THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Innovation and enterprise blog

The British Library Business & IP Centre can help you start, run and grow your business

Introduction

This blog is written by members of the Business & IP Centre team and some of our expert partners and discusses business, innovation and enterprise. Read more

29 March 2017

Tech to boost your growing business

Technological advancements have now made it easier for small businesses to grow than ever before. The ability to find solutions to age-old problems using technology has meant that businesses can realise their potential and reach a wide audience at an affordable cost. An example of this can be seen 100 feet below the streets of Clapham in South London, where something quite unusual is happening. Read on to discover how Microsoft’s cloud-based Office365 package has helped to create a commercial urban farm in a very unconventional setting.

Entrepreneur Richard Ballard and his business partners have transformed old disused underground tunnels into places of creation. ‘Growing Underground’ is a commercial urban farm unlike any other – growing sustainable micro greens and salad leaves 33 metres under the busy streets of Clapham, in an environment which is water-efficient, energy efficient and pesticide-free.

Unlike traditional farm owners, Richard can maintain complete control over his environment, so every leaf tastes equally amazing and these mouth-wateringly fresh products can be delivered to markets, restaurants and food retailers around London within four hours of being picked and packed. In such an unusual location, control and communication are vital for success and, as the business looks to expand further into the tunnels increasing product range and output, Microsoft technology has been helping them to keep close contact, stay agile and be ready for anything.

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Goal – Stay connected from any device, in any location

An average farm day is systematic and follows a predictable pattern, but the 4-strong Growing Underground team has to be in many different places working in a variety of different ways. In the tunnels, there are no phone lines but contact must be maintained with the office, where enquiries are handled. Regular updates on the farm’s climate need to be readily available to everyone, even those who travel extensively between customers and suppliers and those working remotely.

When the business started, there was a wide variety of PCs, laptops and devices in use so sharing information was not always straightforward. Richard wanted to make the day-to-day running of the business as efficient as possible. He came across Office 365 and the Windows 10 Surface Pro tablets from Microsoft which sparked a journey to explore the power of the cloud.

Richard recalls “It’s important that we can get information about the farm to everyone wherever they are and share documents freely. As a small business, having servers onsite wasn’t realistic from a space or cost perspective but we needed a system that everyone could log onto and use, no matter what type of device they had. Office 365 seemed like a very attractive option for us with a mix of Windows and Apple users.”

Solution – A platform for real-time information sharing

Growing Underground, invested in Office 365, lightweight Microsoft Surface Pro 3 devices and Lumia Smartphones, powered by Windows 10 - an integrated suite of Microsoft cloud services and devices that help them to communicate freely, as well as create and share real-time data at any time through any device. OneDrive for Business and SharePoint combine to form a central location where documents are saved and where the team can edit the same document, at the same time, without worrying about whether they have the latest version. Previous telephony and communications challenges have disappeared thanks to Skype for Business. Instant messaging helps the farm and the office to share quick updates about the environment, while remote and mobile users can talk to one another and customers using audio and video calling.

Remote workers no longer need to carry weighty laptops; armed with sleek Surface Pro 3 tablets and Lumia smartphones, they can enjoy a unified user experience using their favourite apps on powerful yet lightweight devices perfectly suited to any working environment. Richard comments “As a small business, we just can’t operate with everyone in the same physical location but with Microsoft technology, we can be synchronised wherever we are. We can work together on the same documents from different places and we’re always connected and up-to-date with what’s happening on the farm. Without that immediacy, we couldn’t have taken the business so far, so fast.”

Could your business also grow with Office365? If so, click here take advantage of the Business & IP Centre’s exclusive offer and make a 16% saving today.

17 March 2017

Dry Patch - A BIPC success story with a great sense of humour

Dry-Patch-logoSo many people think running a business has to be a serious matter. So it is refreshing when an entrepreneur proves the opposite.

I guess the most well known recent brand with a funny-bone is Innocent Drinks. They have included grass covered vans, a banana phone and slides in their offices, and a whole range of humorous labels on their bottles such as this one:

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I first met Chris Gomez founder and CEO of Dry Patch a couple of years ago in an Advice Clinic here in the Business & IP Centre in London.

He immediately made an impression with his passion for the product, his professionalism, and understanding of his customers' needs. He also recognised he was addressing a niche market with his first product the Moto Seat Cover below. As a fellow motorcyclist and cyclist, I could see there was a lot of potential in his ideas.

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Once his website was up and running, I was pleasantly surprised to see just how much humour Chris had used to promote his brand. Here are a few examples:

  • With a focus on innovation and lifestyle, our premium products will keep you and your stuff dry... from the bottom up
  • We're not hairy bikers or Tour de France wannabes. We don't wear leather or Lycra to and from work but we do love the freedom of 2 wheels.
  • We're not going to ask you to start hugging each other at the traffic lights, but we are all 2 wheeled commuters and suffer the same conditions - from both the weather and other traffic.
  • We know that we are just little pin pricks in the bottom of the 1.5 million 2 wheel commuters in London, but we dream of being big pricks.

