Innovation and enterprise blog

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

6 posts from May 2015

28 May 2015

The Guardian Small Business Showcase


The Guardian Business Showcase is an annual competition, run by the Guardian Small Business Network, which aims to highlight and reward innovation and good practice in UK small businesses. This year Nigel Spencer, Research and Business Development Manager at the British Library Business & IP Centre, was invited to sit on the judging panel.

The judges comprise an impressive selection of successful entrepreneurs, journalists and investors including Simon Duffy, co-founder of Bulldog Skincare; James Caan, founder and CEO of Hamilton Bradshaw; Claire Burke, acting editor of Guardian Small Business Network; Simon Walker, partner at international law firm Taylor Wessing; Fiona Walsh, business editor at; Jim Cregan, founder and managing director of Jimmy's Iced Coffee; Anna Bance, co-founder of Girl Meets Dress and of course our own Nigel Spencer.

The judging process has a clear format; every few weeks’ judges are sent a ‘judging pack’ with entries from businesses which showcase innovative and practical ideas in six areas:

  • Smarter Working:   improving business efficiency
  • Home innovation:   operating effectively from home
  • Cashflow Management:   managing cash flow effectively
  • Marketing & PR Excellence:   promoting their business in a creative and effective way
  • Rising Star:  examples of outstanding performance by talented individuals
  • Small Business of the Year; businesses that have made great progress in their first 18 months

The entries come from a very broad variety of sectors ranging from online gaming, heating, kitchenware and financial software to socks and underwear! Nigel said that, “This variety means that reading the entries is entertaining and a constant source of surprise, but it also provides a real challenge in comparing businesses operating in very different markets.” Nigel has judged competitions before and always tries to apply criteria in a scientific and objective way, but finds it difficult to apply a critical and dispassionate assessment when he is aware of the effort that had gone into developing each business. Every business in the competition is precious to the people that started them and the prestige they will gain from success in the competition means that the stakes are high.

Nigel works with small business owners and entrepreneurs every day in the Business & IP Centre and those looking to expand and develop are always asking how they can create a buzz around their business. Awards are one certain way of doing this, they can help you distinguish your business from the competitors and enhance your brand – doing so can be a challenge for any small business with limited resources. Entering a competition is a great way to generate PR and endorsements from the media and the panel of business expert judges. Moreover, having the title of ‘award winning’ is confirmation that consumers can trust doing business with you.

Nigel gives his top 5 tips for entering competitions:

  • Read the selection criteria very carefully and make sure that your entry addresses all of them
  • Provide firm statistical or financial  evidence of the beneficial impacts of actions or decisions you have taken
  • Tell a story.  Present a challenge you faced, describe the actions taken and then describe how these successfully met that challenge.
  • Consider how others could learn and be inspired by your experience, and highlight the key learning points.
  • Don’t be afraid to let your energy and enthusiasm for your business shine through in the way you tell your story.

The team at the Guardian Small Business Showcase have collated the judges’ marks and produced a shortlist of three finalists for each category. The winners will be announced on the evening of 11 June 2015, best of luck to all of the finalists!

If you are looking for advice on how to start and run a successful business and increase your chances of winning an award or competition drop in to the Business & IP Centre in the British Library. 


26 May 2015

Welcome to Paul Lindley - our new Ambassador

Paul Lindley founder of Ellas Kitchen and products
Photo source: Ella’s Kitchen

Here at the British Library Business & IP Centre we are excited to announce Paul Lindley, Founder of Ella’s Kitchen, as our new Ambassador. Our Ambassadors come from a diverse range of business sectors and bring a variety of specialisms to their roles in helping to raise the profile of the Business & IP Centre services on a national and local basis. We are excited to have Paul speak at our next event, 'Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Going Global' in Liverpool on 22 June.

Prior to being a big business owner Paul started as Ella’s dad and like many parents had trouble getting his daughter to eat. To encourage Ella he used games at dinner time to make food fun and he also got to work in the kitchen creating food that was not only healthy but tasty too. And thus the idea for Ella’s Kitchen formed and started Paul on his journey from dad to entrepreneur to successful business owner.

