Innovation and enterprise blog

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


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

10 April 2018

IP Corner: Celebrating 400 years of the first British patent


On 11 March 2017 we reached the 400 anniversary of the granting of British Patent number 1. The anniversary was marked by a major government campaign titled “GREAT for imagination”. The campaign began in June 17 and highlighted some of the most remarkable innovations developed and patented in Great Britain in the 400 years since patent number 1. The featured inventions included beta-blockers, holograms, film processing and many more. We had the pleasure to participate in "GREAT for imagination" this February by taking BBC's The One Show behind the scenes of intellectual property and patents, and of what the Business & IP Centre does to support inventors and entrepreneurs. So what are the landmark events in the history of British patents that spans four centuries?


Patent number 1 was granted to Aron Rathburne and Roger Burges and was for engraving maps. The patent lasted for 14 years giving the rights holders the opportunity to train two generations of apprentices in the relevant art.

GB161700001A 1

Although this patent was the first numbered British patent it was not the earliest patent ever granted. The earliest of all known patent grants was a grant of King Henry III of England (also ruler of the whole of western France) confirming a grant by the Mayor of Bordeaux to a citizen of Bordeaux for the manufacture of “cloths in many divers colours after the manner of the Flemmings”.  The Rathburne/Burges patent is believed to have been chosen for convenience because it was the first entry in a docket book of patent abstracts.

The idea of numbering and printing all British patents from 1617 through to 1852 and from October 1852 onwards came from Bennet Woodcroft, the then (1852) Superintendent of Specifications and Indexes at the Patent Office.  Woodcroft himself was an inventor and, along with very  many others, had long been in favour of patent reform. It has been said that it was these agitators for reform and the opening of the Great Exhibition in London in 1851 that brought matters to a head leading to the Patent Law Amendment Act of 1852. This was the first Act to be placed on the Statute Book prescribing the procedure for obtaining patents of invention.

Ip blog post 2

Not everyone was in favour of patents, one such opponent was Isambard Kingdom Brunel who believed that patents were an unfair hindrance to progress. The system still has its opponents today, but without patents of invention and the subsequent rights the grant gives the rights holders what encouragement would there be for individuals or businesses to spend time and money researching and developing products? 

Not all patents are for major breakthroughs in science or technology. The majority cover the more mundane aspects of life such as a collapsible tea pot patented in 1906 by Frances O’Hara of London or a method of securing lids of boxes of dry goods by Charles Witham in 1902 or even an improved means for spacing railway sleepers patented in Britain by George Hindman of the USA.

Everything we use today has been improved in some way by innovations protected under the intellectual property system.  The mobile phone for example still does what Alexander Graham Bell intended when he patented his first practical telephone, it allows us to speak with another person at a distance, but the idea has been improved upon and improved upon many times over the years so that the mobile telephone of today does that and so much more.

If you were to ask what my personal favourite invention was I would have to say the optical lense.  As someone who is extremely short sighted I would not be able to cope without my glasses! However,  regarding ‘quirky’ patents my favourite has to be GB106461 by an inventor called Albert Bacon Pratt for “Improvements in and relating to small arms”.

IP blog post 3

I’m not sure I would volunteer to wear it!

The “Great for imagination” campaign has so far reached over 30 countries and will hopefully have improved the recognition of the UK as a country of innovation especially as many key technological breakthroughs, such as the jet engine, the telegraph and MRI scanners were developed and patented in Britain.

So if you do have an idea for a new product pop along to your nearest Business and IP Centre,  there are 11 in total (see ) where we will be happy to start you off on your patenting journey.


Maria Lampert, Intellectual Property Expert

25 March 2018

Jack Dorsey talks Square, cryptocurrencies and the future of the economy

Photo: Square.


What do chinchillas, Kendrick Lamar, machine learning and cryptocurrencies have in common?

We found out that and more when Jack Dorsey, co-founder and CEO of payments firm Square got together with the brilliant Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, founder of social enterprise STEMettes for an evening of empowering conversations at the British Library’s Business & IP Centre.

Jack, who was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri is a self-taught coder, serial entrepreneur and co-founder of another tech giant that will for now remain unnamed, but let’s just say for him there is only one social network, and it doesn’t start with F.

For the benefit of everyone who wasn’t as lucky as us, we have compiled the highlights of a fascinating, in-depth discussion about things as big as the future of the economy and as intimate as the personal journey of an established entrepreneur from a childhood fascination with maps to the lasting impact of disrupting more than one industry, on a global scale.