I also love the way Chris spells out his brand values in such clear terms:

When it comes to our products, we have 4 key values:

  1. it's kit you want (more on this below).
  2. it is 100% functional - our kit works really well and is made of the best materials for the job.
  3. it has to look great - there's too much stuff out there that works brilliantly for commuters on 2 wheels, that just doesn't look very good.
  4. our kit will always be innovative - we believe innovation is the key to developing brilliant new products that disrupt the rest of the market.

And even better Chris makes fantastic use of the Dry-Patch blog and social media channels. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube.

 Written by Neil Infield on behalf Business & IP Centre

14 March 2017

Specialist advice for your growing business

Innovating for Growth is designed to help established businesses scale up and grow by offering over £10,000 worth of specialist business advice. In the last four years, the Business & IP Centre has helped over 300 businesses, with 70% of them seeing an increase in turnover within a year.

The Innovating for Growth programme consists of one-to-one advice sessions and workshops which focus on your specific business needs. Covering areas such as maximising your intellectual property, developing a growth strategy and building your brand, you will be able to pinpoint the unique challenges for your business and then focus on the solutions with Innovating for Growth’s business experts.    

Our current cohort has been able to benefit from this bespoke business advice and will now be following in the footsteps of Innovating for Growth’s previous graduates. Read on to find out who they are.  Maybe your business could be next?

3D FilaPrint

3D FilaPrint was founded in early 2013 and is a company that specialises in 3D printing. They offer the widest range of 3D printing filaments in the UK and trade globally.

Academic Underdogs

Academic Underdogs is an educational company that aims to ‘transform average or poor academic performers into outstanding achievers’. The company has helped over 30,000 students worldwide and has sold over 18,000 books.

Bradt Travel Guides

Bradt Travel Guides was founded in 1974 and is one of the world’s leading travel publishers. Specialising in expert travel advice, readers can benefit from over 200 travel and wildlife titles.

CarTap

CarTap is a technology company that provides software as a service for car-sharing. CarTap aims to increase the utilisation of vehicles, reducing emissions and improving the urban space. The company was developed with the help of InnovateUK and in 2016 won the ‘Smart Urbanisation’ competition.

Feed Me Light

Feed Me Light specialises in the creation of bespoke animation for its clients. Covering areas such as creative briefs, storyboarding, illustrations, filming and print, they are able to find creative solutions using their varied expertise. 

Hit Products

Hit Products Ltd was established as a launchpad to develop a range of innovative products designed to solve everyday problems. The ‘CouchCoaster’ is the first offering from the company and is billed as ‘the ultimate drink holder for your sofa’.

Huntsmore

Huntsmore is a property project management firm based in West London. Its team of specialists, including, architects, interior designers, structural engineers, builders and contractors, offers a complete ‘Design & Build’ service for people wanting to renovate, extend or upgrade their home.

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Lavolio Ltd

Lavolio is a boutique handmade confectionary company. Its sweets are made from real pieces of fruit, nuts and jellies wrapped in chocolate and spices. In 2015 The Grocer magazine named Lavolio’s founder, Lavinia Davolio, as one of its ‘Top New Talents’ for 2015.

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Letter Box Hamper

Letter Box Hamper makes small hampers of luxury British food and drink, beautifully wrapped and sent through the post with letterbox delivery. The hampers consist of produce from independent British suppliers that you won’t ‘find in any old supermarket’.

Lomakatsi Ltd

Lomakatsi was founded in January 2015 in order to help mental health patients in the UK. Their programme combines a range of artistic therapeutic systems to produce a coherent rehabilitation model, which is being used by the NHS and the private health sector.

London Research International Ltd

London Research International is a provider of international research, consultancy and marketing services. Their focus is working with clients on projects outside their own countries and they have expertise in energy/environment infrastructure development and IT.

Love Smoothies Bike & Being Good

Love Smoothies Bike & Being Good deliver exciting and affordable smoothie bike hire packages, interactive arcade games and pop-up smoothie bars to events across the UK. These fun products also help to promote the serious messages of wellbeing and sustainability by generating electricity through the use of their smoothie bikes.

Roger Mears Architect LLP

Roger Mears Architects was founded in 1980 and aims to create ‘beautifully crafted buildings, using our clients’ styles and personalities, within a historic context’. The company has developed expertise in the alteration, extension and repair of historic buildings during its 35 years.

SDR Upholstery Ltd

Shoreditch Design Rooms offers a highly skilled and innovative upholstery service from its SDR studio. It is also officially recognised as a training school for the Association of Master Upholsterers and Soft Furnishers (AMUSF) and offers courses for a diploma qualification.