Today Ella’s Kitchen is the biggest baby food business in the UK, turning over circa $100m last year, with products sold in over 30 countries around the world. Paul’s vision driving Ella’s Kitchen is to improve children’s lives by giving them a healthier relationship with food. Children are at the heart of everything they do - rather than aiming their products at parents, they make them appeal to the children themselves. Everything from the packaging and recipes to the names of products are directly influenced by children. 

Ellas Kitchen products image BigTastes
Photo source: Ella’s Kitchen

As a dedicated dad and business man Paul is now focusing on a new start-up, Paddy’s Bathroom, a range of fun natural and organic toiletries for toddlers named after his son. Similar to the idea behind Ella’s Kitchen, Paul’s new venture also has a social message at the core of the business model - for each drop of water a child uses to wash him/herself a village in Rwanda gets a drop of clean water too.

Here at the Business & IP Centre we were keen to connect Paul to other socially driven entrepreneurs. In February of this year we invited him to speak to over 350 small business owners at our Inspiring Entrepreneurs event. Paul gave invaluable tips and advice to other entrepreneurs looking to scale up. 


In fact, Paul had used the Library himself at the early stages of researching Ella’s Kitchen. Since then the Library has expanded its business and intellectual property resources and service to include a wide range of practical workshops, webinars, 1:1 advice sessions and networking events, delivered by Library staff and business experts. To date, over 400,000 people have used the Centre, with research showing that over a third of them are driven by making a social and environmental impact – just like Paul. 

Paul had this to say about his new role: “I’m honoured to become an ambassador for such a game changing organisation.  The British Library’s Business & IP Centre has the credibility, assets and potential to fundamentally improve the likelihood for any British entrepreneur to succeed.  It’s open, assessable and of such quality to aspiring entrepreneurs that I’ll be humbled if acting as an ambassador can help spread awareness and its use.”

Paul Lindley giving a talk at Inspiring Interns

Roly Keating, CEO of the British Library, is pleased to welcome Paul as an Ambassador; “We are proud and delighted to welcome Paul Lindley as a Business & IP Centre Ambassador. He’s a great advocate of entrepreneurship as a force for good. Paul’s expertise and experience will help us to continue to champion entrepreneurs and small business owners from all walks of life, helping them to launch and develop their businesses."

Join us in Liverpool, on 22 June 2016, to hear Paul tell his story of starting and growing a successful global business. 

22 May 2015

Inventing Chocolate with Amelia Rope

Starting your own chocolate business is something many of us only dream about. Amelia Rope is one woman who has immersed herself in the chocolate industry and has come up with new and innovative flavours to tantalise our taste buds. But how does one become a chocolatier or even begin to make the dream of owning a chocolate business a reality? Amelia is a current participant on the Business & IP Centre Innovating for Growth Programme and we had the chance to ask her some of our questions. 

Photo credit: Lucy Young

Hi Amelia, where did the idea come from to start your own business?

I have always wanted to have my own business from a young age.  Looking back I think I always wanted freedom and independence from anyone controlling me financially. During my 20’s and early 30’s I was a PA for small businesses, large corporates, hospitals and doctors surgeries.  I qualified as a massage therapist, studied nutrition, herbal medicine and qualified as an aromatherapist and my last ‘proper’ job before starting my business was as a Practice Manager. It took some time to finally get where I am now – I founded Amelia Rope Chocolate in September 2007 and now my chocolates are sold in hotels and department stores across the UK, in the US, Dubai and Malaysia. 

I appeared on Masterchef twice - I am definitely not a chef but it gave me the courage to contemplate life amongst food. Also having a life-coach helped me believe in myself, and encouraged me to take a risk which helped me convert from a Practice Manager to a chocolatier. Another key turning point was when a well-known food editor flippantly said I could be the next Juliette Binoche (I don’t think they had any idea I would take it literally!) and when my chocolate diamond geezer Patrick Reeves, who believed in me so much, put in a commission for 1,000 chocolate bars to get me kick-started. I was then lucky enough to meet Ewan Venters (then Director of Food Halls, Selfridges) who spotted my first two bars and stocked them in Selfridges. 

