An English company making graduation gowns from plastic bottles has won the backing of a leading investor on a reality TV show.

The Dragon’s Den BBC programme aired yesterday and the social innovators behind Churchill Gowns attracted £60,000 investment from Deborah Meaden for 22% of the business. Launched in May 2018, the disruptive outfit has been able to grow thanks to funding from East of England’s only not for profit responsible finance company, Foundation East.

“Without the initial funding from Foundation East though, we may never have got off the ground let alone on to TV! Foundation East are unlike other lenders. They are prepared to take significant risk investing in companies that meet their social impact criteria without requiring them to provide security against the loan or a stake in the business. As a not for profit Community Development Finance Institution (CDFI) they reinvest all their surplus back into the East of England’s business community, which sits well with our ethics. We could not be more grateful for their early support,” said founder and managing director, Oliver Adkins.

It is a great example of how flexible funding mechanisms can be designed to open up pathways for social innovators.

“Thank goodness for responsible finance companies like Foundation East, who are prepared to take significant risks investing in social ventures. So many of our success stories depend on their support during the early days,” added Dr Belinda Bell, programme director at Cambridge Social Ventures, a Foundation East partner.