Smartify CIC  

Smartify provides its users with instant information about works of art in museums and galleries with modern technology. Using advanced image recognition and Augmented Reality (AR), the SMARTIFY app provides instant access to inspiring commentary, straight to your smartphone.

 The Victoria Chart Company 

The Victoria Chart Company was founded in 2004 and is a leading innovator in practical simple solutions for busy parents. Their products engage and motivate children in a fun, interactive way so they can reach their full potential.

Theatre Workout 

Theatre Workout is an award-winning theatre and events company based in London’s West End. They run workshops for over 8,000 people a year, delivered by highly trained and experienced performers, artists and practitioners.

Apply now for your chance to receive over £10,000 worth of free business support today.

The Innovating for Growth programme is fully-funded by the European Regional Development Fund and the British Library.

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03 March 2017

Getting your business ready to compete in a digital age

Gori Yahaya is the founder of UpSkill Digital and is also a delivery partner at the Business & IP Centre. His company specialises in providing bespoke workshops that focus on improving the digital skills of small businesses, charities and young people across the UK.

For most businesses today the internet has become a vital tool in helping them to grow and prosper. However, there are many companies that lack the necessary digital skills to compete effectively in the modern business world.

We caught up with Gori to find out how UpSkill Digital is helping to buck this trend.

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UpSkill Digital focuses on improving the digital skills of small businesses, charities and young people. What made these three groups of particular interest to you?

I’ve had the pleasure of training a variety of audiences for Google over the years and these three groups stood out to me as having the largest need for digital skills in the UK. Small businesses truly drive the UK economy and almost half of them don't have websites or the necessary skills to succeed in the digital age. There is a similar statistic for charities across the UK and for many it’s down to a lack of confidence and ease of access to affordable training. As for young people, there is a common misconception that every young person has an innate understanding of all things digital. Many of them are proficient with digital products for personal use but often have no idea how to harness their digital savviness in a professional setting. This really drives us at UpSkill Digital, because we want to unlock the true potential of these digital natives and empower them with practical skills to help businesses grow.

What are the key areas of digital marketing that small businesses and entrepreneurs should be aware of?

With the digital age moving so fast, it’s often hard for businesses to keep up. One of the key areas that businesses are keen to learn more about is Google Analytics. The power of data to help businesses succeed and understand their customers is underestimated by many and the idea of deep diving into the data still seems very daunting to many small business owners. We launched our hands-on Google Analytics session to really help entrepreneurs get to grips with, and take action on, their data. The other area businesses often find it difficult to nail is Social Media for business. Most people are aware of how social media has changed the way we engage with our friends, family and even companies, but building a social media presence and content strategy to help you engage and sell, needs a little more guidance. Outside of these two, the big focus is mobile marketing as we’re truly living in a mobile world so you need to ensure your online presence is built to engage through smartphones.

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What did you do before UpSkill Digital and could you ever see yourself returning to it?

Before UpSkill Digital and, perhaps even before my time spent working and consulting in digital marketing, I used to run and manage experiential events for large brands, from product launches to PR stunts. I loved it, and I’m still keen to help out with a major event when it comes up. I’ve managed to combine this event management experience with my love of digital training by running our training roadshows across the UK, so I do feel like I’ve found a great balance.

Have you always wanted to become an entrepreneur or is it something that just happened?

I still find the definition of an entrepreneur can differ between people. I feel like I’ve always had an entrepreneurial approach as I find there’s nothing more rewarding than creating something out of nothing and solving a problem whilst doing so. Having worked for myself for well over a decade now, I’ve experienced many highs and low with different start-ups and had a few failures along the way. You truly start to appreciate your entrepreneurial nature once when you notice how you learn and bounce back from the difficult moments.

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What’s next for Upskill Digital?

At our core UpSkill Digital is a training agency that aims to make digital education fun, memorable and practical. We’ve been fortunate enough to work with great partners such as Google and the British Library to help train a large number of small business owners and entrepreneurs in digital skills and we’ve had lots of interest in expanding our training workshops to other vital areas of business, such as presentation and sales skills. We’ve also embarked on a good model with our roadshows to help plug the digital skills gap, and there are some interesting government initiatives in the pipeline that we’re hoping to support.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Being an entrepreneur can be a wild and rocky ride and you’ll need all the help you can get. Leverage your friends, family and any contacts you make along the way to help you. We’re often reluctant to ask for help but we’re happy to give it when asked, so don’t be afraid to ask. Improve your productivity with to-do lists; they have been a lifesaver for me. I like to carry a notebook around with me and will often take notes and prioritise things on a list to ensure I’m not procrastinating. Finally, keep learning. I’ve always been fascinated by our capacity to learn and, more importantly, how we use this information to further or better ourselves, our careers and our businesses.

