Innovation and enterprise blog

4 posts from February 2018

20 February 2018

Why would I need a book for my business?

 Books mean business

You may not have included writing a book in your business or marketing strategy. Why should a café, an accountant, an accessories maker, a toy company or a software designer, to name but a few, have a book?


In 2016, as Writer in Residence at the British Library’s Business & IP Centre, I put on a series of workshops and the most popular by far was Books Mean Business, where I showed the many uses of a book in helping a business be more successful, how to get started and what was important to include. It completely sold out and we had to run it again a few months later just to accommodate those who hadn’t been able to attend the first session.

If you’re a business, writing a book can help you with:

  • Getting your brand better known
  • Engaging with your customers to turn them into your fans
  • Having something to share on social and traditional media
  • Bringing you a new source of income (as well as the obvious royalties!)
  • As a specialist in a particular field, consultant or professional mentor, having a book to your name will help you be seen as an expert and make more clients want to work with you

Writing a book may seem a daunting process but it can be easier than you think and with Print-on-Demand technology at your fingertips, your book can be professionally produced and selling on Amazon and other retailers a lot quicker than you think!

In March this year I am running the workshop again. We’ll go through why writing a book makes good business sense, cover the main elements to include in a successful book and get you started on your own book. We have examples from lots of industries to get your brain racing. We will ensure you focus on what makes a book look and feel professional as well as being appropriate to your individual target audience and marketing needs.

You’ll take away an action plan, lots of useful ideas and contacts (such as book cover designers) to help your book be a success. You’ll also get a free eBook sent to you afterwards, The Storytelling Entrepreneur, which I wrote during my residency at the British Library and which focuses on how you can tell your business story to engage with your stakeholders.  



Don't miss Melissa's inspiring workshop, join us for Books mean business on Tuesday, 20 March. See you there!

*Melissa Addey spent fifteen years developing new products at Sainsbury’s Head Office and then went on to mentor over 500 entrepreneurs as part of a government grants programme. Now a fulltime author, studying for a PhD in Creative Writing, she has written six books including fiction and non-fiction.

16 February 2018

Meet the entrepreneurs who made their mark online


As part of the The British Library’s Business & IP Centre’s flagship Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Internet Icons event, a panel of entrepreneurs who made a success of online business gathered to share their knowledge.


Starting a business can be daunting enough. But what about starting up online? Do you need a lot of experience in tech, or can you outsource that to others? Will that cost you a fortune or is it cheaper to run your company in-house?

These and a whole host of other questions were answered by people who have been there, done it and (more importantly) made a success of starting up an online business. A panel of experts gathered at The Knowledge Centre on 6 February to talk about their experiences of making an idea work for them online, plus impart some important lessons they picked up along the way. The event was live-streamed online and at a record-breaking thirteen local libraries around the United Kingdom.


Taking the lead

Rikke Rosenlund talked the audience through how she set up her business BorrowMyDoggy,  a trusted online community for dog owners and dog lovers. Her idea was simple: to create a service that connected dog owners in need of help and people who wanted to experience having a dog, but perhaps couldn’t have one full time. Conscious of the very high failure rate of tech companies within the first couple of years, she decided to try something called a Lean Startup Model to see if her vision was viable. This is a methodology that allows you to test out your idea without investing too much so if it needs tweaking or rethinking, you will know before you’re too far down the line.


Rikke’s idea turned out to be not only viable, but incredibly popular. She set up a landing page after testing the concept manually and within 3 days 85 people across the UK had signed up. “Doing it manually first, mapping out addresses and matching people and dog owners in person saved me both time and money in the long run,” she explained.

When it came to promotion, the BorrowMyDoggy community helped spread the word. “A friend with a big following on Twitter tweeted about it, the media picked up on it after an article appeared in Emerald Street and this was all while it was a little idea!”

Rikke finished with some sage advice. “Starting the business has been a fantastic journey but also incredibly hard. You cannot be perfect at it all—the Business & IP Centre can help. Find sources of guidance. Find people that will help you—and for free or cheaply!


Turning tables

Karen Hanton, founder of, comes from an HR background. Her time in recruitment was a great learning curve before working in digital—it was the late 90s and the internet was starting to be a thing. "I saw the rise of and then one night, at the kitchen table, my friends and I all started talking about our own ideas for an internet business.”


