Sarah has received a number of accolades for her contribution to business, including The Times 35 Most Successful Women under 35, Business Weekly’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Courvoisier Top 500, entry in the Who’s Who of British Business Leaders and 100 most influential entrepreneurs in the UK by City AM. In January 2016, Willingham was named one of The Sunday Times’ ‘500 Most Influential people in Britain’ She holds three business degrees including an MBA from Cranfield School of Management, where she is also an advisory board member.
Growing up in Stoke on Trent Sarah was fascinated by business and food from an early age. She started working in the restaurant industry at the age of 13, loving it from day one. The restaurant bug never left Sarah and she ultimately managed to combine her passion for business, food and drink into a multi-million pound business empire. After leaving school and earning two business degrees Sarah went onto work with some of the most successful high street chains; Planet Hollywood (overseeing the opening in Paris) and PizzaExpress (launching the restaurant chain in Asia).
In 2003, Sarah spotted an opportunity to create a chain of Indian restaurants, but her business plan was rejected by fellow PizzaExpress executives. Undeterred, Sarah struck out on her own and raised finance to buy The Bombay Bicycle Club. She went on to turn it into the largest and most successful Indian restaurant chain in the UK, realising her skill for spotting an original and exciting new business concept and helping it grow rapidly.
In the same year, at the age of 31, Sarah successfully co-founded and floated a nutraceutical business on the London Stock Exchange, Neutrahealth PLC.
In 2007, Sarah decided to sell her shares in the Bombay Bicycle Club and Clapham House Group plc. and began to look for new business opportunities to invest in to balance, both her passion for business and, family life.
Sarah appeared alongside Raymond Blanc as a judge and investor on the popular BBC2 series The Restaurant from 2006-8. The show ran for three series and Sarah’s no-nonsense approach proved popular with viewers. Sarah co-founded and invested in The London Cocktail Club and Craft Cocktail Company with the winners of series 3. She has helped grow these two concepts into fast growing, award winning businesses.
Sarah is as passionate about her home life and being a smart consumer as she is about her businesses and providing the best customer service. She applies her innate business savvy at home and is regularly asked to share her consumer expertise on national TV (such as ITV’s This Morning, Steve Wright (Radio 2) and Sky News Money Matters) and in the press, becoming one of the best-known female consumer champions in the UK. She fronts the website Letssavemoney.com which helps hundreds of thousands of people manage their home finances.
In 2015 Sarah was asked to join the team of Dragons on the popular BBC 2 TV show Dragon’s Den a role she was very excited about. She sees herself as a new breed of Dragon and is the first ever Dragon who is also a working mum of four young children. Sarah is not afraid to get her hands dirty and do what it takes to help small businesses grow and also prides herself on being a mentor as well as an investor, emphasising the importance of the people she invests in, as much as the product.
Today Sarah runs her business portfolio from her home office alongside her entrepreneur husband Michael Toxvaerd. They jointly invest in and support more than 10 business ventures from start-ups to established and growing brands in the food and drink, consumer finance, banking, mining, technology, lead generation and entertainment sectors, most of which are located across the UK, Middle East and North America.
Sarah is based in Oxfordshire.