Jack Dorsey on Square: Our purpose is to build simple tools that empower and enable people to participate in the economy. Photo: British Library.



Anne-Marie Imafidon: Jack, can you tell us what is Square?

Jack Dorsey: Like many companies, Square started with one simple idea and we found the purpose by watching people use it. For us, it began with a piece of glass art that Jim [McKelvey, co-founder of Square, who is also a glass artist] made and tried to sell but couldn’t because he didn’t accept credit cards. So we tried to solve his problem!

What we had in common is we both knew nothing about credit cards, we knew nothing about building hardware, we were both in credit card debt and we both came from St. Louis, Missouri.

What we did know is a thing or two about software, we were both comfortable with taking risks and we were willing to learn or do whatever it takes to make it work. That to me is what entrepreneurship is.

We gave ourselves a month and built a prototype around magnetic stripe technology that plugged into a cell phone jack. Then we started showing it to people and asked if they would use it. Initially a lot of the responses were negative.

But we continued to persist and so noticed the real purpose of what we built was not to accept credit cards, but help individuals make a sale. If they could make a sale and accept a credit card, they could participate in the economy. The economy at the time in the US was moving away from cash and towards plastic: merchants who accepted plastic could sell; those who didn’t were losing more and more. And both groups were treated unfairly by the financial institutions.

Once we built up from the prototype to something we could actually scale, we really focused on what we could do to help our customers achieve their potential and grow. Because if they grow, we grow. This, I think, is an amazing business model: when you have perfect alignment of incentives with your customers.

We then looked at other things to help our customers reach their goals and we eventually managed to build an ecosystem of financial services around that. Not just in the US, but also in Australia, Japan, Canada and the UK.

One more dimension was recently added to our company and we are now providing individuals financial services through an application called Cash. We have seen people use it as their bank account. What we managed to do is serve people who have been excluded by the banks and financial institutions, but we partnered with those very institutions to do so. We don’t want to replace banks, we want to make what they have more accessible.

A word that really represents Square is “access”. We believe that we can provide more access to more people and do so in a fair, simple, transparent and fast way.


Jack 3
Back in black: Jack and Anne-Marie in matching outfits. Great minds think alike? Photo: Square.


AMI: How has machine learning, AI and other recent technological developments transformed what Square does and provides as a business?

JD: The easy part was building the reader, the hard part was to overcome the exclusionary nature of the whole industry. In the US, there was one tool to vet identity and authenticity: a credit check. Now, it’s common knowledge that a lot of entrepreneurs don’t have great credit history. Even we were denied a merchant account in the first place!

What we found was that only about 30% of merchants who applied to accept credit card payments made it through. The whole system was exclusionary, based on lack of trust.

To tackle that problem, we had to change our mind set. Our point of departure became trust and the will to include as many people as we can. Also, a credit check seemed like a terrible indicator of one’s ability to accept credit cards, so we used the latest advancements in technology to get more and better data. By doing those two things, the number of Square users who could start processing payments went from 30% to 99%.

We believe that we can provide more access to more people and do so in a fair, simple, transparent and fast way.

One of our fastest growing services in the US is Instant Deposit. Typically, when merchants accept a credit card payment they don’t get access to that money for a week, or at best 2-3 days later. Because of so many ongoing business needs, we realised early on the importance of speeding that process up. And we decided to deliver money to businesses the next business day, something that was a big risk for us: banks would not pay us until several days later.

What do you do when you want to make something happen? You figure out what technology can make it possible. We built that technology and decided to take it one step further by making the payment instant: any time a credit card is taken, you hit a button and that money goes to your account so you can use it.

Today we are launching Instant Deposit in the UK.

It seems quite simple and obvious, and it feels like everyone should have that access, but in fact they don’t because of older approaches in the industry that have not been questioned. Well, we challenged those, took a risk and made it work because we believed it was worth it!

Square’s Instant Deposit service will help UK businesses tackle cash flow. Sellers can now get the money they’ve made into their account in minutes, 24/7. Credit: Square.


AMI: You said you don’t want to replace banks and that you’re relying on their infrastructure. What then do you think is their role in the future?

JD: I am a great admirer of Clayton Christensen’s theory of innovative disruption, set out in his book Jobs to be Done. And so, the way I would like to think about banks is not based on the definition, but on what they are needed for, what their job is. Ultimately, they exist to help people achieve a dream they have.

I do believe that if banks focus on what they are needed for, on what their job is, they will have a significant role in the future. For example, if I need to store my money securely, how can technology today enable a bank to do that for me in a secure, innovative and creative way? If you ask that question, the answer starts sounding a lot like blockchain.