As part of the 'DoItDigital' campaign, The British Library and its national network of Business & IP Centres has pledged to support 10,000 UK small businesses to learn new digital skills in 2017.

To book your place on an UpSkillDigital workshop or to find out more about the Business & IP Centre’s workshops, one-to-ones and business support, visit:  http://www.bl.uk/business-and-ip-centre

24 February 2017

Internet Icons: Creating big business online

On Tuesday 7 February 2017, we hosted a panel discussion - Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Internet Icons - which was moderated by journalist and TV broadcaster, Nadine Dereza. On the night we were joined by Ella Mills of Deliciously Ella, Rupert Hunt of Spare Room, Sarah Wood of Unruly and Aron Gelbard of Bloom & Wild. The event was also live screened to all 10 of the Business & IP Centre’s across the country, as well as a webcast to viewers across the world.

About the speakers

Deliciously Ella – Ella's business empire began with a blog and quickly developed into a popular brand. Her entrepreneurial rise has seen the opening of two London-based deli’s, four published books and the development of her own food range.

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SpareRoom – Rupert Hunt created the UK’s busiest flatshare site, SpareRoom.com which receives over two million hits a month. The company has now expanded its services to the United States and can be used all over America.

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Bloom & Wild – Aron Gelbard is the co-founder of Bloom & Wild. His company has redefined the online flower delivery service, delivering pristine flowers without the recipient needing to be at home. Bloom & Wild has been rated as the top online flower delivery service in the UK and developed the leading flower delivery app.

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Unruly – Sarah Wood is the co-founder and CEO of the video ad-tech company, Unruly. Assisting companies to create unique online video content since 2006 Unruly provides a platform that helps brands to reach an audience of 1.44 billion.

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A powerful tool for business growth

With the internet playing such a vital role in the modern business world, it is important for business owners to learn how four very different companies harnessed the power of the internet to scale up and grow successfully. When considering the statistics, it’s no surprise that more and more businesses are going online and as Isabel Oswell, Head of Business Audiences at the British Library, explained, “90% of people connected online in the UK, three-quarters of these have bought online and the online retail market continues to grow by 15-20% each year”. For most businesses today ignoring the internet is no longer an option, and with numbers like these, why would they?

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The Myth of the Big Idea

The audience was keen to quiz the online trailblazers who weren’t shy in offering wise words of advice for our budding entrepreneurs. Each of them drew from their own unique experiences to answer a variety of relevant questions, covering everything from surviving knock-backs to how social media can help businesses to grow.

Both Rupert Hunt and Sarah Wood were keen to stress that the myth of ‘the big idea’ was something that entrepreneurs had to be wary of when trying to start up. Rupert’s position was clear, “don’t get hung up on the big idea, get to the market and let the market guide you”. Indeed, the internet provides the perfect platform for many small businesses to gauge how their prospective customers feel about their products and services.  If they react well, you’ll quickly know that you’re on to something - and, even if the response is not what you expected, you’ll be able to learn how to improve what you do for your target audience. Sarah expanded on this point, explaining how Unruly started out as an online sharing board in 2006 but quickly noticed that the video content posted always had the most online engagement. Noticing this trend in audience behaviour, encouraged the company to create a ‘top 100 chart’ for online video content and, in turn, led to big brands wanting their videos featured. Today, Unruly is one of the biggest names in online advertising and works with 91% of the Ad 100 brands. It is also active in 20 locations worldwide and was acquired by News Corp in 2015.

The Power of Social Media

For most small businesses, developing a strong and loyal fan base of millions may seem unrealistic at best. However, we now have the online tools to reach people from far and wide with engaging and unique content. Ella drew on her own entrepreneurial journey advising the audience to, “never underestimate the power of social media when building your audience and business”. Having battled through a traumatic illness, Ella had changed her diet and lifestyle as a means of improving her health. After receiving encouragement to write a blog post for her friends and family, she quickly noticed that there were many people who were interested in what she had to say. The frequent engagement with her online followers quickly established a platform from which a successful business could be built. Deliciously Ella has now become a popular brand in its own right and has seen the development of a successful bricks and clicks business.

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A big boost for small business

The panel was keen to stress how the internet can also make it much easier for small businesses to enter already established markets. Both Bloom & Wild and SpareRoom transformed their respective markets by developing solutions to age-old problems. Rupert spoke of how the ‘crazy housing market’ in London had inspired his business idea to develop an online tool that would work much like a match-making site for renters. Having experienced the London rental market himself, he used his knowledge to focus on making a product that saved renters money and matched them with people they would get along with. The platform has proven to be so popular that SpareRoom currently has over 7 million registered users, and helps one person every three minutes to find a flatmate in the UK. Having conquered the UK, SpareRoom has set up shop in America and is already close to reaching a quarter of a million users in the United States.  