Realising that more people not only had access to the internet but were confident booking holidays and buying products through it, Karen hit upon her own idea. “I wanted to give people the option of booking a service online, but holidays weren’t frequent enough. I thought about being able to book tables at popular restaurants and Toptable was born!”

Toptable went from strength to strength and had soon attracted attention from an American competitor, OpenTable. After selling Toptable to them in 2013, Karen wasn’t sure she would venture into online business again. But then she saw something interesting happening in the pet business...

She now runs PetsPyjamas which is in its fifth year, specialising in dog friendly travel. "Everything takes much longer than you think. Some budding entrepreneurs have expectations of 2-3 years for things to really get going and you should be delighted if it takes you any less, but building a brand or business is hard. It often doesn’t turn out how you planned.”


The perfect fit

Tom Adeyoola founded Metail  to solve the online shopping sizing problem. A holiday in Vietnam proved inspirational after his wife had some clothes tailor-made and Tom saw how much better the fit was when her measurements were taken into consideration: it inspired him to use AI and tech to make shopping easier.


Metail uses computer vision technology developed from Cambridge University to create 3D virtual models of both shoppers and garments. You ‘try on’ any number of clothes in a virtual changing room, to see what it would look like in 360 degrees and find out whether it would fit.

Tom is an economist who likes to fix big problems. “I wanted to see if I could harness academic research and global scale, cutting-edge tech to make Metail work. Plus, I wanted it to be able to grow and compete with larger markets, say in the US". 

Because he’s using tech and AI to build his business, Tom is constantly protecting his new ideas. Metail currently owns 10 patents and has a further 20 pending. With Patents in mind, Tom recommended the Business & IP Centre for finding out as much as you can about Intellectual Property (IP). “Intellectual property is a game you have to play, and we actually had a strategic lawyer to help us out. Think about where you’re going with your business, the key territories you’d want your idea protected from key competitors. Use that information to help build your patent. It can be a long process, but building IP is important. ”


Constant innovation

Sara Murray is the founder of, but has since moved on. Her latest venture Buddi is her real passion now. “I’ve been working on Buddi since 2005, but people still want to know about, I guess because it is such a well-known name,” she explains. Using research to push boundaries has always been a huge part of her motivation. Although she went on to sell and could easily have retired in her early thirties, she knew she wanted to do it all again.


“My daughter went missing in a supermarket when she was around four years old.” This prompted Sara to begin researching modern tech. "I couldn’t find anything out there to help avoid a situation like that in the future, at least not in the right size, so I decided to make it myself.”

Sara hired engineers to help her design GPS tracker small enough for a child to hold. “They were all too big!” Determined to get what she wanted, she had a clear objective: something imperative for a business plan. By 2008 the trackers were significantly smaller and better. “You have to make a product that people want to use – it might not fit a business model, but I knew people wanted it, so I set out to create it”.

To one of the most commented questions about how much money does it take to start up an online business, Sara has a simple answer: cash is king. “I’m very aware of turnover, but what matters is cash flow. The only thing that makes a business fail is running out of money. And it’s better to have less people funding your business than a lot—there’s less bureaucracy that way.”



* The British Library’s Business & IP Centre, supports small business owners, entrepreneurs and inventors like you. The team is on hand to offer advice, masterclasses and support for your business. You can visit us in the British Library at St Pancras, London six days a week, or one of the ten National Network Centres around the UK.

14 February 2018

Valentine's Day in numbers: a heart-stopping spending splurge in 2018



Valentine's Day is upon us and our partners at Mintel have put together this handy report to reveal which retail event is closest to the hearts of UK shoppers.

Love is clearly all around us with Brits proving their romantic side by splashing out more money on Valentine’s Day gifts than Easter. Love struck Brits spent a heart stopping £620 million* on Valentine’s gifts in 2017, compared to the £575 million* they spent at Easter. And despite the challenging consumer outlook, Mintel forecasts that sales of Valentine’s Day gifts will increase to an impressive £650 million in 2018 - a rise of 5% compared to last year.

Valentine’s spending received a boost from a significant increase in average spend: consumers spent £60 on average on Valentine’s Day gifts in 2017, compared to £41 in 2016. By contrast, the average spend for Easter was just £41 last year and £35 in 2016.