I don’t want to replace banks, because I want to do my job: which is to help people make a sale. We could have stopped at helping people accept credit cards. But we realised that was the wrong job. The right one is making small businesses grow. That revelation broadened the field for us, it meant that as a company we don’t just serve a particular need: we can now go anywhere.


AMI: We have a whole fintech industry that is booming, with London being a global hub. Is there something other than Square that you find exciting in terms of fintech and the way technology is being used to solve problems that banks have ignored over time: like digital currency and blockchain?

JD: There’s a real opportunity to enable more people to participate in the economy and to guide them to financial health. People aren’t always going to choose that, but we need to make sure they have all the tools to make an informed decision: just like they would with biological health.

We will all benefit from levelling the playing field. With more participation come more creative ideas.

Blockchain and digital currency is something I’m really excited and optimistic about. To me, the Bitcoin Whitepaper is one of the seminal works in computer science in the last 20 years. However regardless of what you think about Bitcoin and its manifestation today, there’s amazing technology within the blockchain. If you look at the history of computing, all power comes from decentralisation. It removes single points of failure, increases reliability and trust. This technology can be applied to more than just financial transactions and payments, and I think we’re just seeing the start of what possibilities lie ahead.

Personally, I believe that the internet wants and deserves its own currency that is global, that is free, that is electronic, that is convenient, that is as decentralised as the internet is. And I believe that will be Bitcoin.

Due to its smaller surface area, it is less prone to attack. It’s been through a lot and it also has a brand: everyone’s heard of it! At the moment, Bitcoin is mostly seen as a digital asset you can buy and keep as an investment. I don’t think that’s how it’s always going to be used: I believe in its power as an actual currency for the world and the internet. I think it is extremely liberating.


Blockchain and digital currency, anyone? Credit: British Library.


AMI: As a serial entrepreneur, how do you evaluate ideas and decide what to build, but also what failures have you had that you’ve learned from in that process?

JD: I never wanted to grow up to be an entrepreneur, to program, to build a company and certainly not to be a CEO.

As a kid I was fascinated by cities and how they work. I wanted to be able to visualize them, so I was obsessed with maps. When my dad got a computer, I realised I can use it to draw a map: but I had to learn how to do that first. St. Louis [where Jack grew up] had a thriving hacker culture at the time which in general is very open to knowledge-sharing, and so I taught myself to program with the sole purpose of being able to design a map.

When I finally drew one, I became fascinated with the movements of police cars and ambulances I heard on the radio frequencies. By plotting them on my map I could actually see them. And it turned out there is a whole industry around that called dispatch. So I was soon hired by the biggest dispatch company in the world: but only after I found and flagged security flaws in their servers. I then started my own dispatch company, which failed and so I went back to contracting. I did that for years until I started Twitter.

And in a way, Twitter is also based on that same idea behind dispatch: showing where you are, what you are doing and by extension, what you are thinking.

My life has always been about understanding what I don’t know so I can learn and take the next step, and about being open to mistakes along the way. I think that’s the definition of entrepreneurship: you do whatever it takes to make it work! You work hard, and eventually you figure it out.

One of the creative things that we did at Square when we were first pitching investors was to show them a working product. The second thing we did after getting them excited was to enumerate all the ways in which our business could fail.

  1. We know nothing about the credit card industry;
  2. We’re in credit card debt;
  3. We don’t know how to build hardware.

Do whatever it takes to bring your idea into the world. This is what I enjoy and love and get inspired by: building tools to empower people to make them bigger than themselves. That’s the story of Square, and of Twitter as well.

Celebrating International Women’s Day 2018 at Square HQ in San Francisco, California. Photo: Square.


AMI: Risk is important for entrepreneurs. Were you comfortable with it from the very beginning or is this something you’ve built over time?

No, I wasn’t. But I always learned best when I put myself in very uncomfortable situations. I had a speech impediment which really inhibited me from socialising: no one understood what I was saying and that made me very shy. I decided to change that and at a time when I could not imagine something more terrifying than getting in front of people and talking, I forced myself and signed up to a speech and debate class. These classes were like torture… But I embraced them and learned how to do it.

Being comfortable with risk is a mindset, and it’s not necessarily one where you think about risk itself, but about identifying and overcoming what makes you uncomfortable.


AMI: As a leader in the technology industry, you’re able to set an example and have the power to change the world. For an industry that’s quite new, tech unfortunately amplifies what we also find in the wider society: lack of minority and female representation. What have you done to tackle that?

