Innovation and enterprise blog

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

6 posts from November 2015

20 November 2015

Top business tips from our panel with Deborah Meaden

This week the Business & IP Centre brought together a panel of some of Britain’s best-known entrepreneurs who shared their expert business knowledge with the audience and viewers around the world.  The panel comprised Deborah Meaden, Dragons' Den; Oliver Tress, founder of Oliver Bonas; Lord Karan Bilimoria, founder of Cobra Beer and was moderated by Nadine Dereza, TV Broadcaster and Journalist.

This event was part of a week-long series of events celebrating Global Entrepreneurship Week 2015 at the British Library. Global Entrepreneurship Week is the world’s largest campaign to promote entrepreneurship. Each year, it plays a critical role in encouraging the next generation of entrepreneurs to consider starting up their own business.


The panel spoke about how they grabbed opportunities and overcame obstacles in order to become the success stories they are today and gave some invaluable business tips to keep people along their entrepreneurial journey.

Deborah Meaden, Dragons’ Den

Deborah is perhaps best known for her role on the BBC2 series ‘Dragons’ Den’ but her story started with her first business - selling flowers in front of her house when she was seven years old. Her entrepreneurial skills developed from that young age and now she is a serial entrepreneur and a household name. 

Sage_BL_-6519 (1)

Here are Deborah’s tips for business owners:

  • It’s very important to learn business skills but there are also other specific attributes, like the ability to take a risk, that makes you an entrepreneur
  • Know the importance of protecting your intellectual property, protection of what you are and who you are is very important
  • Entrepreneurs don’t see barriers – they see around them - and think of different ways to do things
  • Before you start your business, or in early days, think about why you are doing it. If it’s just to make money, you’re a business person. If it’s because of a passion, you’re an entrepreneur.
  • Create the business that allows you to get the life you want
  • PR has to be honest and represent the real stories of your business
  • When you run a business, know it well and love it.

Oliver Tress, founder of Oliver Bonas

Inspired by his love of design and worldwide travels Oliver opened his first Oliver Bonas store on Fulham Road selling beautiful homeware and jewellery.  Now with 45 stores in London, Bristol, Brighton, Cambridge, Oxford, Reading, Tunbridge Wells & Scotland, (as well as an online store) the brand is bigger than ever. 


Here are his tips for would-be entrepreneurs:

  • You can’t teach people tenacity you just have to be absolutely determined to achieve what you want to do
  • Be relentless in the pursuit of quality
  • Work out your skill set, be realistic about what you can do and find people who can do the things you can’t
  • Talk – the benefits will be so much more than keeping it to yourself, you can really hone your idea by talking to people
  • Work out your business philosophy, if you can get this at the beginning of your business it will really drive it forward and gives a framework for every decision you make in the business
  • Brace yourself for a bumpy ride and focus yourself on those limitless opportunities and the freedom that comes with it.

Lord Bilimoria, founder of Cobra Beer

Karan Bilimoria founded Cobra Beer in 1989 and sold it from the boot of his green Citroen, named Albert, to local Indian restaurants. Despite having nearly lost his business three times, today Cobra Beer is a globally recognised brand. 


So, what does Lord Bilimoria recommend an entrepreneurs needs to succeed?

  • As entrepreneurs there is one word that sets you apart and that's guts – you have to have the guts to do it in the first place but more importantly you have to have the guts to stick with it when others give up
  • You don’t have to come up with something that didn’t exist before – just come up with a way to do it differently
  • Put the consumers first and be passionate about what you do
  • Follow the 8 P’s: Product, price, place, promotion, people, phinance (!), passion and profit
  • A strong brand gives you the most sustainable business growth
  • Have a vision. Lord Bilimoria’s is ‘to aspire and achieve against all odds, with integrity’.



Question time



For more help with getting your business idea off the ground visit the Business & IP Centre website to find out how we can help.


13 November 2015

5 top skills to make you a good salesperson

Learning the detective-like skills of a salesperson is a requirement for any successful entrepreneur. As part of Global Entrepreneurship Week, Joanna Sadie of Leapfrog conducted a workshop (that has since concluded) at the British Library's Business & IP Centre, on the necessities of knowing how to sell with confidence. She kindly felt her five top tips to get you started:

Business & IP Centre conducting a workshop with a user about their business relates queries

1. Active listening

Give full attention to what other people are saying, take time to understand the points being made and ask appropriate questions. When opening up a conversation with a prospective client ask the right questions in order to understand their needs and issues.

2. Effective communication skills

Written and oral communication skills are key criteria to becoming a successful entrepreneur. Having the gift of the gab is a phrase often associated with being a good sales person.  However a successful sales person understands the person they are communicating with and ensures their style of communication matches their client’s style so that rapport and trust is built.

3. Critical thinking

A salesperson must use critical thinking to decide which product or service would be the best option to present and sell to the client, taking into account all the information that has been discovered from questioning and listening to their needs.