  UK Valentines 2018 Infographic-Facebook

Older Millennials and men are driving the boost

Older Millennials (aged between 28 to 37) are the most active Valentine’s Day spenders, with 60% of them buying gifts in 2017 and spending £81 on average. Meanwhile, there is a big divergence between the sexes: over half of men (53%) bought Valentine’s Day gifts in 2017 and they spent an average of £72, compared to 39% of women who spent £44 on average.

Food and drink the way to the nation’s heart

Food and drink consumed at home tops the list of products Brits spent the most on for Valentine’s Day, reaching £128 million in 2017. They also liked splashing the cash on other romantic favourites, such as jewellery (£112 million), with flowers (£102 million) and clothing or footwear (£80 million) rounding up the top four purchased Valentine’s products. Spending on traditional Valentine’s staples, such as confectionery (£53 million) and greeting cards (£53 million), also generated significant amounts.


Businesses such as Innovating for Growth graduates Lavolio Boutique Confectionery offer a Valentine's gift staple

Shoppers want more personalisation and experiences

Six out of ten (59%) Valentine’s Day shoppers think retailers should offer more options to personalise gifts, while over half (55%) think that experiences make better gifts than products. They would also like more inspirational gift ideas, with more than half (53%) saying they think retailers’ suggestions in the run-up to spring/summer seasonal events (including Valentine’s Day) are boring.


According to Samantha Dover, Retail Analyst at Mintel, Valentine’s Day is now the biggest spending retail event in the first half of the year, overtaking Easter by a significant amount. This year shoppers are expected to trade up as retailers continue to increase their Valentine’s Day ranges with both premium and personalised gift options, and tapping into consumer demand for quality gifts.  Shoppers are looking for creative ideas ahead of the 14th February, especially those that go beyond the traditional assortment of lingerie, flowers and jewellery, with experiential gifts one way to make gift suggestions more appealing. With more demand for personalised gifts, retailers also have the chance to encourage higher value purchases by offering services such as monogramming and engraving, which have become increasingly popular. 



Mintel is the world’s leading market intelligence agency. They cover 38,000 product launches a month and track consumer spending across 34 countries. Find out what they can do to transform your business by accessing their reports for free in the Business & IP Centre reading room.

*Estimated market size (including VAT), 2017

06 February 2018

5 questions with... Karen Hanton, a dotcom veteran and serial entrepreneur

From, Europe's largest online restaurant booking website sold to in 2010 to one of the numerous start-ups she is currently involved in, Karen Hanton is an entrepreneur with experience spanning over two decades.

We caught up with her ahead of our Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Internet Icons event to find out more about her route to the top, how the digital landscape has changed since the early years of dot-com businesses and what are the projects she is currently involved in.

Karen Hanton head shot (1)

What is the one most significant event that shaped your career?

Leaving the croft in Aberdeenshire aged 17 and coming to London... where everything is possible! is one of the few businesses that didn’t just survive the dotcom crash, but thrived in its aftermath. What do you think was the key to its success?

Sheer hard work and belief as so many people were skeptical but we were in so deep we just had to carry on. And losing my house just wasn’t an option!


If someone were to ask you what does it take to make an online business succeed now and 15 years ago, (how) would your answer differ?

Oh yes it’s completely different today. Much more competition - if you have a good idea you will be copied within a terrifyingly short time. Corporations like Amazon have whole departments scanning the horizon for sectors to ‘invade’. Harder to hire and keep good people who have their pick of exciting start-ups with  bigger table football tables and beanbags than you!


Tell us a little more about projects and businesses you are currently involved in? is one of them: the number one website and travel company for dog-friendly adventures. is another project I am involved in. Founded in 2011 with a mission to close the trust gap between people and brands, it identifies and celebrates luxury brands committed to sustainability. To earn the PositiveLuxury coveted trust mark, brands must pass a stringent annual assessment that examines sustainability from a holistic point of view encompassing governance, social and environmental frameworks, philanthropy and innovation.


What are your top tech trend predictions for 2018?

I think everybody knows that cryptocurrencies are here to stay. And only this week I have seen an example of AI first hand where we did a trial to produce a piece of content. With just a title searching Google, it was incredible how much relevant information and how well it was put together without any human intervention. Great and scary all at the same time!


Don't miss Karen's inspiring talk and hear more from our panel of tech trailblazers, join us for Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Internet Icons  on Tuesday, 6 February. See you there!