Innovation and enterprise blog

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

17 January 2020

How to start a business in 2020 if you don’t know what to do?

Anshul, founder of Academic Underdogs, started his business after recognising his desire to help people who had experienced similar problems to him and how much he enjoyed seeing the impact his work had on his customers. Since he began his business, Anshul has graduated from our Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme and has continued to grow his offering.

Academic Underdogs books

“What business should I start if I don’t know what to do?” and “How do I start a business with no money?” are two of the most common questions that land in my inbox.

Before starting my own business, Academic Underdogs, I also asked the very same questions to many successful entrepreneurs, but their answers left me feeling inspired but lacked the detail that I needed to take action.

Unfortunately, many of them were so far along their entrepreneurial journey that they couldn’t really remember those critical decisions they made in those early days, weeks and months.

I don’t blame them as after all, according to decay theory, we all tend to forget details in our short-term memory and only remember headline events in our long-term memory.

Thankfully, I recorded my decisions and every step I took in those few months in a journal and summarised them for you in this post.

How my business idea developed

On A Level results day I walked into college optimistic and hopeful. Standing in line, my teacher licked her fingers, flicked through the sheets and handed me my results.

D D D U

…Brilliant!

I joke about those grades now, but at the time they really really hurt. There was nothing I wanted more than to perform well and get into a decent university, but those four letters shattered my dreams.

For the first time in my life I didn’t feel like getting out of bed, and I’d just lie there for hours with a stream of negative thoughts running through my head. My parents had to physically pull me out to go downstairs and eat.

Looking back, it was probably a short spell of depression.

Little did I know then, but failing my A Levels and experiencing this trauma was a huge blessing in disguise. Without it, I wouldn’t have built the business I have today.

No one, not my parents and teachers, anticipated what would happen after receiving my dismal results. In a moment of random luck, I met someone who had been in my shoes a few years earlier. After a short conversation with him, something in my head changed and I felt quite confident that I could improve. I couldn’t articulate why that happened, but it did.

Somehow, the sting of those bad grades combined with direction from this older mentor created the perfect conditions for change. I created a written plan on how I was going to secure the grades I needed to get into university. Plans and goals were nothing new to me and I’d made plenty of them before without acting on them. But this time it was different.

Many of my bad habits went out the window and I became more productive. My understanding of topics improved the more I worked, grades improved and belief system completely changed. A year later I walked into college on results day and walked out with straight As. Many of my module marks were above 90% and I had secured a place at a top university. It was one of the biggest turnarounds my teachers had ever seen.

Then, at university I went on to achieve first class honours and an award by the dean of students for achieving one of the highest degree scores in my year group. Lots of people achieve good grades, though right?

My achievements may not seem that special to some, especially those who got As and A*s on their first go. However, for a kid who had low self-esteem and was told to consider other options at the age of 17, achieving these grades felt like coming back from 6-0 down to win the champions league final!

How I turned the idea into reality

Three years passed since I graduated, and I was working at a proprietary trading firm in London. My job involved taking speculative bets in the financial markets, and later, programming software that traded various futures contracts like the German 10-year Government Bond, EUROStoxx 50 and FTSE 100.

After one horrific month where I lost several months of profit in a few days, I took a couple weeks off to execute an idea that I’d been sitting on since school. I wanted to help students who had failed their A Levels.

My initial idea was to start a blog, then after word vomiting 5,000 words into Microsoft Word, I realised how much I had to say on this topic. After teaming up with my best friend, this ‘side project’ eventually became a full-blown book called How to ACE Your A-Levels.

How I got my first customer

Filled with grammar and spelling mistakes, we published the book on Amazon as an eBook and waited.

Two days later we got our first sale and a few weeks later, we got our first review…

Amazon review for Academic Underdogs

This changed everything.

I wasn’t sure if the book would actually be valuable to anyone, up until this point. Louise’s review was the first indication that I was on to something. I hadn’t spent a penny on the venture so far, but now with proof of concept, it was time to invest.