4. Persuasion and negotiation

Persuasion and negotiation are key elements of the sales process.  However, negotiation should only come into play after the prospective customer has been persuaded to buy the product or service that you have to offer.  If there is no agreement then all you will be doing is discounting, not negotiating, as the client will not see the value in what you have to offer.

5. Patience and tenacity

It is a crime in sales not to follow up leads quickly and efficiently when they come in, so being tenacious with prospective client leads is vital.  On the flip side, it takes persistence to follow a lead through from initial enquiry to order stage, especially when a client is taking a long time to make a decision – this is when you need to have the patience of a saint!

Joanna Sadie of Leapfrog was at the Business & IP Centre on the 19 November as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week , for which has since concluded. For more information about the Business & IP Centre and the variety of events and workshop we're running through the entire year, with various themes to suit and tailored to different business adventures, that you may have as an inspiring entrepreneur, then, visit our website for more. 

11 November 2015

Top tips for social entrepreneurs from OHYO’s MD Guy Jeremiah

Since Ohyo began trading in 2010, Guy Jeremiah has been through all the snakes and ladders of running a commercial enterprise with a green mission. Having sold 700,000 UK-made Ohyo Collapsabottles across all continents, with clients including Marks & Spencer, Guy has experienced the highs and the lows of running a business.

As part of Global Entrepreneurship Week on 17 November Guy will be sharing his knowledge of running a social enterprise at the Business & IP Centre; in the meantime here are some of his tips for getting started. 

Guy Jeremiah

Get to grips with intellectual property

Pay particular attention to developing an intellectual property strategy. Is a patent relevant for you? Perhaps design registration, trademark and branding is more pertinent to your plan? The British Library Business & IP Centre has been a tower of strength to me in these areas.

Stay on top of your finances

On a day-to-day basis I seem to have one eye on Twitter, and the other eye firmly on the cash-flow. Financial management is at the heart of any business; whether you use SAGE or Excel, it’s essential that you know when the cash could run out and how to react accordingly.

Get the most out of cloud-based apps

I set up my first business, an Environmental Consultancy, in 1999 when you needed a server, a big printer for mass mail-outs and fax machines. The internet and cloud-based applications have transformed the arena for small businesses to get set up quickly and cheaply.

Start crowd-funding

Drawing on my own experiences of launching the Ohyo Bag with Felix Conran, consider how crowd-funding can get your new product off to a flying start.


Become a marketing whizz

Marketing your products and services is a tough process and you should take all the advice you can get. Balancing PR, advertising and social media on a meagre budget is a skill all entrepreneurs need to learn quickly.


Find out more about how to become an entrepreneur with a social and ethical conscious at Social Entrepreneurship: Theory, practice and what really happens at the British Library during Global Entrepreneurship Week.


05 November 2015

Question time with Oliver Bonas founder Oliver Tress

At the age of 25 Oliver Tress, inspired by his love of design and worldwide travels, opened his first Oliver Bonas store on Fulham Road selling beautiful homeware and jewellery.  

Now with 45 stores in London, Bristol, Brighton, Cambridge, Oxford, Reading, Tunbridge Wells & Scotland, (as well as an online store) the brand is bigger than ever. Oliver continues to work with his team and live by the company motto: work hard, play hard & be kind.

We asked him some questions ahead of his upcoming appearance at the British Library on the 18 November

Oliver Tress
Photo credit: Oliver Bonas

Where did the idea for your business come from?

The idea for my business came to me whilst at university. I was going on holidays to Hong Kong where my parents were living  and I would bring presents back for friends - and so it grew from there. 

What steps did you take to get started?

It was all very ad hoc.  Initially I just brought more products with me, and sold them on to friends.  Next I started selling at charity events and then opened the first shop in Fulham. I bought a second hand till for £60, painted the shop white and opened the door.

How do you decide what products and designs are sold by Oliver Bonas?

We are relaxed about the type of product we sell – whatever feels right at the time.  We want to make sure we love the product. It must be special in some way that differentiates it from products available elsewhere. We passionately believe in the power of good design, so every product must really earn its shelf space.

Oliver Bonas 1
Photo credit: Oliver Bonas

What has been the greatest reward of owning your own business?

The sense of achieving something entirely on your own terms. I measure success in terms of freedom and opportunity.  The more successful the business is, the greater the exciting the opportunities and the freedom to express yourself.

What advice would you give to designers trying to get their products sold by retail stores? 

They must understand their market in terms of retailer and end user.  Is the product exciting enough and good enough quality to move a customer to buy it and tell their friends about it?  And they need to be commercial – is the price right, and can the retailer make enough margin to make it worth their while?


