Australian entrepreneur Sarah Hilleary proved it’s possible to have your cake and eat it, too, as she won over Tej Lalvani in last night’s episode of Dragons’ Den. After successfully fending off a series of tough questions from the Dragons, Hilleary’s gluten-free B-Tempted line of cakes and brownies secured her an offer of £75,000.
Hilleary started B-Tempted in 2009 after finding there were very few quality treats on the market for people with food intolerances like herself. She created a range of bite-sized treats that are all gluten free and made with high-end ingredients. A completely self-taught baker, she started making cakes in her kitchen, testing out recipes on her flatmates and selling her bakes at Greenwich market. It wasn’t long before her talent was spotted by buyers at high-end and boutique stores where she began supplying on a regular basis.
Like many entrepreneurs, Hilleary’s business journey has not been without difficulty. An investor dispute in 2011 forced her to liquidate her original bakery business and bid to buy back the company assets so she could continue to trade. Then, out of the blue, her application to renew her UK visa was denied and she was faced with the possibility of being sent back to Australia and losing everything she had worked so hard to build. On top of that, Hilleary’s father suffered a heart attack the same year and she was unable to leave the country to visit him.
The experience left her down but not out, and in 2012, determined to build on the success of her brand and with her father well again and visa dispute settled, she successfully made a bid to buy back her company from the investors and relaunched.
“The whole experience was a massive learning curve for me. I realised how naïve I had been and wished I had had the foresight to choose investors that were better aligned with my vision for the brand,” she says. “But perhaps more importantly, it taught me how resilient I am and how determined I am to turn my business into a massive global success. The only way to achieve that is not to give up when the going gets tough.”
During her experience in the Den, Hilleary found herself fighting back tears and struggling to keep her composure as Peter Jones grilled her about being faced with the possibility of being kicked out of the country.
“Peter is very intuitive and picked up on the fact that the last few years have not been a piece of cake for me, personally or professionally. Until I went into the Den I had underestimated the psychological impact it had on me. I felt that Tej really understood my business and I was grateful that he chose to focus on the success of B-Tempted and shared my vision of what the business could achieve in the future.”
Hilleary has ambitious plans for B-Tempted. Her products have been well received by the industry and public and have won numerous Great Taste Awards. The next step is for the company is significant growth, with investment in equipment, marketing and working capital. Currently in talks with Tesco to supply 150 of their ‘Express’ stores, she also has plans to increase production volume, launch new flavours and expand into European markets next year.