East London startup 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 Meaden’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. 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.’

However it hasn’t all been plain sailing for Churchill Gowns. Since launching in 2018, several universities have tried 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 Meaden’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 sustainable business, meant she really was the obvious choice for Churchill Gowns and we can’t wait to have her on board.’