Last night on Dragon’s Den, Yorkshire business woman Sarah Agar-Brennan successfully secured investment from two dragons in particular. After sharing a strong and very personal pitch, the Leeds entrepreneur sparked interest with Peter Jones, Tej Lalvani and Jenny Campbell, who all wanted a stake in Love Bomb Cushions, her emoji cushions business.
With the ball in Sarah’s court, an £80,000 investment for 30 per cent stake in her business was negotiated, with the expert backing from Lalvani and Campbell.
“I’ve been bowled over by people’s response, and been told I’ve done Leeds and Yorkshire proud!” said Agar-Brennan. “I went into the den with a mindset to win. You have to ignore the lights and cameras, pitch your best and have all the answers waiting to their questions.”
The business idea came to Agar-Brennan when her daughter received a poorly made emoji style cushion for her 14th birthday. The smiley-faced cushion took weeks to arrive, and when it did, it was clearly of poor quality. Yet Agar-Brennan was amazed at her daughter’s reaction to the present. That’s when she realised that there was a business idea there. Agar-Brennan has over 20 years’ experience in the toy industry, which helped her source the right manufacturer for her own range of emoji cushions. “The cushion I bought was rubbish to be honest but I thought that I have to get these made,” Agar-Brennan said in a blog post on Business Entreprise Fund’s (BEF) website.
Initially, her business was a small ‘buy and sell’ project, but demand has consistently been growing, which led Agar-Brennan to apply for a start-up loan from BEF. “We knew we had to grow fast and our family and friends have been working round the clock. BEF have been really important in helping us grow.” Off the back of the business’ success, both Agar-Brennan and her husband work in what is now the family business.
Since opening in September, the business has doubled its warehouse space to satisfy growing demand. They have also launched an in-store selfie booth after partnering with local business Booth Revolution. For Agar-Brennan, her first funding boost is the most memorable. “The Dragon’s backing has been a big boost, but I’ll also say that the BEF backing has been integral for us,” she said. “Their funding was there when we needed it, to secure contracts with Debenhams department store. Small businesses need an army on the ground to fight their corner, and that’s exactly what the people at BEF have been for us for over two years.”
Agar-Brennan first approached BEF in 2015, receiving start-up funding to open a pop-up shop in Leeds city centre. ]After building momentum with local shoppers – much driven by their giant walking emoji mascot, the business successfully entered larger retail markets, which was financed further by BEF to help the company fulfil their orders.
“We’re all thrilled to see yet another one of our clients not only grow their business, but take on the dragons and win some fantastic investment. It’s a testament to Sarah’s determination and ambition and I look forward to seeing what’s next for Love Bomb Cushions,” Stephen Waud, BEF CEO, said. “Hundreds of younger businesses approach us to help them grow, having been refused finance by mainstream lenders. Businesses like Sarah’s carry huge potential, we’re proud to have helped kick-start her venture and see continual growth for her business.”
Agar-Brennan is one of several BEF clients to enter the den. In 2012 Alison Whitmarsh of Proper Maid bakery in Huddersfield received backing from Deborah Meaden, helping her secure contracts with Pret a Manger and Manchester Airport, where her cakes and bakes are sold.