JD: The majority of our company, Square, reports to only three women. You need to really push that diversity at every level so people are empowered to see what they can achieve.

The only way we are going to build a business of relevance is to have diversity of perspective and background: if we want to serve the world, we have to be the world.

Be open to all backgrounds, enable career development and growth: don’t just rely on the system to train people, invest in them and their ambition. Have leadership that people aspire to be. Give back to the community: it was hugely important for me to have a presence in St. Louis, where I’m from, when we could afford to do that. We now have around 400 people working there.

Reaching out to programmes that identify problems and address them, like STEMettes or Girls Who Code in the US, is another thing that is extremely important. They build confidence and empower people through experiences: one little spark and click can change things.

Anne-Marie, founder of STEMettes, an organisation that seeks to introduce girls and young women to careers in science, technology, engineering and maths. Photo: Robert Ormerod for The New York Times.

Do you think it’s possible to replicate the success of the Silicon Valley ecosystem here in London?

JD: First and foremost, Silicon Valley works because of a particular set of occurrences that are very unique to that area. If we spend too much time to try and replicate that, we can miss the opportunities in the environment and culture that make London great.

What I love about the tech scene here and find unique about London for example is that some of the best machine and deep learning people are here.

The ecosystem develops in the same way open source does: by exchanging knowledge and sharing what you are working on. Now that may or may not resonate with others, but it will move things forward. My advice is to look more deeply at yourself instead of Silicon Valley and be open, in constant conversation.



Jack went on to answer other questions from the public, and even a few about Twitter. Well, that and horse-sized ducks (yes, this actually happened). If you want to see the full video, which by now no doubt you will, just click here.


Ewa Domaradzka, Commercial Marketing Manager 

12 March 2018

Building a Soulful Business with Motherhood Reconstructed

With International Women's Day and Mother's Day all falling within the last week, we've been thinking about women in business a lot.  Over 55% of the Business & IP Centre's users are women, and we are incredibly proud to have supported so many female entrepreneurs to start, protect and grow their businesses in diverse sectors.

On March 12th we're continuing our season of events focussed on women in business with a very special event in partnership with Motherhood Reconstructed and Jessica Huie (MBE, PR Guru, serial entrepreneur and now published author!) entitled How To Build a Soulful Business.

We spoke to Tamu Thomas from Motherhood Reconstructed and asked her to tell us some more about the event. 


'How to Build a Soulful Business' is a panel discussion with industry experts that aims to facilitate a conversation enabling women to bring dreams or vision to life by combining strategy with intuitive growth. It is an event for women looking for a way to develop tools that will assist them to create business success without the boorish rhetoric that is often associated with entrepreneurship.

We will be holding space for women to use their intentions to create new a pathway to achieve goals.  How many times have you heard phrases such as, “You just have to push through” or “Get your hustle on?” in dialogue about business?  The space we are creating will lean towards “What does success feel like?” and “What steps do you need to take to cultivate and sustain this feeling?”

This subject matter means a lot to me as I have spent many years stuck in a cycle of drowning out my inner voice, forcing myself in to what ‘they’ said I ‘should’ be doing.  Barging, bumping, forcing my way, doing the same thing over and over yet expecting different results.  We know what Albert Einstein said about that, but here it is in case you don’t:

 “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein.

Tamu Thomas
Tamu Thomas (photo by Nyssa Paige)

After doing some work with one of the panellists and really taking some time to reflect rather than analyse, I realised that my behaviour, my constant going against myself and prioritising the noise of others was rooted in a lack of trust. A lack of trust in myself. Once this lack of trust moved into my consciousness I was able to delve further and realise that I was unable to trust myself because I didn’t feel safe. Imagine that, an adult woman unable to make herself feel safe?  If we don’t feel safe we are stuck in a state of fight or flight because we are frightened!

These conditions make it impossible to thrive.  Surprisingly this realisation was the most positive and illuminating experience I have had since becoming a mother.  I didn’t berate myself, I didn’t think I was foolish, I had a name, an understanding of what was going on underneath the veil of busyness and hustle. 

Taking time to deeply connect with myself and really feel what was going on was one of the most emotionally disruptive experiences I have had. It was like a rebirth and rather than fall into a pattern of gruff negative self-talk, I was overcome with compassion for myself and a sense of relief that I had shifted into a position where I could actually do something to support myself utilising the tools and suggestions from my work with one of the women on the panel for this event.  I had got to a place where I could combine things like my intuition, affirmations, desire mapping and journaling with business acumen. I was ready to leap. Ready to leap back into entrepreneurship but this time with a crystallised sense of purpose, clear intentions and faith in myself.

