Yorkshire entrepreneur secures Dragons Den investment

Monday 7th January 2013

An entrepreneur who has been advised by Gordons Managing Partner Paul Ayre has successfully secured £50,000 investment from Dragons’ Den’s Deborah Meaden.

Allison Whitmarsh, founder and managing director of Huddersfield-based baking business ProperMaid, achieved her target funding when appearing before the notoriously searching multi-millionaire investors during the show’s Christmas 2012 edition.

Deborah Meaden pledged the money in return for a 25 per cent stake in Allison’s four-year-old business. The recipient preferred agreeing this proposal to accepting an additional £50,000 from Theo Paphitis, as the joint investment would have cost her 40 per cent of the company’s equity.

Paul Ayre has been mentoring Allison as part of her prize for being one of the initial Yorkshire winners in the Local Business Accelerators Scheme in January 2012. He is a regional judge in the annual national initiative, backed by the Prime Minister and CBI, aimed at encouraging fledgling enterprises, and persuaded her to go on Dragons’ Den.

ProperMaid has made its name through producing home-baked “traditional cakes and loaves with a twist.” These have novel flavours, including courgette and lime, beetroot and chocolate, dandelion and burdock, chocolate chilli and fudge – containing real chillies – and liquorice.

Allison said afterwards: “The dragons were predictably inquisitive about factors such as our turnover, profitability, expansion plans, staff numbers and distribution costs. Paul’s contribution over the last few months in ensuring everything remains ship-shape in these respects was instrumental in the pitch succeeding and I’m very glad he advised me to make it.

“Paul has presided over continuous growth at Gordons since 2001, despite the generally difficult economic climate of recent years, so it’s not surprising his expertise continues to be invaluable to my business.”

ProperMaid plans to use Deborah’s money to upgrade its processing equipment, given increasing demand for its products. Recent business wins have included the Fenwick department stores in York and Newcastle, plus the business lounges in Manchester Airport’s terminals one and two.

Allison also plans to build another cake production facility in the south of England, then new factories in the midlands and Scotland.

She had an 18-year background in food manufacturing and science, and latterly worked as a school dinner lady, before founding ProperMaid, initially working from home with just one customer.

Within 18 months, however, the business was turning over £80,000, had bought and re-fitted a former carpet shop, and was employing six local women. In October 2011, the company moved to a newly refurbished 1,700 sq ft unit in Huddersfield’s Lindley district, which it still occupies.

Paul said: “I congratulate Allison warmly on securing Deborah’s investment, which will help take ProperMaid to the next level. There’s a huge revival of interest in British baking, symbolised by programmes such as The Great British Bake Off, and the company is helping satisfy the demand this is producing. That’s one reason among many why I agree with Deborah that its prospects are excellent.

“It’s been a pleasure to help Allison over the last 12 months, not least because ProperMaid shares our policy of supporting the community in which it operates. All the company’s ingredients are locally-sourced and the products are made and packaged locally.

“ProperMaid also shares our commitment to quality, a fact evidenced by all its ingredients being fresh, its output containing no artificial elements or preservatives, and its products being baked using traditional artisan methods.”