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

28 February 2021

Innovating for Growth Diary - Sian Zeng

Every quarter, Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups chooses 18 high-growth businesses to take part in our 10 week programme designed to help business owners re-evaluate their business across areas such as marketing, products and services and business model.

We have been speaking to Sian, founder and director of luxury wallpaper business Sian Zeng, who is one of our latest Innovating for Growth cohort, to see firsthand the impact of the programme on her business. In this first installment of her diary, we meet Sian, hear about how she started her business, and discover how her first batch of Innovating for Growth one-to-one sessions and workshops have helped her re-evaluate her priorities. 

'Hi, I’m Sian, Founder, and Director of Sian Zeng; we create innovative wallpapers and wall decorations that enchant and delight. Reproduced from original artwork, our captivating designs take inspiration from fairytales and the natural world, all with the intention of helping people bring art, nature, and imagination into their homes.

Sian Zeng painting one of her bespoke wallpapers
Photo: Veerle Evens for Etsy

We sell a range of products to cater to different spaces and budgets, with our dreamy designs available as both classic and magnetic wallpapers, as well as our growing collection of removable wall stickers. Our magnetic wallpaper is one of our most unique products that allow users to place magnets onto their wall, like a fridge or radiator. Our cast of magnetic characters and illustrations were designed with this in mind; move our magnets across the surface of our magnetic wallpaper and suddenly it’s not just a wall - it’s the backdrop to a story. Since opening, our products have been featured in Elle Decoration, The Sunday Times and The Telegraph, and in 2019, we were awarded the honour of the Grand Prize at the Etsy Design Awards.

I started my company shortly after graduating from University and as a result, I had very little business experience. A creative first and foremost, part of me always knew there would always be gaps in my knowledge that could be a game-changer for my company. After more than a decade of growing my business organically and at a steady pace, I thought it was time to see how I could accelerate our growth whilst still maintaining our meaning. So here enters the Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme.

At the first group session with Rasheed Ogunlaru, Getting Ready for Growth, I met members of my cohort and it was so inspiring to hear their stories as well as share my own. What really resonated with me from that session was when Rasheed said something along the lines of “this isn’t about giving up the part of your business you’re most passionate about.” I immediately thought about how I had begun to outsource the creative side of things recently, becoming more of an art director rather than painter/designer for upcoming collections. This was the reason I had started my business more than a decade ago - to create unusual, beautiful illustrations for interior spaces - but the more the brand grew, the more I felt I should be focussing on other aspects. This was a big light bulb moment for me. 

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I really like how the course is structured, where each session leads into the next. We began with a business model workshop and then our first one-to-one session, which allowed me to really step back and see my business structure from a bird’s eye view. Then at my one-to-one with Robert Foster from Red Ochre, we delved deeply into my business structure and worked together to create a detailed plan of what to do next.

One of the main things that arose during our session was that I felt spread too thin. As founder and director of a company, it can feel like you have to not only oversee everything but do most of it too, when actually a lot of the tasks could be delegated to my team members. Robert suggested I create a delegation stack to help me categorise tasks into ones I can delegate, automate, divest or outsource. Once I’d done this exercise, I found I’d freed up lots of my time already.

As a high-end wallpaper company, we’ve always paid lots of attention to branding as it is an integral part of the quality and craftsmanship we portray. Our message has always been creating luxury, innovative and dreamy wall coverings for the home. During my workshop with ABA Design, I was presented with the personality archetypes. It was here I discovered there were more elements to our brand personality and I was able to refine it even further, making it easier for us to feed all our designs into our values.

Our archetypes were ‘the creator’, ‘the explorer’ and ‘the magician’. I always felt like creativity was integral to our brand, and with exploration, this definitely ties into the adventurous element of our designs, as well as my constant experimentation with new technologies in the design process of our wallpapers. The magician part surprised me the most but makes a lot of sense; many of our designs contain magical elements, such as a bear riding a crane or flying hands that look like birds in mid-flight. 

Over the past few years, I have noticed a clear trend, where our company’s growth is directly linked to the release of new collections. As a result, I made it my priority to release collections more frequently and bring in help to facilitate faster product launches. During my product and service innovation session with Fluxx, we discussed how I could make this process more efficient. They suggested I should write down every step involved in the development of a product so I can see how much involvement is necessary from me at each step. From there, I can decide where I can bring in help, tighten up the process and minimise my workload, so it can be focussed elsewhere. This really helped me to oversee a very integral element of the business that will enable us to accelerate our growth.