Learn as you earn

Similarly, Aron Gelbard of Bloom & Wild entered a market with large established companies but was able to successfully promote its unique selling point to a large online audience. For Aron, the success of Bloom & Wild only cemented his belief that simple day-to-day things can lead to successful business ideas, and although he had made a few mistakes along the way, he was keen to urge our audience to “carry on learning” as they embarked on their entrepreneurial journeys.

Want to hear from more entrepreneurs who’ve shaken the business world? Hear the co-founder of Lonely Planet, Tony Wheeler, speak on the trip of a lifetime which inspired this now global brand. With over 130 million travel guides in 14 different languages, Lonely Planet is the biggest travel publisher in the world. Its humble beginnings may surprise some, but it is a reminder to us all that today’s small businesses have the potential to be tomorrow’s big brands. Taking place on 27 February, this is a 'must attend' event – book your ticket here.  

17 February 2017

The serious business of saving lives

Innovating for Growth is designed to help businesses scale up and grow by offering £10,000 worth of bespoke business advice. We have supported over 250 businesses in the past four years, and have seen 70% of them either increase their turnover and/or take on extra staff after just one year of completing the programme.

Covering key areas such as ‘developing a growth strategy’ and ‘maximising your brand’, the focus is on taking established businesses to the next level. An example of this can be seen with the progress made by Emma Hammett and her award-winning company, First Aid for Life. The company focuses on first aid training and its trainers are highly experienced medical and emergency services professionals, offering a full range of practical and online training, tailored entirely to your needs.

 

First Aid for Life joined Innovating for Growth at a point where, although it was trading comfortably and making a profit, the potential to scale up and grow further was not being realised. The programme helped Emma to look at every element of her business model and assisted in developing a solid grounding for consistent growth. As a result, First Aid for Life was able to protect its intellectual property and apply for trademarks, fine-tune its branding and focus on its core market segments. Emma credits her mentor, Penny Daly, as being “particularly supportive and inspiring”, helping her to implement all the advice gleaned from Innovating for Growth’s business experts.

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Since completing the Innovating for Growth programme, First Aid for Life has grown at a rate of 30% year on year, creating a solid financial foundation from which to scale up. This security has brought the freedom to diversify, penetrate new markets and identify new opportunities for the business.

As Emma further explains, “there is considerable variation in the quality of first aid training providers, so we work tirelessly to differentiate ourselves by offering consistent excellence in all aspects of our business from first contact, to training delivery and aftercare. With a focus on flexible working practices that are family friendly, the company is constantly looking at more efficient ways of working both for staff and customers”. The development of onlinefirstaid.com which, is now the leading provider of online first aid training, has helped First Aid for Life to productise its service, enabling it to scale up and reach international markets; such advancements have also allowed First Aid for Life the chance to offer comprehensive stand-alone online training sessions that are regulated and fulfil both HSE and Ofsted requirements.

In addition to this, it has also been able to diversify by creating First Aid for Pets, giving them the chance to connect with a completely new market, many of whom have human and pet first aid needs. These innovations fully complement their core business, positioning them uniquely as First Aid Experts and engaging customers with flexible training solutions.

The work of Emma and First Aid for Life has definitely not gone unnoticed, and over the past few years, the company has won many awards, including, the Federation of Small Businesses ‘Overall Winner’ and the ‘Best’ Business for Service Excellence two years running.

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The publicity garnered from First Aid for Life has also opened up new opportunities for Emma which has seen her portfolio continue to grow.  Her second book, ‘Burns, falls and emergency calls’, endorsed and supported by the Child Accident Prevention Trust, Dr Amanda Gummer of the Good Toy and App Guide and Sue Atkins (The Parenting Expert), has been heralded as the ultimate guide to the prevention and treatment of childhood accidents. Her expertise has also lead to Emma becoming a well-respected voice on all things first aid-related and regular TV appearances have become the norm.

Such progress is impressive and clearly shows that First Aid for Life has been able to successfully scale-up and grow. As Emma concludes, “Innovating for Growth has been pivotal in our success in ensuring we have a solid base upon which to grow and a thorough understanding of business principles to enable us to plan and formulate sensible business decisions. Thank you to the British Library for all of your help”.

 

Are you an ambitious business owner looking to scale up, like First Aid for Life? Innovating for Growth is a free three-month programme to help you turn your growth idea into a reality.

Find out more and apply now

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The programme is fully-funded by the European Regional Development Fund and the British Library.

SNO – The ski travel company with big ambitions

Richard Sinclair is the founder of SNO and a recent Innovating for Growth graduate. His company specialises in helping customers find the perfect ski/snowboarding holiday packages online, suiting their specific needs, and at the best prices available. Having started the company in 2006 after accidentally noticing a gap in the market, SNO has gone on to become the fastest growing ski travel business in the UK.