The beauty of this panel is that these women have been there, done that and are in the position to share practical tips, suggestions and actions based on their experience and qualifications that demystify nebulous terms like “finding my purpose” and “being intentional”. These women are able plant seeds that can help any woman shift from dreaming to doing, from wistfully thinking to inspired action with tools to sustain motivation even in those tricky moments when things feel like they are about to spiral downwards.  Strategies that can be applied regardless of where you are, bring you back to your why and the feeling you want to permeate through you and your business.

We recognise that some women may believe the story they have told themselves about not being entrepreneur material or that they cannot afford to move away from a guaranteed monthly salary. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone and the world would not function if everyone worked for themselves, but fear should not be a barrier.  If you have a business or a business idea we implore you to come along and try something new. 

Ready to leap? Click here to join us.

05 March 2018

Pall Mall Barbers: where a century-old tradition meets modernity


Pall Mall Barbers is one of the oldest and most respected barbershop businesses in Central London. The first barbershop location opened in 1896 at No 27 on Whitcomb Street, the upstairs of which was also home to the famous British archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler. Funnily enough, he was known for his fine trench work and even finer moustache, a firm believer that "an emphatic moustache can redeem an intractable countenance". We couldn't agree more, Sir Mortimer.

Sir Mortimer Wheeler's emphatic moustache


Barbers in London have operated from this address for more than 100 years: 120 as of 2016 to be precise, when Pall Mall Barbers Trafalgar Square celebrated this admirable anniversary. They have become synonymous with the style of traditional men’s barbershops, offering services such as wet-shaves and beard grooming. With five locations in London and a sixth underway (as of March 2018), the business is also expanding to New York City with a barbershop in Manhattan due to open in May 2018. We caught up with Pall Mall Barbers’ owner, Richard Marshall, to see how he has developed his business skills through the Innovating for Growth Programme and taken one of the oldest barbers in London to the next level.


Hi Richard, what were you doing before you worked at Pall Mall Barbers?

After struggling a little in school, my dad suggested I go into a trade as I may be more suited to it. So, at the age of 12 I started working in a barbershop. I started out sweeping floors and making tea, but I eventually honed my hairdressing and interpersonal skills enough that I moved to London at 21 and worked in Mayfair for eight years. I had eventually saved up enough money to purchase Pall Mall Barbers – at the time we knew it had been around a while, but it definitely didn’t have the aura or branding of a barbers that was 120 years old.



What steps did you take to get it started?

I’m a big fan of hard work paying off. When I first started at Pall Mall Barbers I was working seven days a week, living and breathing the store and giving 100% to everything we did. It was a real labour of love, and I put everything I had into it. I really feel like what I put in I got out of it, and I’m proud of that. Success comes down to hard work and determination, and willing to make the sacrifices needed to make the most out of your business.


What has been the business’s biggest achievement so far?

It’s difficult to pinpoint one thing – my biggest achievement is having the feeling that every day, we do great work and that the best is yet to come for us. A lot of the achievements Pall Mall Barbers have had - such as opening five new locations, with more to come. But there is one achievement that has gone beyond any expectation I had in my life: opening our first barbershop outside of London in New York City on 5th Avenue in the prestigious Rockefeller Center!

The Rockefeller Center in New York

There is beautiful symmetry to our New York store being right in the heart of the city, as our original Trafalgar Square barbershop is also located next to an important landmark, right at the heart of London – where our stores are in locations inspired by the Monopoly board. Finding a store available in this incredible location was like serendipity, it makes perfect sense for the beginning of our international expansion. 

I’m not in this business to build achievements – I’m in it as the hard work fuels my heart and soul, and the feeling of personal accomplishment that comes from earning the success we’ve had. I’m never satisfied by looking back on what we’ve built, I’m far more excited thinking about what’s next for us.


How has the Innovating for Growth programme helped you?

I have a very specific way of learning, I like to have a problem and work it out rather than dive headfirst into a book. Innovating for Growth was very reassuring in that aspect – I was able to learn in my own way and met some great people. The networking aspect was key for our journey, as I suddenly found that there were a lot of people in the same boat that I was. Being able to discuss issues that they’d found while building their businesses was great for tackling similar issues I’d have down the road.  All in all I would definitely recommend it for any business wanting to move to the next level.