Photo credit: Mary Wadsworth

Tell us about what makes Amelia Rope Chocolate so unique

I believe small businesses are unique in that they allow the personality of the business owner to shine through in their products, and this allows them to really make their mark in their industry.  Chocolate confectionary is generally a completely crowded market. However, when I entered the premium chocolate bar market there were very few of us – in fact it was not such a flooded market then as it is now as there isn't as much space in this area.  When you look at the brands in this sector you will see each of our own characters/individual stamps coming through. I love splashes of colour, design and have always had a very distinct palate for what I like to eat, loathe and crave.  Put all of these together, and a mind which whirls around with lots of ideas, and I suppose you will get something different!  Some of my recipes are traditional, but the end flavour I believe is different. Perhaps this stems from the way I create my recipes which are as if I was developing an aromatherapy blend.  My love of sea salt influences my flavours and chocolate is such a good medium to carry salt: especially milk and white chocolate. 

How did you know there was a market for your premium chocolate bars?

By complete luck! My bespoke products just hit the spot with consumers immediately after a press drop off to most of the national newspapers and magazines.  My business featured in Stella Magazine, and it just rolled on from there.  The chocolate bars were my most effective product to market in the range. I also went to the Business & IP Centre, whenever I had time to learn about trends, markets and begin to think of strategies and I still visit the Centre today when researching markets and developing my business plans. 

Photo credit: Mary Wadsworth


What hurdles have you had to overcome in your journey so far?

The main hurdle is lack of funding to really propel forward at the pace I want to.  My aim was to crank it up and have an opportunity to sell out within five years.  It is also difficult to achieve a good work/life balance – for so many years I worked every day and for crazy hours.  I found I let go of friends, family and relationships because my business consumed me.  Now I take time off at the weekends (unless it is the busy seasonal times or I am travelling on business), go out at least 2-3 times a week in the evening and go to the gym regularly.  Mentally and physically I feel so much better as a result. I have very high expectations of myself and all the people I work with but each hurdle has been worth overcoming to get where I am today.  

How did you first hear about the Innovating for Growth Programme?

On twitter and I immediately went to the website to explore more.  I was amazed when I won a place and it has delivered way beyond my expectations. It has given me a chance to really focus on my business.  For some time I have wanted to strip my business right down to its core, cross-examine it in a critical way and then to put appropriate pieces back together, alongside bringing new facets in such as streamlining my production.  With a team of experts and one-to-one sessions my learning curve has been intense, tough and challenging at times, but I have learnt so much and feel in a much better position with my business than when I started.  Life is about learning and transforming – with Innovating for Growth I have begun to do both and I can’t wait to see how much further I grow with the help of the programme to build a good, effective team to support me and my business and grow significantly both in UK and globally.

Photo credit: Mary Wadsworth

What tips would you give to any entrepreneurs looking to scale up?

When you set up try and bear in mind that your product may be a hit, which will lead to scaling up.  Have a plan about how your product can do this, the costs involved and how it will work for your brand.  Applying for Innovating for Growth can certainly help anyone on this journey. Be prepared to have a good stash of cash too!

If, like Amelia, you want to scale up apply for Innovating for Growth today.

ERDF Logo Portrait Colour Web

Innovating for Growth is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund 

20 May 2015

The future is looking Fab (Lab)

In this superfast, digital, tech era we often hear people questioning the need for libraries - 'I can just google it’ or ‘I can get it online’ are common phrases batted around. This is of course overlooking the far wider benefits that libraries bring to local communities, the positive impact on health and economic wellbeing, or even the economy itself. Indeed libraries act as ‘the great equaliser’ - safe, trusted and impartial spaces, where anyone from any walk of life can access services. The success of the British Library’s own Business & IP Centre service is evidence that libraries have an important role to play in helping businesses to innovate and grow. 

If all that doesn’t produce a flutter of excitement in their steely hearts, then perhaps something that will appeal is the idea of the library as a maker space, a rapid prototyping hub, a place for creative collaboration and sharing of ideas. Sure you can join online forums to share ideas, but you probably don’t have a CTR TMX12 Laser Machine in your garden shed!

Exeter Library’s FabLab is one such space; ‘an open access, not-for-profit, community resource where anybody can invent and make just about anything.’ It is the first ever to open in a UK public library and boasts a plethora of machines such as a Pro-Router, Vinyl Cutter, the aforementioned Laser Machine and of course the obligatory 3D printers.