In 2014, Richard saw that there was an opportunity to scale up and decided to apply for the Innovating for Growth programme. The three-month course proved to be the catalyst for SNO to grow, and Richard credits the programme for giving him the focus and the tools to execute his vision. With over £10,000 worth of bespoke business advice, Innovating for Growth is perfect for small to medium sized enterprises hoping to grow. To find out more about the Scale-ups programme click here.

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SNO is very much your second career, how did your twelve years at the BBC influence your entrepreneurial journey?

Deeply.  As a former BBC executive producer, making factual TV for prime time, I can pinpoint three key periods with “Auntie” which pointed me down this road.  I got my customer focus from early days at consumer champion ‘Watchdog’, indulged my love of science and technology at ‘Tomorrow’s World’ and slaked my thirst for travel while running the ‘Holiday’ programme.

These programmes, and the talented and passionate people I worked with, definitely fed into my desire to build an online travel business, but it was a documentary series where I spent a month filming a race to the North Pole, which taught me the real power of perseverance… and just how much further we can push ourselves, beyond the limits that we have imagined.  This experience uncovered the tenacity needed to build a business from scratch. Crucially, it taught me that the most fun and fulfilment is to be had by tackling the hardest challenges with the most talented and driven teams.

Having started as a “creative”, directing and producing telly, I later found (having climbed the greasy pole to become quite senior) that I really loved the business and finance side of running a large department in the BBC and particularly the building and leading of talented teams of people, as we all worked towards a common goal.

Having successfully completed the Innovating for Growth programme, would you say it has benefited your business, and would you recommend the programme to your peers?

Innovating for Growth was the lens which helped focus our plans.  When you’re starting out and focused on getting traction, the very specific coaching in discrete areas such as product development, branding and marketing helps to crystalise your often amorphous BHAGs (big-hairy-audacious-goals) into more practical and immediately actionable insights… which allow you to continually execute.

One of the key markers of success in an entrepreneur is to “execute” again and again, all day, all week, month in and month out.  Innovating for Growth gives you the tools to keep delivering on your vision.

I would recommend this programme to any entrepreneur, but especially those less experienced in leading and growing a business, as it gives you the know-how and tools in a short space of time, which are usually garnered through a lifetime of trial and error.

The travel industry seems a world away from the media.  What was the specific event that started SNO?

SNO came about accidentally, as a by-product of naively thinking I could “just build a website” to rent out my flat in Chamonix in the French Alps, when not using it.  We ended up creating the world’s first ski resort guide which worked on all phones “The whole ski resort in your pocket!” (back when mobile web was new and hard to do across all devices).

Cutting a long story short, we toured the alps (in a vintage Airstream) and quickly realised that the “business” was in selling holidays business-to-consumer, not selling advertising business-to-business to all the locals in the guide.  That was our big pivot and sno.mobi the mobile guide became sno.co.uk the online travel agent.

We also got to know many of the remarkable people who make your visits to the mountains so special and decided we wanted to support them and their communities.  To this day we advertise all local ski schools, rental, transfer drivers, bars, restaurants, etc. free of charge on SNO, so they can benefit from our huge web traffic too.  We’re also working on a Platform/Marketplace technology project which we believe can change the travel industry globally, and give all those literally millions of micropreneurs, in resorts and destinations around the world, access to the big travel distribution channels that they could never reach themselves – it’s a classic “tech disintermediation” idea whose time has come.

You started SNO selling ski holidays, so what made you want to move beyond that quite large travel niche?

It’s true that skiing and snowboarding is a passion for us at SNO, but it’s just one facet of the bigger love of all types of travel.  In addition, the biggest motivation to grown beyond ski holidays is the very seasonal nature of the industry.  Each autumn we hire new talent to work in reservations and every winter there are always some “keepers” who we love working with and want to bring into the family as SNO grows.  As you can imagine, it’s heartbreaking to have to “crew-down” each spring when there’s not enough work for a big team over the summer, so we set about fixing that.

Any great business is really about the people – even a technology business like ours – so we’re growing into beach holidays and then cruises, to keep creating jobs for the talent we’re lucky enough to work with.

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The UK is the world’s 5th biggest economy, but your sights are set higher.  What are your plans for global expansion?

We’re a UK technology and travel business, but we’ve been plotting ways to map our success here into other territories.  It makes sense to start in the same language, so we’re building SNO in America and a US-centric version of SNO.co.uk for that market.  We’re rebuilding our entire technology stack to accommodate multi-domain, multi-region delivery with multi-languages.  The content management system and even the product descriptions need a version for each country, as English-speaking Americans search for “ski vacations” rather than “ski holidays” and ski chalets tend to be called ski lodges over there. And, of course, we also need to re-engineer our systems to accommodate multi-currency and find novel ways to turn UK-departing packages into trips that depart from the USA instead.

