Alana Spencer secured a £250,000 business investment and 50/50 partnership with Lord Sugar after winning The Apprentice. She tells Around Town how life has changed in the last year and what’s next for her cake company Ridiculously Rich.
It all started with making and selling cards at school, then it was chocolates for family, friends and teachers, and before long, Alana Spencer settled on selling cakes.
So, it was no surprise when business – and baking – minded Spencer went on to beat 17 candidates to win The Apprentice in 2016.
“Before The Apprentice, it was just me, making cakes and spending my weekends selling them at food festivals, farmers markets and county shows,” says Spencer, 25.
“Winning meant I could put together my vision of where the business is going and I suddenly had the ability to grow.”
One year on, her business is thriving and she has just launched an ambassador’s scheme recruiting 20 people from around the country.
Talking about the future of her business, Spencer says: “We are adding a subscription service to our website and producing monthly specials, so instead of just having the same cakes every week, we’ve now got two new ones each month.”
Past flavours have included banoffee flapjack and salted caramel brownie, yet Spencer stills favours her peanut butter fudge cake, describing it as ‘addictive’.
With her business booming, the Welsh baker, who grew up in Aberystwyth, credits The Apprentice and the help of Lord Sugar for helping her to get her business moving.
“Lord Sugar is involved in the financial side and advice.
“I emailed him about the ambassadors and he replied with a list of things to think about going forward, which is good because it’s things you tend to forget about when you’re caught up in all the excitement,” explains Spencer.
Following encouragement from her parents, Spencer first decided to make the leap from turning her hobby into a business after struggling with dyslexia at school.
“It was always my plan to leave after GCSEs, but then I thought, ‘Maybe I should stick this out and do some A-levels’.
“I didn’t do very well and my parents basically said, ‘You can always go back and re-sit them, or you can go out and do your business. We think you should go and focus on your business, because you’ve got something good there’.”
Spencer’s first taste of baking didn’t quite go so well as you’d imagine.
“I was about six and I had heard about a cheesecake but didn’t really know it had to be made with soft cheese and just put cheddar in – it was foul, really disgusting,” she remembers with a laugh.
“But now it’s got to a point where there is so much cake in the house, no one can eat any more!”
The young entrepreneur originally applied for The Junior Apprentice when she was 17.
Despite not making it past the application process, she was determined to make her chocolate business a success, moving from chocolates to cakes.
“I would make fresh cream truffles and the problem is they had a really short shelf-life, so often I would go to a farmers’ markets and be chucking away a load of product,” says Spencer. “And as much as I loved making chocolate, it has always been about making a business and creating money, so I changed.”
Although being hired by Lord Sugar, the self-taught chocolatier and baker originally had her doubts about winning the BBC show.
“When I was sat in the waiting room I didn’t think I was going to do very well. When you go in and see everyone’s faces, you suddenly jump to conclusions.
“You’re not allowed to talk to each other for about an hour, so we all just sat there,” she remembers.
“I never thought I had a hope in hell and it wasn’t until about week 11 I thought I might have a chance.”
Even without The Apprentice, Spencer firmly believes she would have been successful, but it would have been a much slower process.
“I think everyone [family and friends] thought I would do well, but I don’t think anyone ever thought this would be the outcome.”
Throughout her time on The Apprentice, Spencer always spoke passionately about her company’s Welsh roots.
“I would never relocate, it’s definitely a Welsh company,” she says. “I have had so much help from different schemes and grants.
“Aberystwyth is where I live and do some of the baking myself, and then in Cross Hands, we have a larger bakery.”
Reflecting on Aberystwyth Spencer says: “I love living here. You’re in a small town and people know each other.
“I remember when I won The Apprentice, I went to Tesco and this little old lady came over and gave me a hug and said, ‘Congratulations!’
“It’s really nice being by the sea and I think it puts me in a good mood.”