So successful have they been, that the library hosted a Fab Futures conference last Friday 15 May, bringing together experts from across the UK and the globe to talk about how libraries can support innovation and creativity in the 21st century, and how they’ve done it in Exeter.

The day offered a local perspective with the lab volunteers and library staff talking through the prototyping equipment, offering hands on introductory taster workshops and showcasing the versatility of the machines.


Textile designer- Fran
Local textile designer Fran used the digital equipment to create her laser cut designs
Digitally printed items in delegate packs
Goodies in delegate packs made in the Fab Lab


Speakers attending from Mak Lab Glasgow,  Fab Lab Manchester and Fab Lab Ellesmore Port, talked about the social significance and impact of the UK Fab Lab Network through engaging local communities, older people and disability groups as well as charities and businesses with the possibilities of digital manufacturing.


Laser cut mdf
What happens when you put MDF in a laser cutter


A Google Link up with Chattanooga Library in Tennessee showcased their innovative 4th floor ‘public laboratory’, highlighting an intuitive partnership with Etsy, where their digital equipment is used to manufacture products which are then sold on the Etsy platform.

Take a look at the full programme for the day and the storify of the event.

Fab Lab Exeter is a great facility for local entrepreneurs and creatives to access low cost or free digital making in a shared learning environment, and the perfect space to develop prototypes for new products and designs. To complement the Fab Lab, in the next twelve months Exeter Library will be joining the British Library’s National Network of Business & IP Centres in city libraries across the country. The Business & IP Centre will connect the Fab Lab’s innovation activities to intellectual property support and business information resources, helping to create healthy and sustainable businesses across the region. The current Business & IP Centre National Network provides support for entrepreneurs and inventors in Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester which also had a Digital Demonstrator Suite.

Here in the UK the libraries’ ‘maker movement’ has been a bit slow off the mark compared to our cousins across the pond, but it’s starting to gather momentum. Led by the likes of Exeter’s FabLab, or indeed Common Libraries National Science Experiment, we might in the near future find that people are as likely to pop to their local library for a ‘raspberry pi jam’ as they are to borrow a book.

Does your local library run any ‘maker sessions,’ ‘raspberry pi jams’ or ‘library hacks’? If so, get in touch, we’d love to hear more and visit one of our National Network of Business & IP Centres soon.

David Gimson and Hanna Fayaz on behalf of the Business & IP Centre

15 May 2015

5 Tips for working with Illustrators by ChattyFeet

ChattyFeet is a quirky brand that makes people laugh with funny sock characters such as Kate Middle-Toe, Prof. Brian Sox, The Sockfather and others, and are currently participants on the British Library’s Innovating for Growth programme. Here are their top tips for working with illustrators based on their own experience with commissioning work for ChattyFeet sock characters.

Photo source: ChattyFeet

1. Find references

We look online to find inspiration and discover creative work on sites like Behance and Dribbble, or just do a Google image search on a specific topic or theme. You can also search the British Library’s images online which gives you instant access to thousands of the greatest images from the British Library's collections. It is important to define what you are searching for. Are you looking for a realistic illustration, cartoon, 3D or vector graphic? Putting the style in your search query will help you to get more relevant results. Pinterest can also be useful for collecting references. Finding a reference is important for communicating with the illustrator and explaining what you are after. We had some help from the singer Louise Ashcroft to find the best references for opera singing. This helped the illustrator Dimitra Laskou to come up with the right style for La Diva sock character.

Photo source: Edgar Degas WikiArt, ChattyFeet

2. Review portfolios and styles

The simplest way to get a design you like is to find an illustrator that has already created work in the style you need. However if this is not possible make sure the illustrator you end up working with can diversify their work. If they only draw in one style it can be more difficult for them to adapt the illustration for your needs. When looking for illustrators we have found it useful to go to conferences and exhibitions to meet them in person and talk about your ideas. We met Captain Kris, a street artist, at an exhibition and as a result he created the characters Commander Awesome and Venus for our collection.