The key to the successful globalisation of any business is “localisation”.  Not just language, domain, currency and marketing, but even the technology of being a big, fast and reliable website around the world.  It means we have to get our heads around technologies like CDN (content delivery networks) so that content for e.g. New York is not being served from thousands of miles away in York(shire).

As they say “if it was easy, everyone would be doing it”...

You mentioned a big technology project designed to disrupt the global travel industry.  I think you need to tell us more.

I can’t go into details, as we’re still working on the technology and are speaking to parties interested in funding this as a separate business.

The project has been dubbed “Etsy for Travel” and “Amazon for Travel” but it’s much bigger than that.

I’ve been to the North Pole, driven an F1 car and managed a few Ironman races but I can honestly say that, (apart from having two amazing children), this is the most exciting thing I’ve worked on in my life.

Richard SNO2

You’ve bootstrapped SNO to$5m revenue as an online travel agent, so why are you considering investment in the Travel Marketplace?

We did bootstrap SNO, but it took 5 years just to get this far, and I’m determined to work on the Travel Marketplace project at a much faster pace.  It can scale enormously and very quickly with the right team – we already have a positive relationship with thousands of travel entrepreneurs in resorts worldwide, and the technology is not rocket science, so it’s all going to be in the execution.  We’ll use investment mainly to fill existing roles at SNO, so I can bring my core team into this project full time.

We’re working on the details of the project now and will raise £500k seed, so interested investors should drop me a line!

Are you an ambitious business owner looking to scale up, like SNO? Innovating for Growth is a free three-month programme to help you turn your growth idea into a reality.

 Apply now

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The programme is fully-funded by the European Regional Development Fund and the British Library.

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09 February 2017

Networking with confidence

The networking area of the Business & IP Centre is a bright and buzzing space. Here, entrepreneurs can meet, collaborate and network freely with their peers. Our staff will also help you to find what you are looking for including information on our workshops, industry guides, case study stories and much more. In addition to this, our latest corporate partner Vistaprint, has now provided us with an impressive self-service stand from which our visitors can ‘see, touch, feel’ the products with no obligation to buy.

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As Charlotte Waters of Vistaprint tells us, ‘It’s exciting to be able to offer free samples of key products including business cards and flyers, sample kits, product catalogues and information leaflets about our graphic design services and digital offerings. We hope that by having these samples and information available, you are able to browse the range and see, touch, feel the products' quality first hand, in turn giving you the confidence to purchase and market your business with pride’.

For those of you who’d like to refine your networking skills and overcome your fear of ‘working a room’, the Networking for Success workshop presented by Rasheed Ogunlaru will give you the tools to network effectively and confidently. In the meantime, Vistaprint have kindly provided some top tips to help you along the way:

  • Think big, start small

There are big benefits to networking, but you need to start somewhere. Begin with just one email, phone call or coffee date a day. Then keep it up!

  • Find shared interests

It’s easier to connect and stay in contact with businesses that operate on the same principles as you do, so don’t shy away from asking people what motivates them. Sometimes, discovering a common problem is the next best thing, as it allows you to quickly relate to the other person and even discuss solutions you haven’t tried yet.

  • Make a great first impression

Business networking can sometimes be rather dry or feel disingenuous, but not if you’re doing your best to be completely open. Having a business card handy is an easy way to initiate a conversation and show who you are in a fast, visual way. Take a look here for some inspiration.

Vistaprint is the leading provider of customisable printed and digital marketing materials, enabling millions of UK micro businesses of any kind and at any stage to market themselves professionally and affordably. Our world-class online design studio allows customers to easily customise their products including business cards, marketing materials, signage, promotional products, clothing, websites, and more.

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06 February 2017

Get your bid in now for the Momentum Music Fund

Momentumlogo288x257We see quite a lot of musicians in the Business & IP Centre for help with their business ventures.

And we have lots of information to help them available through our Music Industry Guide.

So it is good to hear that the Momentum Music Fund are offering grants of £5k-£15k for artists and bands to help them break through to the next level. The money comes via the PRS for Music Foundation using Arts Council England funds and in association with Spotify. The intention is to support talented artists to develop their recording, writing, performing and touring ambitions.

The next deadline is 21st February, so if you get a move on you can still apply here

Neil Infield  on behalf of Business & IP Centre

 

26 January 2017

Vicki Psarias on how blogging gave her the confidence to be a successful mum and entrepreneur.

Vicki Psarias is a screenwriter, director and the founder of the immensely popular blog, Honest Mum. Having already had a successful career as a screenwriter, Vicki began blogging after the birth of her first child in 2010. Her personal and honest writing resonated with mothers all over the globe, and she soon found that Honest Mum had an online following in the tens of thousands.