I have very much enjoyed the first half of the programme and feel it has already brought tangible benefits to my business. I am more confident about the direction we need to take as a brand and how we can grow with our core values in mind. If you would like to explore our designs and keep up to date with our journey please follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

In a month’s time you will hear from me again about the second half of the programme.

Until then, wishing you all lots of magical moments!'

24 February 2021

Start-up Stars: Taste of Success

Last week at our Start-up Stars: Taste of Success event we heard from Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups businesses, Chilli Tuk Tuk, The Good Slice, Ming Foods and Enrica Rocca on how they entered into the busy and thriving world of food and drinks businesses. What were the key takeaways from the event?

  • Don’t be a perfectionist, learn from your mistakes and keep going when you are challenged
  • Have the right people alongside you
  • Have a passion for your product

Start-up Stars event Zoom screenshot

On top of these, we’ve rounded up some of our favourite insights and lessons shared by our panel during the evening:

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Calum and Ed, co-founders of The Good Slice, spoke about their business with purpose saying “it gives us a reason to get up in the morning”. When they were getting started they were balancing lots of different roles, including working in their day jobs. They realised that it’s key to ‘not try to bite too much off too quickly’ when growing, and keep it manageable. As Sam said ‘ignore the voice in your head telling you everything has to be perfect, it’s helpful to acknowledge that it’s ok to make mistakes as long as you learn.’

Charlotte, who took over her mother’s cookery school business, Enrica Rocca, along with her sister spoke about optimising marketing opportunities by getting their clients to rate them on TripAdvisor and working to get free press coverage where possible. She mentioned something pertinent she learnt from taking part in Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups which was ‘you can’t do it all, and you can’t do it all well’. She explained that realising this forced her to prioritise her time better, for example, by starting to use a bookkeeper to outsource certain tasks.

Sam Duong

Sam, founder of Ming Foods, has seen huge success in his business, selling over a billion pancakes and growing from a team of 6 to 18. Yet, he still says that some of the challenges his business has faced means it’s ‘like riding on the back of a tiger, it’s a very hungry tiger and at any moment it just wants to turn around and gobble you up, so you get very good at riding tigers.’ He says the key to his success has been resilience and training up his staff to a high standard. His top three tips for start-up food businesses:1) look at margins, 2) be all over health and safety and legal requirements, and 3) love the product -  “If you don’t really love the product then you can’t speak about it passionately”.

Amisha, who is the co-founder of award-winning Indian takeaway Chilli Tuk Tuk discussed the complexities of starting up: ‘being a start-up is so incredibly tough but entrepreneurs shouldn’t get lost in perfectionism.’ Instead Amisha discussed the importance of resilience above all else, as well as motivation and determination – ‘it helps to surround yourself with motivating people’. She also elaborated on running a business with family commitments explaining that “you have to say no to things”.

Our panel also all mentioned the benefit to them of taking part in Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups. For any businesses ready to grow and move to the next stage, applications for the next round are still open until 3 March. Head to bl.uk/grow for more.

Our Start-up Stars events are for members of our Start-ups in London Libraries and Innovating for Growth communities. To find out more about these, visit bl.uk/SiLL and bl.uk/grow.

22 February 2021

Meet the Reset. Restart experts

Our Reset. Restart programme couldn’t run without the knowledge and expertise of our delivery partners. Here we introduce all the people you’ll find talking you through each topic and providing the answers to your questions.

Anis Qizilbash

Reset. Restart: your mindset (introduction to programme)

Anis Qizilbash sat on steps outside

Who runs it?

Reset. Restart: your mindset is run by motivational keynote speaker, coach and creator of Mindful Selling, Anis Qizilbash. As someone who recovered from depression and addiction, Anis has helped 1,000s of freelancers and start-ups gain clarity and confidence to grow their business. She delivers keynotes at conferences around the world helping leaders and teams up their game. She has appeared in The Guardian, Entrepreneur, Forbes, amongst others, for her insights. She shares mindset tips and strategies on her YouTube Channel. Here’s more from Anis.

When coaching the founder of a services start-up, let’s call him Arjun, we begun the first of many pre-meeting strategy coaching sessions – that’s a coaching session I arrange with my clients to help them prepare for their important prospect meetings. Typically, these coaching sessions are arranged the morning of or the night before their prospect meeting.

While practicing our drills, usually eloquent and prescient in the way he speaks, Arjun was fumbling, withering and dithering. He knew what needed to be asked and said to get his potential client’s buy in, but it just wasn’t coming out right. He could feel it was off, too.