Photo source: Captain Kris, ChattyFeet

We discovered another talented illustrator, Muxxi, whose beautiful designs are featured on online portfolio platform Behance and we worked with her to produce a collection of four different colorful and fun socks.

Photo source: Muxxi, ChattyFeet

3. Write a brief

A brief will introduce yourself, explain why you need an illustration and how it will be used. Be clear about when you need it to be delivered, the format, size and budget. Is the illustration going to be printed, published online or in our case knitted on socks? Do you need it to be created in specific software so you can apply changes yourself? Be explicit about constraints to avoid future frustrations.

4. Develop a contract

Writing a contract is important for making sure everyone is on the same page. While the brief explains in detail what is required in terms of the work, the contract defines the terms of the project. For example, when will the client pay? We recommend an initial stage where the artist produces a sketch rather than producing everything in one go. This will allow you to review that it’s going in the right direction. You should also agree on the amount of iterations or drafts of the work that will be included in the budget. Asking for changes is common but there should be a clear limit to the scope of work covered.

Photo source: ChattyFeet

5. Give clear feedback

Sometimes your intuition knows if something is right or wrong, but when working with illustrators you will have to communicate this very clearly otherwise you won’t get the result you want. If you are struggling to write feedback, a phone or a skype call might work better. Try to refer to the brief and to what has been communicated before. If you give new directions that can be very frustrating for the illustrator and you might be asked to pay more for extra work.

We hope that these tips will be useful for you when commissioning new work. You can see the work of illustrators who created funny sock characters for ChattyFeet here. ChattyFeet are on the British Library’s current Innovating for Growth Programme which provides up to £10,000 worth of support for small companies with big ambitions – just like ChattyFeet.  If you want to follow in ChattyFeet's footsteps apply for Innovating for Growth by the deadline: 9.00am on Monday 15 June 2015.

Apply for Innovating for Growth here

ERDF Logo Portrait Colour Web

Innovating for Growth is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund


06 May 2015

Unlocking the Growth Mindset for SMEs

What does innovation look like? It’s a key question for SMEs looking to grow, but one that can be hard to make the time to address when busy keeping on top of day-to-day business needs.

Last week I attended our ‘Growth club’ at the Business & IP Centre – an event for businesses who have participated in our Innovating for Growth programme, which provides free support for small companies with big ambitions. The theme of the evening was ‘Unlocking the Growth Mindset’, and the event started with a talk by Michelle Keaney and Mike Straw of Inventing Futures, a business consultancy that works with entrepreneurs to deliver personal, organisational and societal level transformations (and successful alumni of Innovating for Growth).

Picture 034

Michelle began by highlighting the level of start-up enthusiasm in the country: over 580,000 new businesses were created in 2014, an increase on previous years and the equivalent of one new start-up per minute. However, not all of these new businesses survive – so how can SMEs innovate to make sure they continue to meet the needs of the market and remain ahead of the competition?

Mike spoke about the concept of questioning assumptions as a key strategy - treatingthe concept of innovation not simply as ‘new ideas’, but as a liberation from conventional thinking. SMEs should make time to stop and ask questions:

  • Are we doing things in our business just because ‘we’ve always done them’?
  • Are we reviewing the assumptions we’ve made about market, customer, and product?
  • Are these assumptions still true?

Being aware of that ‘little voice’ in your head and what it tells you about your business can be an important skill.

The talk also covered creating the environment in which innovation can thrive. Leadership power was a key point, defined as ‘the speed from which you can take your ideas to reality’, and requiring the freedom and confidence to act on your ideas – Mike emphasised the value of creating openings for innovation to happen, of not dismissing possibilities, and of ‘planning in action’ – doing, as well as thinking.

After the talk, we were given the chance to chat in the Business & IP Centre.  As well as business advice and support, the Innovating for Growth programme provides a great opportunity for participants to network with each other, and I witnessed a fair few business cards being swapped! Speaking to other attendees, they had found the talk useful in helping them think outside of their everyday work to focus on innovation and growth strategy, and were eager to share their thoughts.  

Apply to now to receive £10,000 worth of business support. 

  ERDF Logo Portrait Colour Web

Innovating for Growth is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund

Sally Jennings on behalf of the Business & IP Centre