How I launched my first marketing campaign

My target market spent hours scrolling through social media every day. So, I discarded all the marketing strategies that had nothing to do with social media marketing, like offline advertising using leaflets.

After creating a list of online marketing strategies, I systematically tried each one until I found one that worked. Facebook at that time had a very engaged user base in the UK, and over 300,000 17 year olds used the platform. Delivering paid ads here offered the best rate of return, but my campaigns didn’t achieve the sales numbers that I wanted.

This is when I decided to create a video campaign to promote How to ACE Your A-Levels. But there was a problem. Agencies were quoting me £2,000 - £5,000 to create the video. By searching around, I found a DIY animation software called Sparkol Video Scribe that you could use to create whiteboard explainer videos. Using this tool, I created this video…

The audio was rubbish (recorded it on my phone), it looked a little amateur and had a spelling mistake – but it worked!

My story resonated with a lot of students. The video generated hundreds of thousands of views across YouTube and Facebook, and around £50k of sales. Creating the video only cost me £12.

How I grew the business

After the success of the first book, I wrote How to ACE Your GCSEs and a three-part series called ‘Level UP’ for university students. My marketing campaigns reached over four million students and generated over £300,000 in sales two years. By leveraging the success of the books, I created a set of workshops and a one-on-one mentorship programme for schools.

I now spend most of my time creating online content, driving traffic to my website and delivering programmes to schools.

Create a product that alleviates a problem

If you want to start a business, but don’t have an idea, start one that alleviates a problem, especially one you’ve had in the past. Not only will this create a psychological tailwind that helps you through the inevitable challenges that come with growing a venture, but you and everything you touch will become relatable. People are more intuitive than you think. Your copy on the website, sales pitches, products and brand will show that you ‘get it’.

There is a silver lining with emotional trauma or any other kind of trauma. That is, once you have been through it, you join an exclusive club with others who have been through it too.

Try this… go find someone with that has experienced similar trauma to you and have a conversation with them. You will naturally want to advise or help them in some way and you will leave that conversation feeling fulfilled. Not that momentary fulfilment you get from a Netflix binge or praise from your manager, this is enduring fulfilment. Helping others leaves a glow of satisfaction that sticks around for a few hours after you’ve done the deed. Now imagine writing a book for all those members and receiving hundreds of reviews and emails thanking you for your help. Each one will provide a dose of motivation. Then imagine creating a service or a piece of software that can add even more value to that group. Hundreds of emails turn into thousands. How would you feel then?

Sitting on your hands for too long? Try selling information

If you are a little risk-averse and short of cash, selling information is a great ‘gateway’ business. It doesn’t cost a thing to write and publish your thoughts online. Whether it be a blog, book or course. Even if you don’t make a fortune, you will learn a lot and your attitude to risk will change. I no longer hesitate to invest cash into an experiment that may or may not work.

Mug with begin written on it

How to start a business that alleviates a problem

  1. Write down all the traumatic events you’ve experienced in the past – highlight those you are proud of overcoming
  2. Go to your local library - Grab your essentials, your laptop and leave your phone at home (no excuses - give someone the library telephone number in case of an emergency)
  3. Word vomit 5,000 words about your traumatic experience and how you overcame it

While writing, did you reach a state of flow where you lost track of time? Did you enjoy telling your story? If so, schedule in another session at the Library because you just might be on to something.

Once you’ve written 20,000+ words, drop me an e-mail – anshul@academicunderdogs.com

To find out more information about the Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme, visit our website.

13 January 2020

Meet our delivery partner: Bang Creations and London IP

Are you an inventor or innovator? Our delivery partners Bang Creations, an international product design and innovations agency, started running their workshop, Design and protect your product to maximise sales, over six years ago, alongside London IP, a boutique firm of patent and trademark attorneys that specializes in helping clients acquire, maintain and enforce IP rights. The workshop is split in two halves to help you with the intellectual property (IP) of a product and how to ensure that you design a commercially viable, marketable product.

