Client Success Story: Graduation Gowning Start Up Churchill Gowns Secures Investment on Dragons’ Den
On Sunday night young entrepreneurs Oliver Adkins and Ruth Nicholls went toe to toe with the panel of high profile investors on Dragons’ Den, seeking £60,000 investment in their graduation start up Churchill Gowns. They received offers from both Deborah Meaden and Touker Suleyman, ultimately opting to accept Deborah’s investment in exchange for 22% of the business.
Churchill Gowns was founded in the UK by University of Cambridge graduates Oliver Adkins and Ruth Nicholls after they were shocked to see the high prices charged by traditional gown suppliers and the total lack of choice in the market.
‘When it came to our graduation day we were really surprised to find that there was not a lot of choice when it came to hiring our gowns, and the costs seemed really high given you’re only wearing a gown for a couple of hours. Today’s students have already paid thousands of pounds in tuition fees so, for many, being ripped off on graduation day leaves a really bitter taste in the mouth. We were confident that we could offer a simple online ordering and home delivery service which would be more convenient and save our customers money.’
Having tried on some of the products, the Dragons seemed impressed with Oliver and Ruth’s confident pitch and the potential size of the graduation market. The entrepreneurs also found favour for their sustainability credentials, as they explained that every gown they make is manufactured entirely from recycled plastic bottles.
However it hasn’t all been plain sailing for Churchill Gowns. Since launching in 2018, their business model has proved controversial, with several universities trying to block their entry into the market. Churchill Gowns have even taken a complaint to the competition regulator, claiming that a large number of UK universities are preventing free competition in the market by forcing students to hire their gowns from a single established supplier, who then offers the university a kickback on sales.
Fortunately for the entrepreneurs the Dragons were not put off by the challenging business environment. In fact one of their key reasons for accepting Deborah’s offer was that she spoke in strong terms about wanting to shake up the industry:
‘We could tell from her questioning and reaction to our pitch that Deborah will prove a strong advocate for free competition in the graduation market and the right for students to choose where they spend their money. This, coupled with her passion for ethical and sustain business, meant she really was the obvious choice for Churchill Gowns and we can’t wait to have her on board.’
Deborah agreed that the ethos behind Churchill Gowns is what really motivated her investment, commenting:
‘Founded through personal experience by Ollie and Ruth, two very smart Entrepreneurs, Churchill Gowns offers a new, disruptive approach to an established University Gown Market dominated by a huge player. In Churchill gowns University Students now have a better value, more environmentally sustainable and more democratic choice; all elements which are very dear to my heart.’
Of their experience in the Den, Oliver said:
‘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.’
ABOUT CHURCHILL GOWNS
Founded in the UK in 2018 by young entrepreneurs Oliver Adkins (28) and Ruth Nicholls (27), Churchill Gowns manufactures and sells graduation attire to students, colleges and universities across the UK. They are seeking to disrupt the antiquated graduation market by offering students a more sustainable, affordable and convenient service.
To date Churchill Gowns have supplied graduation attire to over 2,000 students across 30 UK universities and have also sold directly to institutions including the University of Cambridge and Trinity College, Oxford.
Each gown Churchill Gowns manufactures is made entirely out of recycled plastic, creating something practical out of waste which would otherwise have ended up in landfill or the ocean. To date they have repurposed the equivalent of 53,000 plastic bottles into gowns.
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