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Sarah Willingham

Sarah Willingham is an entrepreneur, investor and finance expert from Stoke-on-Trent as well as a Dragon on hit BBC2 TV show Dragons’ Den.

Sarah grew up in the Potteries, with her father a Wedgwood factory worker and mother a local maths teacher. She achieved two business degrees after leaving school, from Oxford Brookes University and École supérieure de commerce de La Rochelle, in France. She also later completed an MBA from the Cranfield University School of Management, in 2004.

The same year, Sarah decided to venture into business as an investor, following a successful career managing restaurants for well-known chains Planet Hollywood and Pizza Express. Working with Clapham House Group plc, she raised the finance needed to buy loss-making restaurant chain The Bombay Bicycle Club. She turned the business’s fortunes around, growing it from six to 17 restaurants, transforming it into the largest Indian restaurant chain in the UK. In 2007, Sarah sold her shares back to The Clapham House Group, where she was a board director responsible for three of their four brands, with over 50 restaurants and 1,500 staff nationwide.

During 2004, Sarah also co-founded and floated a nutraceutical business on the London Stock Exchange, Neutrahealth PLC, which later sold in 2011. Some of her other investments include the London Cocktail Club, Craft Gin Club, mySupermarket, Sublime Science and People’s Holdings.

Sarah’s TV career began on popular BBC2 series The Restaurant, between 2006-08, appearing alongside celebrity chef Raymond Blanc as a judge and investor. In 2015, she joined Dragons’ Den, the first ever working mum of four children under nine to sit on the panel of investors. Sarah has also been listed in the ‘35 Most Successful Women under 35’ by The Times, ‘Young Entrepreneur of the Year’ by Weekly’s, and ‘500 Most Influential people in Britain’ by The Sunday Times, among numerous other accolades.

The Award of Honorary Doctor of Staffordshire University is bestowed upon Sarah in recognition of her outstanding achievements as a businesswoman and entrepreneur, as well as being an ambassador for Stoke-on-Trent and an inspirational role-model for working parents and enterprising graduates.

Photo of Sarah Willingham

Sarah Willingham was bestowed the award in 2017

I’m deeply honoured to receive this award from my home town. I’m immensely proud of my routes and I truly am a 'Stokie' through and through. I can't wait to meet this year's graduating students and the amazing staff at Staffs Uni who have inspired so many along the way. It's a real privilege to be there on this special day. It's an honour to join the team at Staffs Uni.

Sarah Willingham