“What’s on your mind?” I asked him.
“I am nervous, this is such an important client and it could make or break us. I am scared of messing it up.”
“How would you rate your confidence on a scale of 1 to 10?”
“Minus one bajillion”.
“So it could be better?” We laughed. But his body language said it all, slumped shoulders, shallow quick breathing, eyes darting. It was like a shadow of Arjun.

After further probing I walked Arjun through a few mindset exercises, it only took a few minutes. Afterwards he straightened his shoulders, sat upright, looked right in the camera (it was a Zoom meeting), and in a measured and succinct manner, easily steered our rehearsal meeting, touching on the points we discussed, with wit and passion and broad smile on his face. I felt like Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, “by George he’s got it”. The real Arjun had returned. He felt as ready as he could be.
His meeting went well, he secured a follow-up meeting to move the proposal forward.

Is this for you?

Reset. Restart: your mindset is perfect for you if you want to learn how to reset your mind so you can bring your best self to the moment, whatever moment that might be. You want to shake off a negative spiral so you can sort out on oversight on your product; stop stressing about no sales pipeline so you can do something constructive; a news-headline triggered you and now you’re feeling hopeless; your kids are driving you up the wall; you’re finding it hard to focus. Or maybe you want to switch off at the end of the day so you can enjoy me-time or time with your loved ones. In this session, you will ponder, you will practice, and you will leave equipped with practical tools empowering you to bring your A-game in any situation.

Johnny Martin

Reset. Restart: your finances

Johnny Martin

Johnny Martin FCA is the Numbers Coach – an experienced Finance Director and BIPC partner who now passionately demystifies business numbers and jargon. He is the author of the highly acclaimed book Understanding Your Business Finances.

It’s much easier to run a big business than a small business. You have a team to delegate to. And you can delegate all those things you don’t enjoy. Which normally includes finance!

But why is finance the most unloved part of running a business when we know it is so crucial. Part of it is to do with numbers, part to do with jargon and part to do with early childhood experiences of money and maths!

But I think also entrepreneurs in the main love what they do and that is their passion, the business side is a “distraction”. So what this webinar will do is encourage you to look at the business side with more enthusiasm. It’s not about making anyone an accountant, but with three key principles and about 30 words you will be able to look at your accounts and cashflow with greater clarity.

A key message from the webinar is that it’s not just your business finance you need to look at. I am a firm believer that most businesses that get into trouble do so not because of the businesses finances being out of control, but the owners. So we will look at some resources to help control and plan your personal and business finance.

Undoubtedly one of the hardest things when running a business is getting on top of, and keeping on top of, your finances. After all, when getting your finances under control you not only have to compete with numbers and figures, but all of the jargon as well. This webinar will break down what you need to know and understand into seven key steps. By the end you will be much more confident in managing this important aspect of your business.

This workshop will cover:

  • the key jargon
  • using a case study to help you get clear on your cash position
  • best ways to manage cashflow including making sure you get a salary
  • how to budget both for the business and yourself
  • online accounting tools to help you
  • how to get financial help
  • establishing routines for more robust finances.

Tonisha Tagoe

Reset. Restart: your social and environmental impact

Tonisha Tagoe

Tonisha Tagoe is a Cannes award-winning film and television producer, academic, executive coach, start-up consultant and mother. Over the past 15 years, she has worked with successful individuals including Robert Greene, Michael Essen, James Caan and produced evergreen content for various media powerhouses such as Start-Up Loans, BET UK, Metro Bank and the MOBO Awards. Tonisha is currently a work-based Learning Lecturer specialising in the development of entrepreneurs.

This webinar is focused around teaching consumers and business owners alike how to be more environmentally and socially responsible. These two key principles are at the forefront of my mind, and I am passionate about equipping entrepreneurs with the skills and knowledge needed to succeed the right way. Businesses must now pivot their practices and reduce their impact on the environment while providing prosperity to our local communities, and my webinar shows participants how to do exactly that.

Key takeaways:

  • How to pivot to more sustainable business practices
  • The best methods for reducing our waste
  • Sharing business assets that can help local communities
  • Case studies of businesses who went green and remained successful
  • How increasing our social impact can improve long-term sustainability.

Paul Grant

Reset. Restart: your funding options

Paul Grant

Paul Grant has been running workshops, webinars and masterclasses for more than a decade with the BIPC, principally focusing on funding and growing a business. He is founder of The Funding Game which offers practical guidance, support, tools, events and networking opportunities for entrepreneurs seeking capital for their start-up and scale-up ventures. Paul is an experienced entrepreneur and was founder of a London-based company for seven years which was funded through equity and debt finance. The company offered London-wide catering to the corporate and retail markets. Paul then worked with BA Capital and Capital Partners Private Equity Ltd. where he built a network of over 500 business angels, while coaching entrepreneurs individually and in groups on all aspects of funding and growing their early-stage businesses. Here’s more from Paul.