The first half of the programme is led by Bang Creations, who have worked with multi-nationals through to start-ups and inventors for over 20 years. Bang also share their own experience of inventing, manufacturing and selling their own products internationally via Kickstarter and online via sites such as Amazon.

Stefan Knox, from Bang Creations, on stage at the British Library
Stefan Knox, from Bang Creations, on stage at the British Library

It can be very difficult to work out which question you answer first and how to organise all the activity into an efficient plan.

The first part helps you to formulate a plan, covering:

  • How to design your product to maximise its unique selling points
  • How to evaluate the method of manufacture and production
  • What volumes you should work to
  • How to cost the product and calculate your retail pricing strategy
  • How to ensure the design works through to the branding and how to get your product into the marketplace

The workshop concludes with how to execute that plan, how to brief a design agency, what to expect for your investment and how and when to prototype.

Once your head is buzzing with the images of your product, how it can be designed to be market ready, and the plans of getting it to market are formulating in your head, you will be wondering “How do I protect this idea?” The second half of the workshop is delivered by London IP, who will run through how to obtain registered forms of Intellectual Property (IP) protection for your product, namely patents and design registrations, as well as guidance on avoiding infringement of existing IP rights and avoiding pitfalls with IP ownership.

London IP’s David Warrilow, a chartered patent and trademark attorney, runs the other half of the workshop. Here David explains why IP is critical to consider before launching a new product…

David Warrilow
David Warrilow

Avoiding infringement of existing IP rights, protecting a new product, and IP ownership are all crucial matters. The British Library wanted a workshop that can help entrepreneurs and small and start-up businesses who wish to take their idea to market but are confused on what to do next.

  • Do you protect your idea, or do you go straight to prototype?
  • How do you work out if your idea is any good and worth investing in? Should you even do it?
  • How do you engage a product design agency- and if you do, what should you expect?
  • How do you plan out a development journey and very importantly what are the costs?

Infringement

Even if a product is completely new it can still infringe existing IP rights.

Our seminar explains why and how you can avoid infringement issues. It is important to consider infringement issues early on when developing new products to avoid wasting money on the detailed design and tooling for a product that can’t be sold.

At the seminar we give the real-life example of ‘Mr T’, who spent over £200,000 before finding out his product infringed a patent and he had to close his start-up business. Had Mr T come to our seminar that might not have happened.

Protection

Many entrepreneurs are not aware that soon as a new product has been non-confidentially disclosed it is impossible to obtain valid patent and design protection in most countries unless applications have already been filed.

At our seminar we provide guidance as to when and where to file both patent and design applications, and run through some useful filing strategies.

We also explain the reality of seeking IP protection in terms of costs and timescales, and reasons why you might wish to consider protection.

For example, did you know that if you have a UK patent granted your business can have its corporation tax (on profits related to the invention) halved?

IP Ownership

If you pay someone to build you a house you own the house once the work is done.

Q: If you pay someone to design you a product (or do any other work that generates IP rights) will you own the IP rights to the product?

A: Not necessarily, and the law is counterintuitive this leads to many disputes.

At our seminar we tell you how to keep ownership of the IP rights that are created as a product and its marketing materials are developed.

From having protected the interior design of the new Routemaster bus, registered the names of Zayn Malik, Sister Sledge and footballer Jamie Vardy as trademarks, patented a new fingerprinting technique for the Metropolitan Police, and helped hundreds of small businesses and individuals with their first forays into the world of intellectual property, London IP has extensive experience working with all sizes of clients from all sectors to provide high quality, affordable IP advice.

Case Study – Improvements In Helmets

J Brett realised her product idea after attending one of our workshops and one-to-one sessions at the British Library. Bang Creations invented her idea and London IP patented it, before J Brett took her licensed product to manufacturers to licence it.

