How Rosie beat tragedy and conquered the Dragons’ Den

Five hopeful entrepreneurs faced the judges in a Dragons’ Den-style event this week, run in partnership with the London Jewish Cultural Centre. The winner: single mum Rosie Ben-Shushan and her natural-food business


Former secretary Rosie Ben-Shushan has won the Dragons’ Den-style competition run by the JC and London Jewish Cultural Centre with her novel kosher food range. It has been a remarkable journey for the single mother who overcame family tragedy to establish her business.

Ms Ben-Shushan’s product — a selection of Italian healthy kosher foods and sauces, supervised by the London Beth-Din and branded Rosie’s — was the clear favourite among the judging panel. The panel comprised Stephen Grabiner, a partner at Apax Partners; Bernie Myers, former managing director of NM Rothschild & Sons; Simon Bentley, the former chairman and chief executive of Blacks Leisure; Patsy Bloom, the founder of Petplan and Petplan Charitable Trust; Marc Worth, the founder of Worth Global Style Network; and JC editor David Rowan.

“Rosie’s has fantastic scope,” said Simon Bentley. “It needs to be handled in the right way and there is serious possibility there. This is partly based on the track record of sales already achieved.”

Stephen Grabiner said he was in awe of Ms Ben-Shushan. “You sit there and say: ‘I am going to change my life, I have this idea: I am going build a product, go to Italy, find a factory, force a rabbi on them and then I am going to sell it. She deserves much congratulation.”

Patsy Bloom described the business as a wonderful idea, while Bernie Myers added: “I think she has the best chance of going forward.”

A single mother, Ms Ben-Shushan was working as a legal secretary in London. But when her eldest son, Simon “Ben”, died suddenly from cancer in 1997 at the age of 22, she gave it up.

“I wasn’t able to do a nine-to-five job any more,” said Ms Ben-Shushan, 51. “My life was turned completely upside down. I didn’t have the motivation to do anything. I spent a lot of time cooking because it was something I enjoyed.” 

Her other two children — Nancy, now 28, and David, 27 — encouraged her to be proactive. “I needed a new project to keep me busy. I started experimenting with new recipes and developing the Rosie’s brand.”

Ms Ben-Shushan said: “It is a miracle to have won.” She admits it was a struggle at first. “I went to see companies but a lot of them weren’t interested. I had all the big boys against me.”

But passionate about her products, which are gluten-free, sugar-free, lactose-free, low-GI (glycemic index) and low-fat, Ms Ben-Shushan persisted. In 2005, she went to Italy and located a factory in Puglia, arranging for London Beth Din Rabbi Akiva Padwa to inspect and supervise it before production could take place.

She has since secured contracts with supermarket chain Budgens. The Rosie’s range is also stocked in kosher outlets and health-food stores. Asda has also expressed an interest.

Bombay-born Ms Ben-Shushan, who works part-time at the Kosher Deli in Golders Green, North London, has invested £35,000 into the business, which had a turnover of around £40,000 last year. “The Dragon’s Den event was make or break. I have no more funds and have sold out of a lot of my products. Without the publicity, there was no way I could have carried on.

“I am just so overwhelmed. I couldn’t afford to advertise and now so many people have contacted me. I received an email from someone at HSBC asking where they can find my products.” She now wants to get Rosie’s into the multiple food stores, such as Marks & Spencer and Waitrose, and is hoping for a
£150, 000 investment to help her do so.

David Rowan was particularly impressed with the Rosie’s story. “You have a fantastic back story, which should be part of the sales pitch. I think you need a branding consultant to get your story out there, which would help sell your product.” Marc Worth said: “There is only one business that I would invest in, and that’s Rosie’s.”

Ms Ben-Shushan fought off competition from the four other finalists: university students Adam Caplan and Daniel Morris, the founders of customised t-shirt company Danada Retail; grandfather Stuart Brendon, the creator of a powered pushchair; Leeds-based Leonie Apfel and her Doopoo Scoop device for picking up dog dirt; and internet entrepreneur Darren Edels, the founder of CreativeCraving.co.uk, where users can design, customise and sell merchandise. 

Event organiser Louise Jacobs, a director at the LJCC, said: “Dragon’s Den entrants reflected the diverse Jewish backgrounds that the LJCC welcomes. The evening was a culmination of many months of work in partnership with the JC, and on the evening, 150 people enjoyed the excitement, joining in by voting for their favourite idea. Congratulations to Rosie. We wish her every success.”

 

What the Dragons thought

Simon Bentley:
“Rosie’s has fantastic scope. It needs to be handled in the right way and there is serious possibility there. That’s my number one vote.”

Patsy Bloom:
“I think Rosie’s products are a wonderful idea, but would worry it was too big a marketplace.”

Bernie Myers:
“Rosie actually has got something there and I think that has the best chance of going forward.”

David Rowan:
“I think Rosie’s has a fantastic back story, which should be part of the sales pitch. You need a branding consultant to help get your story out there.”

Marc Worth:
“For me, there is only one business that I would invest in, and that’s Rosie’s.”

Stephen Grabiner: 
“I work with profit-and-loss accounts, and the balance sheet Rosie has produced shows she has done all of the work. She deserves much congratulation.”

    Last updated: 12:02pm, August 19 2008