What one piece of advice would you give to any business owners struggling to take their business to the next level?

If you’re looking to grow your business, it takes research, planning and action. The most important thing though is self-belief – if you understand yourself, you’ll understand your business. Good business is not about being clever, it’s about making great decisions.


Ewa Domaradzka, Commercial Marketing Manager  


Apply now for over £10,000 worth of business advice!

Are you an ambitious business owner, looking to scale-up, like Pall Mall Barbers? Innovating for Growth is a free three-month programme to help you turn your growth idea into a reality. Covering everything from intellectual property to reaching new markets and branding, we'll guide you through every step of the process.

Find out more and apply now 



The programme is supported by the European Regional Development Fund and the British Library.


02 March 2018

A fashionable way to start your business

London-Fashion-week-logo-300x225London Fashion Week has just finished for another year and is more international than ever, with over 50% of the designers born outside of the UK. The week is a great opportunity to show off their collections to global retailers, as well as getting coverage in the mainstream media and fashion press. In addition to helping new designers with their start-up businesses the show organisers offer British Fashion Council's programme with a range of business advice and seminars.

The fashion industry in the UK currently contributes a staggering £66 billion to our economy. With London Fashion Week adding £30 million to London every year.

Perhaps not surprisingly fashion is one of the most popular topics to research within the Business & IP Centre. And we have a great deal of valuable information and advice available. Have a look at our Fashion Industry Guide to get a flavour.

Mintellogo_900x550For example our Mintel report UK Design Fashion 2017 shows that men spend more on designer clothes than women, because although men shop less, they buy higher value brands. Also 56% of men agreed that wearing designer fashion makes them feel more confident, compared to 49% of women.

The report says that casual clothing and footwear are now the products that drive the designer market. This is a result of a move to less formal wear than in the past for visits to restaurants and trips to the theatre.

Young people between the ages of 16 and 24 years dominate expenditure in every category of designer fashion, from underwear to shoes. This is due to the importance of social media, where celebrities can influence young people to emulate their lifestyles. Just look at how celebrities crowd the front rows of the top fashion shows.

Ibisworld_logo2The IBIS World retail clothing report also covers the rising importance of social media and how it is expected to boost demand for fashion. The new breed of social media celebrities have a significant influence on their followers.

Instagram has become the key social media platform for fashion. “With more than 200 million on Instagram connected to fashion accounts all over the world, Instagram has become a global destination
for people to experience this stylish industry unlike anywhere else.”

As well as market research and related fashion information in the Centre, we also run regular workshops and offer one to one advice clinics via our partner Fashion Angel.

Don’t forget, we are here to help realise your fashion dream!

Seema Rampersad and guest blogger Polly James


27 February 2018

The 6 steps that took Business Woman of the Year, Fleur Sexton, to the top

PET-Xi’s Managing Director Fleur Sexton, British Chambers of Commerce Business Woman of the Year 2018

Ahead of next week’s annual British Chambers of Commerce conference on International Women’s Day, Thursday 8 March, we welcome their newly-crowned Business Woman of the Year, Fleur Sexton, Managing Director of PET-Xi Training to share her six top tips for aspiring business owners and leaders.

1. Build your network

Networking is about building long-term relationships and a good reputation over time. It’s about meeting business leaders with whom you have some synergy, getting to know people who you can assist, and who can potentially help you in return.

Look up your old contacts and give them a call. If you are setting up a new business a personal referral from a former colleague or client to a new customer can do much to help fast track your business.

There is also truth in the phrase ‘it’s lonely at the top’ when tough business decisions need to be made, decisions which aren’t appropriate to discuss with staff.  Surround yourself with other business leaders who can provide you with the support and advice you require as a problem shared is a problem halved. Always be prepared to return the favour.

2. Don’t be surprised when things go wrong

Don’t be surprised when things go wrong, it is part of the journey. Be resilient. If you fall down, get up, find a solution rather than wallow in despair. Businesses are not sanitized and both good and bad things will happen.

3. Empower yourself

Be resilient and be prepared to re-invent yourself. What worked today won’t necessarily work tomorrow. Time moves on, trends, policies and issues change, make sure you have the solution to meet the current challenges facing your clients.

4. Champion women in business

Real queens fix each other’s crowns.  Don’t lock horns with your fellow business women; create alliances to help each other be stronger together.

Support your female staff and accommodate the needs of working mums. One size does not fit all so reinvent the rules if need be.  20% of our staff at PET-Xi Training are working mums. All of them have valuable skills to bring to the mix so we make a concerted effort to try and make their life easier by providing free childcare on a daily basis. This has done much to strengthen camaraderie and loyalty.