One of the biggest hurdles of early stage companies is fundraising. Entrepreneurs looking for investment often face difficulty when navigating their way through the many funding options available without giving away too much control of their company. I have spent many years demystifying the funding game for entrepreneurs so that they can take the right decisions when it comes to launching and growing their businesses.

What’s covered?

My webinars helps entrepreneurs discover routes to capital that they may not have heard of before, and decide on the best approaches for their business. Included in the session is advice on the latest government loans and support initiatives, and how to take advantage of angel investment and crowdfunding.

What can attendees expect?

Attendees can expect pacy and highly interactive sessions packed with valuable content and practical guidance. All events include follow-up information and support, as well as road-tested formulas and templates for attracting investment that have been validated by hundreds of investors. My aim is for everyone attending his events to leave with clarity and confidence about securing the right investment, so they are free to spend more time on their business.

Kay Kukoyi

Reset. Restart: your digital productivity

Kay Kukoyi

Kay Kukoyi is a Software Delivery Specialist, global tech startup mentor, author, speaker, and lecturer. She has written five books for entrepreneurs and SMEs, including an Amazon international bestseller, and has been recognised on the #IB100, the Financial Times and Inclusive Boards list of the 100 Most Influential BAME Leaders in the UK Technology Sector.

Kay is the CEO and Founder of Purposeful Group, which encompasses multiple brands that support and empower thousands of entrepreneurs around the world to start their businesses the SMART way through books, mentoring, masterclasses, and programmes.

Why does it matter?

The smart and efficient use of technology is a secret weapon for entrepreneurs. Unfortunately many aren't aware of all the tech and tools available that would make their lives much easier.

When people come to the Reset. Restart: your digital productivity webinar, many are surprised by the number of business tools that are available free of charge that they don't know about, so we're hoping to rock your world with new options and opportunities that you can take from the workshop and start using right away!

Who is it for?

The workshop is for new entrepreneurs but also people who have been running a business for some time and haven't had a chance to explore the latest software and strategies available to people running their own businesses. Maybe you've just been so busy you haven't had time to explore what's out there, or maybe you're someone who's felt nervous about using new software because it feels too overwhelming. In either case you'll be shown some great, easy-to-use tools that I hope will inspire you!

What to expect

You'll be attending the workshop with entrepreneurs from all over the country, and you'll be able to ask questions at any time. There's often some lively banter, with people participating and sharing that good British sense of humour so it feels like a fun event. The major feedback that we've received from attendees is that they learn a lot.

People are free to share what they do, and sometimes others want to connect, so you may be able to do a spot of networking too!

If you're able to get onto one of the workshop follow-up sessions, those are more intimate with a maximum of 10 people in a group, and you'll get a chance to discuss your business. Together, we'll work through any business challenges you have and the tools that would be most useful to help you move forward.

Robbie Dale and Michael Murdoch

Reset. Restart: your customer offer

Michael and Robbie

Michael founded The House branding and marketing agency in 2009 and has been a Brand Strategist for nearly 20 years working with emerging and established organisations around the world.

Robbie is a creative director and writer with nearly 20 years’ experience who was named in both the inaugural BIMA Hot 100 and Drum Digerati for his input into the British digital marketing industry.

This webinar takes a detailed look at the Value Proposition Canvas, a well-known framework that makes it easy to see if your business is providing the value your customers are looking for. Or, to put it another way, the Value Proposition Canvas helps you ensure your customer offer is something that customers are actually interested in, and - crucially - that your customer offer is something they're willing to give up their time, energy and money for. We look at the different areas of the canvas: jobs customers need to do, pains customers are trying to avoid, gains customers are trying to achieve, the product or service you offer, and the ways in which that product or service relieves customers' pains and provides gains to them. In doing this, we help organisations understand that the things they do ultimately need to mirror the things their customers are looking to do. That's what makes for a product or service that is in high demand and gets talked about.

Every webinar ends with an open Q&A session so we can give live, bespoke feedback on challenges businesses are facing day-to-day.

So, if you're struggling to get people excited about what you do, unclear about how you can stand out from the competition or simply want to better understand what makes people buy from certain brands, then this webinar is for you.

