Stuart Ingram on Dragon's Den
Stuart Ingram on Dragon's Den

How I entered the Dragon’s Den – and lived to tell the tale

Most start-ups dream of big investments for their business but very few get the chance to pitch to entrepreneurs as high profile as Peter Jones, Jenny Campbell and Deborah Meaden.

I was not only lucky enough to get the chance to pitch to the Dragons, but I was also in the unusual position of being able to say that I turned them down.

I always have the view that nothing ventured is nothing gained and that was my thought process when deciding to apply for BBC2’s Dragons’ Den. I strongly believe in my brand, House of Elrick, and wanted to find out if top entrepreneurs shared my view.

I’ve been a fan of Dragons’ Den for years and my friends always laugh as I compare myself to the budding business men and women on the show. Some of them make it look so easy while others completely go to pieces when quizzed on figures and sales.

Stuart Ingram on Dragon’s Den

After the online application, I was thrilled to be invited to BBC Manchester to pitch to the editor. As the owner and founder of House of Elrick in Aberdeenshire, I developed a gin from the estate which has become hugely popular.

I have big plans for the whole estate but the business I pitched to the Dragons was the gin. After the pitch in Manchester, I was invited back to present to the producers and finally told that I had made it on to the show.

On the day of filming, I hired a car and drove to the studio with all my props – mostly bottles of gin. Even as I sat in the Green Room, I didn’t get nervous. I really do know my brand inside out so I knew I wouldn’t be fazed by any of their questions. You can’t plan when you know your own brand.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the offers made by Peter Jones and Jenny Campbell. They both loved the brand and wanted to invest and I was thrilled with the response. I had gone in with the hope that one of the Dragons would offer me an investment with a 10 per cent share in the gin side of the business. However, Peter could see what I see, the potential of the estate and offered £80,000 but for a 10 per cent share of everything. Completely overwhelmed and put on the spot, I accepted Peter’s offer.

House of Elrick gin

For me, the best thing about going on Dragons’ Den was the validation in my product. I know how good my brand is but to have people like Peter and Jenny vying for a share in the business is incredible. It took a lot to turn down their generous offers but the one I accepted from Peter wasn’t right for me or the brand. I got caught up in the moment but after the cameras stopped rolling and I really thought about it, I didn’t want to give up 10 per cent of my whole estate which includes my home. So, I respectfully declined.

The response I’ve had since going on the show is incredible. It’s made me realise that although it was fantastic to be recognised by the Dragons as a brand worth investing in, I don’t need it.

This year we’ll be opening a distillery and adding to our drinks range. I’ve also set up a crowdfunding page which is already quite popular, to resurrect the beautiful listed walled garden on the estate to develop a sustainable, locally-sourced restaurant and second distillery.

After surviving the heat of the Dragons’ Den, the future really is bright for House of Elrick.

Stuart Ingram 

Scottish entrepreneur Stuart Ingram owns House of Elrick, which incorporates the House of Elrick gin and tartan.