January 16, 2023 3.30 pm This story is over 9 months old

Former homeless man with autism’s inspirational Dragon’s Den pitch

His temperament and tenacity won him plenty of admirers

A businessman who owns a plus-size clothing company in Scunthorpe won investment when he appeared on BBC’s Dragon’s Den and his inspirational rags to riches tale caught the attention of many.

Ben Pearson, 30, was diagnosed with autism from a very young age and said “it took a lot of guts to be here” pitching to the Dragons. He was among the entrepreneurs looking for investment in episode two of series 20 which aired on January 12, 2023, and accepted an offer from fashion tycoon Touker Suleyman.

After spending the majority of his life in social care, young offenders institutes and being homeless, Ben became nearly 30 stone from having mental health issues, but took a lot of counselling and overcame all the barriers that stood in his way.

Ben Pearson, owner of Big Clothing 4 U, won investment for his business when he appeared on Dragon’s Den. | Screenshot: BBC One

One of those barriers was finding clothes on the High Street to fit him, but his company is now helping many and has Harvey Price as a brand ambassador, as after “18 months of persistency knocking on Kate’s (Price) best friend’s door I got a meeting with Kate and we never looked back.”

He started Big Clothing 4 U from his bedroom in 2015 and was initially selling on eBay and Amazon. The clothes start at 2XL and go up to 8XL, and the firm also sells formal wear, with Deborah Meaden saying the clothing is “really nicely made”.

In 2021, he said his company turned over £2.9 million and in 2022 “we’re on track to turn over £3.5 million”. However, Ben was stuck and “can’t expand and get into the International markets”, so, he went on Dragon’s Den seeking a £150,000 investment for a 10% stake in his business.

Scunthorpe-based Big Clothing 4 U sells plus-size clothing and pictured is Deborah Meaden looking at one of the items on Dragon’s Den. | Screenshot: BBC One

Ben said: “I’d like to inspire others and show them where there is a will, there is way, and we should not be held back for having these slightly different ways of thinking.”

Ben’s temperament and tenacity won him plenty of admirers in the Den, including from Steven Bartlett who said: “You’re one of the best pitches I’ve ever seen since I’ve been in the Den.”

However, some Dragons were concerned by the balance sheet. After putting in around £680,000 of capital to start the business, he also has £1.3 million personal cash invested in it.

The £2 million pounds worth of stock “offsets a large director’s loan” which caused enough concern for some Dragons to unfortunately declare themselves “OUT”.

Ben Pearson said it took him “a lot of guts” to appear on BBC One’s Dragon’s Den. | Screenshot: BBC One

Verdict from the Dragons

Peter Jones admitted he was initially going to make Ben an offer, but said “sadly I can’t invest as the balance sheet demonstrates the business isn’t quite there”.

Sara Davies was also left with mixed feelings saying: “I love you, you are the most straight talking person I’ve ever met in business and it is so refreshing, but on the flip side, that £1.3 million still owed out to you on a business that’s been highly profitable for so many years, that is just ringing really big alarm bells for me.”

Deborah Meaden described Ben as “brilliant” and said “it’s a real pleasure to talk to somebody who you ask a question, they answer it, and you believe it”. However, ultimately for Deborah her battle with the balance sheet proved decisive.

Steven Bartlett told Ben “I am really inspired by your journey” and described him as “smart, inspiring, relentless, dogged and trustworthy”, but unfortunately didn’t feel he could invest in the business.

Fashion tycoon Touker Suleyman agreed to invest £150,000 in Ben’s business, but wanted a 35% stake. | Screenshot: BBC One

However, fashion tycoon Touker Suleyman, who is also the Dragon Ben ideally wanted, decided to make him an offer for all the money, but he wanted 35% of his business.

Ben was delighted to accept the offer saying: “Having Touker on board is going to be a fantastic addition to our business, just what we need. If anybody else out there has autism what I would say is, especially if they are young, never give up, don’t let anybody stand in your way.”

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