Robert Foster and Uday Thakkar

Reset. Restart: your business model

Robert Foster

Robert is a marketing expert who started, grew, and sold a successful online business. Robert has been a business advisor since 2002 and has helped thousands of entrepreneurs to succeed. He is an expert in strategy, business planning, marketing, project management and innovation. He has years of experience in using business model development to help entrepreneurs improve their businesses.

Uday is a serial entrepreneur, having started and sold several businesses. Since 2002, Uday has been a business support advisor, winning a national award for mentoring. He is a much in demand trainer and coach and has helped thousands of entrepreneurs to succeed. He is an expert in strategy, business planning, finance, leadership development and marketing. He has years of experience in using business model development to help entrepreneurs improve their businesses.

“Business modelling is a wide and often misunderstood subject. This webinar will explain what a business model is, and where it fits in the business strategy process.

We start with a discussion of the relationship between strategy and business modelling and specifically the cause of major failure in implementing effective business strategies.

During the course of the webinar we go on to explore the various aspects of a business model from problem, customer, solution, and value proposition all the way through to operations, market engagement and underlying financial models.

We use a variety of example case studies, checklists and discussion points to explore this from a practical perspective. Also covered is hypothesis testing, pivots and business decision-making.

This practically focused session can serve as an introduction for aspiring entrepreneurs, as a refresher for more established entrepreneurs or as a masterclass for more experienced business owners looking to move their enterprise to the next level.”

Stefan Knox

Reset. Restart: your products and services

Stefan Knox

Stefan is an award-winning designer, specialising in invention, product design and manufacture. Before establishing Bang Creations in 1999, he was responsible for boys’ toys at Hasbro EU, working on brands including Action Man, Star Wars and Nerf. Through Bang Creations, he has worked with global teams to generate innovative, yet commercial products and get them to market. Stefan is a named inventor on over 25 granted patents and has licenced dozens of ideas across a variety of industries.

In this webinar I introduce ‘design thinking’ as a methodology to generate new ideas, turn them in to concepts and prototype and test them. There are four ways of thinking. 1) analytical 2) judgmental 3) routine and 4) creative. Creative thinking’s been ‘schooled out’ of many of us, yet is critical to solving the problems facing us.

Creative thinking’s often thought of that flash of inspiration. That Eureka moment. Or a combination of facts when your mind is at rest. However, there’s a systematic approach, a methodology of finding new ways to do and think of things. Design thinking is this systematic cognitive approach to create new concepts.

At Bang Creations we have to use this approach to be innovative and deliver workable solutions for our clients. It’s hard and people who aren’t used to practicing it can find it frustrating. In these early stages the team and the thought processes diverge and to many logical, straight line thinkers, this can look and feel disorganised and unstructured. But that is exactly the aim. It is in the cracks, the pulling of ideas that other new ideas give birth that suddenly breathe new life into what was once a discarded thought. Now it works.

In our webinar we address how important it is to solve the right problem. We focus on how to identify what the problem is. There are many analogies used in the design press, ‘why do they need to buy a drill? They want a hole in the wall’. Design thinking would go one stage back, ‘why do they need a hole in the wall? What is the problem?’ Many products come to market that don’t really solve a user’s problem. Once the problem’s identified we run through how to turn that into a design challenge. Then you have something you can grasp, as opposed to just a problem which has many open ended questions.”

Pete Schönbeck

Reset. Restart: your market opportunities

Pete Schonbeck

Productschön Business Advice is run by founder Pete Schönbeck. With a strong family history in the clothing industry, right back to his great, great grandfather, Johannes (a tailor to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert).

I started out at the age of 18 as a trainee buyer for a European clothing wholesaler, Campari International Plc, where I was mentored by the managing director and my father John, in all aspects of design, product development, sampling, sourcing, buying, brand franchises and major account selling. I have gone on to work in retail and wholesale for internationally recognised brands such as Levi Strauss, Timberland, Tommy Hilfiger, Barbour and Ellesse.

My Reset. Restart webinar can help business owners get a greater understanding of how things are evolving in the world of business and how to hit the ground running in a post-COVID-19 world, not forgetting the pending Brexit scenario.

After the COVID-19 pandemic, how is business and the world in general evolving? In this two hour webinar presentation, I take attendees through some insightful statistics that will help businesses refresh and re-engage with consumers, the marketplace, and the new and accelerated evolution of where we are now and will be in the future.

Reset. Restart

For more information on the Reset. Restart programme, or to book your space at an upcoming webinar, visit our Reset. Restart webpage.