Design by Bang Creations Ltd:

Case Study – Improvements In Helmets
Case Study – Improvements In Helmets

UK Patent Pending No. GB1801734.3 by London IP Ltd:

Case Study – Improvements In Helmets
Case Study – Improvements In Helmets

A helmet 1 comprises a recess 2 adapted to house a head of a user and a chinstrap 6, 8 to secure the helmet to the head of a user. The chinstrap 6, 8 is formed of substantially inelastic material and is securable under a user's chin by releasably attaching a first connector 10 to a second connector 11. Each connector 10, 11 is attached to a portion of chinstrap 6, 8 and the portion of each chinstrap is attached to a portion of elastic material 12, 13 such that the portion of chinstrap 6, 8 is extensible under force applied by a user and retractable by contraction of the portion of elastic material. The helmet further comprises a first clamping mechanism 19 and a second clamping mechanism 21 operable by a user to releasably clamp the chinstraps 6, 8 such that a chosen length of the chinstrap extends from the helmet.

Other businesses who have taken their ideas through to market after attending one of our workshops include a thermoelectric camping stove, a hair tapestry device, and a £35k carbon fibre trimaran sailing boat.

One-to-ones

You can also receive expert confidential advice on your product idea with one-to-one sessions with David and Stefan, which are made up of 30 minutes with David and 30 minutes with Stefan. This is only open to those who have attended the workshop as they come prepared with the relevant questions and information to make the session as efficient as possible.

For more information about Bang Creations, visit their website.

For more information about London IP, visit their website.

You can see all of the British Library’s Business & IP Centre’s upcoming workshops and events here.

06 January 2020

IP Corner: How to choose a trade mark

We currently have a great exhibition on at the British Library on Buddhism, covering its origins, its art and its relevance today and I was lucky enough, to take a look at it.

Buddhism exhibition - Buddha being born

Buddhism began in sixth century in north India with the first encounters between Buddhist culture and the West occurring as far back as at least the fourth century. It is the world's fourth-largest religion with over 520 million followers, or over 7% of the global population, known as Buddhists.

Now, being a bit of an intellectual property (IP) nerd, IP is usually in the back of my mind as I wander through the various exhibitions. The recent British Library Writing and Leonardo da Vinci exhibitions were an absolute gift to someone like me who enjoys digging for relevant intellectual property material. However, Buddhism is a slightly more difficult topic methinks!

It didn’t stop me though, I now know that there are 3,881 registered designs to be found though searching the DesignView database (the database holds designs from 65 countries in total). Sadly though, none of the designs were actually still in force, they had all either ’lapsed’ or ‘ended’. Some of them covered very intricate designs such as the design for a pendant shown below.

Buddha pendant
This Buddha pendant was made to a French design registered by Societe d'initiative commerciale, which lapsed in 1921. Lapsed usually means that the rights holder did not keep up payment of the renewal fees.

And what about patents? Well a quick, top level patent search through the Espacenet database looking for patents for moving Buddha items and using the keywords; statue? and mov* and buddh* resulted in 13 hits including:

  1. Adjustable Buddha statue fixing seat - CN107224179 (A)
  2. Decorative bronze statue with lighting function - CN209063788 (U)
  3. Hollow bronze statue with built-in incense burner - CN209063787 (U)
  4. Hanging niche for statue of Buddha - CN204427578 (U)
  5. Buddhist melody player - CN204015893 (U)

Unfortunately, these are all either Chinese patents or Chinese utility models (short-term national patents) and the drawings are extremely hard to decipher, so I didn’t feel there was much point in including them here.

Trade marks on the other hand, there were 179 trade marks designating the United Kingdom which included the word ‘Buddha’. These trade marks were registered in classes which cover all sorts of goods and services. EU002695005 ‘Buddha-Bar’ for example is owned by GEORGE V EATERTAINMENT of Paris, France and is protected in various classes including perfumes, soaps etc., jewellery and horological instruments, household/kitchen utensils etc. plus a number of other categories of goods and services.