5. Make rules to fit the people

Make rules to fit the people rather than find people to fit the rules. If you make rules to fit your staff and ensure you have a good work life balance it will be significantly easier to create a happy and productive workforce. Stressed staff working long hours typically don’t deliver long term. According to a report from Warwick University happy staff are 12% more productive.

6. Invest in training

Most employees have some weaknesses in terms of their workplace skills. A well thought out training programme will enable them and you to develop and strengthen those skills helping employees to feel more valued, confident and happy.

And please remember the ‘return to work’ mums; those who have had a career break to look after their children. Everyone has something to give but some just need a little help to sharpen up their skills. Train them and you can create close allies – and remember happy employees make happy clients!

Established in 1995, PET-Xi Training is a nationally renowned education training provider, working with hundreds of businesses and schools across the UK.


Fleur Sexton will be one of the panellists for the Diversity in Business discussion at next week’s conference for you to hear more advice from her and other business leaders. You could put top tip #1 into action straight away by building your network among all the advisors and attendees who’ll be there. The British Chambers of Commerce are offering a whopping £230 saving on tickets – contact Rose Averis: to get signed up.

BCC_LOGO_MASTER_REDBACKGROUNDThe British Library’s Business & IP Centre has been a partner of the British Chambers of Commerce for over 12 years and we have long worked together to help small businesses access the support and advice they need. Giving women entrepreneurs the networks, role models, skills and confidence they need is equally important to us and our Women Mean Business in the evening of the 8 March with Hilary Devey, Dessi Bell of fitness fashion brand Zaggora, and Precious Online founder Foluke Akinlose, will be webcast for free online so you catch it after the conference!

22 February 2018

Top 3 business resolutions for 2018

We asked three successful Innovating for Growth* businesses to share their top business priorities for 2018. From focusing on ethical production practices to planning achievable services that offer clear value to customers, here is how the owners of Asquith activewear, The Cocktail Lovers and Revival Retro Boutique plan to drive success and business growth.


A more customer-centric approach for Asquith


Alice Asquith, Founder and Creative Director:

For Asquith this year it’s about really focusing on what our customer wants, not what we think she wants. We carried out a customer survey in 2017 and it’s really helped us focus on their needs. 

We are working with more influencers than before who will offer health tips, healthy recipes, free yoga classes - giving more added value to our Customer. 

We also want to raise more awareness around being an ethical clothing brand by filming our factory in Turkey to give our Customer a clearer insight into our Ethical production practices.


A focus on strategy and planning for The Cocktail Lovers


Gary Sharpen and Sandrae Lawrence, Founders and Owners:

The timing of the British Library Innovating for Growth programme couldn't have been better for us. It clarified our thinking for the coming year, helping us to really focus. We are being very clear with our ambitions – specific timings, measurable goals and assessing required resource.

We will focus on actually leading our business – delegating more of its ongoing requirements through freelancers and project partners.

Finally yet equally importantly, we are identifying exactly how to grow the business – planning specific, achievable products, services and events that offer clear value to our customers and partners.


An emphasis on content for Revival Retro Boutique


Rowena Howie, Founder and Owner:

It’s all about content not keywords for the website in 2018! We well be reviewing our messaging to make sure viewers better understand the what, where and why.

For marketing we are going to use our best assets (our staff and our products) to convince new audiences they should visit the boutique: we will be popping up in selected spots all around Greater London.

Last but not least, we will develop our own range of clothing further. Greater control of our product range, delivery dates and pricing without competing with other online retailers of the same goods gives us an advantage especially if we continue to listen to feedback of what our customers expect.


* Are you an ambitious business owner looking to scale up? Innovating for Growth is a free three-month programme to help you turn your growth idea into a reality. Find out more here.


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

21 February 2018

The top 10 tips for starting up an online business from the experts

Internet icons

We gathered a panel of experts who have all made a success of running a business online, to find out what helped or hindered them.


The panel consisted of Tom Adeyoola, Founder and CEO of Metail, Rikke Rosenlund, Founder of BorrowMyDoggy, Karen Hanton MBE, Founder of and Sara Murray OBE, Founder of but more recently Buddi and Non-Executive Director of Each of them had plenty of advice for the audience of budding entrepreneurs.


