to audition. Our pitch was aired in September 2009. We asked for £100,000 for 20% of the business – James offered £120,000 for 50% but I managed to get it down to 40%. ‘James is great because he’ll be as hands-on as you want him to be and is very accessible. We’re on target to achieve a turnover of £1 million this year – our mice are the best-selling products on British Airways and Emirates – and we’re about to launch several new products.’

Investing in the best
Delving into the Dragons’ Den

  • James is a keen backer of women entrepreneurs – he has invested in 18% more women than the average investment for women overall.
  • A keen supporter of ‘backing people not businesses’, James invests mostly in groups – 47% of his investments are group deals… that’s 10% above his rival dragons’ average.
  • James is happy to go it alone – 48% of his deals are made independently, the same amount as Peter Jones. Theo Paphitis co-invests most frequently – 82% of his deals are done jointly.
  • James has invested the most – £320,556 – on average, per series.
  • James and Peter Jones come equal top when it comes to making deals – they both average five per series.
  • The average invested, per series, per dragon, is £217,914.

* Based on current line-up of dragons. Data is from publicly available sources

Pictures: courtesy of hamilton bradshaw


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