Looking at the various trade marks and the goods and services covered did make me think about how people choose their trade mark or their company name. As a consumer I have to say that personally I would expect any trade mark containing the word ‘Buddha’ to be connected in some way to Buddhism and the Buddhist religion. Perhaps that is the intention?

Trade marks, generally speaking, are used to indicate the origin of goods or services using “graphic” means. This usually means words, logos, pictures or possibly a combination of all these elements. Since a trade mark is likely to be one of the most valuable assets a company will own, it is worth taking time to choose a good one.

A new trade mark must not only not be the same as an existing mark, but it must also not be confusingly similar. So it’s important to do a thorough search (or to have a professional one done for you) through not only the UK trade mark system, but through all countries or regions in which you want to trade.

You can search trade marks through the Government’s website, which contains details of all UK national trade marks as well as all Community and International trade marks that designate the United Kingdom. For more countries/wider coverage try TM View

So some search key pointers;

  • A trade mark is a badge of origin, used so that customers can recognise the product of a particular trader. Choose one that is distinctive for the goods or services you are intending to supply for example McDonalds, Wimpey, and Burger King immediately identify the desired burger or other fast food product.
  • Making your trade mark up is a good idea - think Adidas, Kodak, and Nike.
  • Don’t use words which describe what you do, descriptive marks will be refused registration.
  • Don’t try and register a mark which shows quality, quantity, purpose or value, again registration will be refused.
  • When searching similar marks it is necessary to take into account how the marks sound when spoken as well as how they appear in print. Just changing, omitting or adding letters to an existing trade mark does not necessarily (in fact it will very rarely) result in a new trade mark.

Whilst trade marks help consumers to differentiate the goods and services of one provider from those of a competitor, they also assure the consumer of a certain level of quality of goods or service.

In the same way company names can also be powerful things and the right name can give you a lead in your chosen area of business. So are my thoughts on choosing a company name;

  • Keep it simple, think Apple, Orange, Blackberry. All large electronic companies with small but easily remembered company names.
  • Avoid quirky spellings. They might seem trendy or dynamic but constantly having to correct misspellings will simply become old and tiresome after a very short while.
  • Think about where you would like your business to be in the next five or ten years and avoid any name that might give the impression your business is a one trick pony. You are bound to want to grow and potentially branch out into other areas of business.
  • Think about whether or not you want your company name to also be your trade mark. A company name is not the same as a trade mark so if it’s important in trading, register the wording as a trade mark if possible.
  • Think about the image you are trying to portray to your intended market e.g. homely or luxurious or reliable or safe and try and chose a name the fits that image in their minds.

This actually leads me (briefly, I promise!) on to another topic, domain names! It is worth pointing out that trade marks, company names and domain names are three entirely separate things and that ownership of one does not automatically entitle you to ownership of the other two.

A domain name however can sometimes be more effective than a trade mark – think Compare-the-Market.com and the trials and tribulations of Aleksandr, Sergei, Oleg and Ayana!

Compare the Market would not have been accepted for registration as a trade mark as it is descriptive, but clever marketing turned a virtually unknown business into a much loved (by me at least!) TV ad soap opera.

If you are not sure, or if you would like more information please visit your local Business & IP Centre. Most of the BIPCs will offer access to a database called COBRA and from there you can find two business information factsheets that will provide help on the topic of choosing a name for your business or domain. The fact sheets in question are:

  • BIF096 “Choosing and registering an internet domain name”
  • BIF368 “Choosing business and Company names”

Maria Lampert, Intellectual Property Expert at the Business & IP Centre London

Maria has worked in the field of intellectual property since she joined the British Library in January 1993. She is currently the British Library Business & IP Centre’s Intellectual Property Expert, where she delivers 1-2-1 business and IP advice clinics, as well as intellectual property workshops and webinars on regular basis.