The Honest Mum blog had started as a means of talking about Vicki’s personal journey as a mother. However, it quickly became so popular that it created a visible and identifiable brand by itself. The passion that Vicki has for motherhood has meant that this has proven to be a win-win situation, providing her with the opportunity to be both an ambitious entrepreneur and a loving mother. If you’d like to hear more about Vicki’s journey and the Honest Mum story, you can book your place for ‘Turn Your Passion into Pounds’ today. 

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Hi Vicki, you’re a screenwriter, director, blogger and mother. How do you do it?

When it comes to how do I do it all, I have to attribute being incredibly organised and strict with my time and energy to achieving 'the juggle' most days. Some days you’ll see me congratulating myself at achieving balance in work and family life, other days I feel like I'm failing at everything. I've accepted this is part of being a working mother.

 I have a super manager in Neil at Insanity who makes sure I don't get overwhelmed with projects and whose advice is invaluable to me. Schedule-wise, I design my life and work so I get the most time possible with my kids whilst running my company and personal brand.  My husband and I are equal in every way too as it should be so we share the load with our kids.

I don't see any limits now to my creative pursuits whereas pre-blogging, I used to limit myself somewhat. I felt I couldn't veer off from directing. Technology has shown me it doesn't have to be that way and I love that I have a portfolio career.

Your background is in screenwriting and film. What inspired you to start your blog, Honest Mum?

I felt lost and alone after a traumatic birth with my first child in November 2010, and it was a filmmaker friend of mine Amancay Tapia who actually encouraged me to start a blog at a time there were very few worldwide. I would recount stories of new motherhood and she nagged me until I bought a domain name to share these stories with the world. I owe her so much.

Within weeks I was approached by forward-thinking brands to collaborate with them and despite a stint directing commercials, by the time I was pregnant with my second son two years later, I was working as a blogger in an accidental career I adored.

My blog helped me to rediscover my voice and slowly my confidence. Along with social media, it also gave me a new tribe of women who understood what I was going through. Blogging is such a liberating way to connect with others. You write, publish and connect.

 Having achieved so much already, how do you continue to stay motivated?

Thank you, it's funny I rarely look back and reflect on past achievements as I endlessly push onwards towards the next goal. My kids motivate me. I want to prosper for them. I have to write to feel content and I love the long form of writing my first book. It's going to be utterly surreal to see it in the shops. It's a joy working with my editor Jillian at Piatkus/Little Brown who is publishing my book, and my literary agent Robyn at Diane Banks Associates.

More and more women are taking the plunge and becoming entrepreneurs. Why do you think this is happening?

We won't put up with the inequalities of the workforce and are fighting back. Technology allows us to make our careers work for our families. Many women are creating side jobs they nurture alongside their main careers, watching them grow before going full-time. I always say that new businesses benefit from a maternity leave, baby or not, a period of time where you can develop and grow your 'baby' giving your business the time and energy it needs to thrive. Working digitally offers a flexible, well paid, empowering way to do what you love. For me, it's offered the solution I was looking for when working in traditional media meant I wouldn't have much time with my child. My screenwriting and directing skills (as well as the fact I used to edit a film magazine) gave me the perfect foundation in which to launch my own blog and personal brand.

Vicki-Psarias2639

What would be your key piece of advice for an aspiring entrepreneur?

Work on self-belief. Fake it until you make it. The brain is malleable so the more you tell yourself you can achieve the greater chance you have of taking risks, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and reaching your goals. With every small milestone met comes greater confidence until it builds and builds and becomes second nature. Confidence becomes your default. When you believe in yourself, others will follow. Importantly, learn from your mistakes and never give up. Talent plus tenacity equals success.

 Are there skills that you have gained as a mother that have helped you as an entrepreneur?

Yes, definitely. Prioritising, for one, as having kids has helped me focus on what matters in life and in business. Also, taking calculated risks where possible, motherhood has made me more fearless, for sure. Surviving sleep deprivation and a traumatic birth, once I'd recovered, strengthened me. Kids have definitely made me more ambitious- they drive me to succeed. Vitally, I now have a perspective I didn't have pre-kids. I don't sweat the small stuff.

What has been your greatest achievement so far?

Firstly, the relationship I have with my family, and then my creative career. Touchingly, co-founder of BritMums, Susanna Scott recently said this about me, 'Vicki is a ground-breaking blogger and vlogger, always pushing boundaries - and glass ceilings - through her voice and great work. She's the closest the UK has to Dooce and I can't wait to see what she does next!’ Receiving praise from those I respect like Susanna, and above everything, emails from others informing me that my work has inspired them to start blogs and businesses are the most rewarding part of my job. It reminds me I'm on the right track.

Vicki will be joined by the Public Relations guru, Jessica Huie and a panel of outstanding business women including, Jo Morell, Natasha Courtenay-Smith and Alison Jones. Don’t miss your chance to hear how these women made it to the top of their respective industries at our ‘Turn You Passion into Pounds’ event.