1.       A background in tech is not essential

Although it would help, you don’t have to be a whizz at coding or know all there is to know about websites to be successful. Tom said “I’ve always been a strategy guy—but I knew enough about tech to be dangerous. You need to understand enough to know who you would need with you to solve the problem.” And Karen insisted “don’t be intimidated by tech!” Finding the right people to fill in the gaps in your own knowledge is a sensible move and you will learn who you need to help you do the parts you find more of a struggle.

2.      Find your people

For all our panel, finding the right people to work with was vital. “Don’t be scared to not know things—find people you can work with and conduct research,” says Karen. It’s a possible money saver for you, added Sara, “ask yourself how much tech knowledge do you need? Could you outsource to save costs?”

Tom agreed, saying: “Companies are moving towards Cambridge to get closer to AI research. Go back to where you studied to find your people. I co-funded a Phd student—he came to us instead of Google. He was interested in our problem and joining us to solve it, not how much he could earn.”

3.       Testing, testing

Rikke started out using the Lean Startup Methodology which essentially allows you to find a gap in the market where your business can solve a problem, provide a better service and (perhaps more importantly) allows you to find out if your business idea is even viable in the current market. She explained: “Most of you just starting out won’t have the benefit of unlimited pots of money, but the lean business model encourages you to use the resources that you do have in a controlled way, so you can be more efficient and plan for long-term.”

Having a safer way to test your business idea is a great way to start out and makes sure you’re in a better position financially if things don’t go to plan.

4.      Should you consider an app?

It could be tempting to launch an app as part of your business, but Tom explained that building web pages that are mobile responsive negate the need for an app. “They can be a hold up—apps take up space and people don’t want to download too many things onto their phone.” Perhaps further down the line you might have more time and funds to explore an app, but in the beginning the focus should be on the website.

5.      How high-tech is too high?

Much like not requiring a background in tech to get started, you don’t always have to use the most cutting-edge systems or tools to serve your customers. Karen used the example of her business of making travelling with your pet and suggested: “if you choose a life with a pet you are also possibly less inclined to spend time worrying about the latest technology, you’re too busy walking your dog!” By considering the demographic who will be using your services, leading tech may not always be the answer.

6.      Exit strategy

An important question raised was “should a business always have an exit strategy?” Karen answered “At the beginning I didn’t even know what one was—I learned terms like that along the way. Having one is not a bad idea, but my experience is that you should keep an eye on who might buy you out—but don’t focus on it. You might even partner with them instead.”

“It’s a modern term and I believe it’s detrimental to business,” added Sara. She paraphrased the great businessman Warren Buffet who said: “Build your business like you want to leave it to your grandchildren.” A business should be something you take care of and seek to grow rather than set out with a view to sell on as soon as you can.

7.       Money matters

“Don’t think about the money you’re going to make, think about the impact for the customer, make it about the difference you can make,” said Rikke. She gradually implemented fees for BorrowMyDoggy services, when initially it was free, but she offers more benefits to her customers (insurance for their beloved pet being one of them) that outweigh the costs, meaning they are more than happy to pay. Believing that you are charging a fair price and remaining confident in the face of a difficult sales pitch is no mean feat, but Rikke said that by building up slowly she kept prices fair and her customers trust her to provide a better product in return.

8.      Problem solving will help you find an audience

Tom explained “we live in a time now when it’s easier than ever to find consumers to test ideas cheaply. An exciting idea can be tested but think really hard about solving their problems first.” Once you know the problems or ‘pain points’ people have or experience when using a product or service, you can begin to understand the audience your business will be for.

BorrowMyDoggy started with Rikke noticing that dog owners wanted more options for dog care and that many people wanted to be able to enjoy a dog but didn’t have the ability to fully commit to owning one. Both these problems helped her to find a community of people her idea could help.

9.      Quit talking and start doing

“Beg, borrow, steal, everything” said Sara and “quit talking and start doing.” The panel had all discussed their ideas, but then they acted on them. Tom suggested asking yourself the first few questions: What makes your business unique? How are you going to get your product sold? Can you use tech to help? And go from there.

Make use of the Business & IP Centre” encouraged Rikke, “it’s a fantastic resource and can help you to take action and make your idea a reality.

10.   Stay passionate

The panel were unanimous on this one. Your business needs to be something you are passionate about – whatever it is. “This is a life choice,” said Karen. “A work life balance is great but it’s important to know that running your own business doesn’t give you much time off.”

Rikke agreed, adding “I’m a firm believer in passion – do something that helps you to enjoy the journey.” Building a business from scratch is daunting, but if it’s something you truly believe in, it will be so much easier.

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.