Oliver Tress will be at the British Library during Global Entrepreneurship Week 2015 to share his expert business knowledge with you. Joining Oliver on the event panel are Deborah Meaden (Dragons' Den), Emma Bridgewater (Emma Bridgewater Pottery) and Lord Karan Bilimoria (founder of Cobra Beer). Get your tickets here


04 November 2015

Spotlight on Nimble Babies founder Von Sy

Von Sy had always dreamed of being an entrepreneur and eventually decided to set up his own business using his skills as a chemist to help parents keep their babies bottles from smelling of stale milk. When starting up Von used the Business & IP Centre to help with market research which was crucial to getting his business off the ground. We asked him some questions. 

Von Sy, founder of Nimble Babies

Where did the idea for your business come from?

One day my sister asked me, knowing that I'm a chemist, how she could get rid of the milk odour and film building up in her baby's bottles. She said that a regular washing-up liquid could do the job but she had to use loads of it and it made her bottles smell of washing-up liquid.

I thought that perhaps this was a problem that only my sister complained about, so I did a quick search online and, to my surprise, I saw a lot of parent blogs and forums that talk about similar problems in baby bottle washing and there was not a single brand out there addressing them.

Thus, I saw an opportunity to come up with a business that could help parents free their baby bottles from smelly milk residues.

What is so unique about your product?

Nimble Babies Milk Buster is a new washing-up spray that is specially made to remove smelly milk residues from baby bottles.

Unlike regular washing-up liquids that are made for heavy food grease, Nimble's patent-pending formula detaches milk fat and proteins from plastic surfaces.

It also comes in a spray format that mums love because it allows them to clean teats more easily.

Product Shot of Nimble Babies Milk Buster - front and back of the product shown

Have you always wanted to run your own business?

Most definitely! As a student back in the Philippines, I used to carry extra stationery items in my schoolbag which I sold to my classmates in case some of them forgot to bring their notebooks, paper or pens. In uni, I tutored Maths and Science to primary and secondary school students so that I would earn extra money on top of the money my parents gave me. I bought and sold things too like CDs and college rings. So since an early age I have been quite entrepreneurial, and this did not fade even when I was working for a huge consumer goods multinational for 10 years.

What planning did you do before starting up?

It took years before I managed to have the guts to leave my job. But whilst I was working as an R&D Manager, I would take evening courses on marketing, finance and economics to give me a basic understanding of other business functions.

I'd also read business books and watched shows like Dragon's Den to keep me inspired and aware. I also saved up money because I knew one day the time would come when I would be able to start my own business.

When I finally took the leap, I did a lot of market research work at the Business & IP Centre in the British Library and conducted surveys in cafes and shops (John Lewis in Oxford Street was my favourite turf) by randomly and cheekily asking mums for short interviews, as well as attending a number of workshops and networking events.

Product demonstration of Nimble Babies Milk Buster in use with a bottle

What challenges or obstacles have you had to overcome?

As I lived in the North (Liverpool and Leeds) for a total of seven years prior to moving to London, I did not know very many people who understood what I was going through as a new entrepreneur. I need to meet others who could help me figure out where to start and guide me in areas I wasn’t experienced in: for example, graphic design, branding and accounting. And this is where going to networking events and doing my research at the Business & IP Centre helped a lot, as I got the chance to meet like-minded people who were at the same or more advanced stage as I was.

If you could have given yourself one piece of advice when you started what would that be?  

I would say to myself not to wait for everything to be perfect and complete before doing anything, because what matters most when you have your own business is that you're able to test your ideas fast enough to know if they will succeed or fail.


We are now taking applications for the next Innovating for Growth programme find out how you can apply today.

02 November 2015

5 things to ask yourself before starting a business

We at the London Business Support Service work with the British Library conducting regular one-to-one confidential business clinics on the first Wednesday of every month at the Business & IP Centre.

During these clinics we meet with many startups and realise that there are numerous reasons for starting up a business. However, once the process has begun, the main goal must be to succeed – and the best way to ensure success is to address some of the following questions before you start.



1.       Do I want to or do I have to?

What is the driving force behind your decision to set up your own business? Is it a long term passion or have circumstances forced you into it?

If the latter, take some time to carefully consider how you feel about your choices, going forward. Resentment can have a negative effect on your chances of success, therefore it is beneficial to re-think your attitude as a positive mind will improve your enjoyment of each achievement towards your goal.

If, on the other hand, you are about to embark upon your dream of being your own boss, you already have a positive outlook – and passion drives energy, which is a key factor for getting things done when you’re the one who has to do it.


2.       Is everyone who matters on board with me?

You should never have to do this alone. If you have a family, a business partner, financial partner or other interested parties, listen to their suggestions and keep them in the loop.

Their support will help provide a natural synergy to maintain a good momentum. Any negativity should be analysed and quickly resolved.

Many clients of ours have taken advantage of the connections available at the British Library and you too can build a network of like-minded entrepreneurs at the Business & IP Centre.


3.       Do I have a support network?

Your support network will include essential services such as accounting, legal or start-up business advisory services necessary for running your business.

Outside of your immediate associates, you may need a range of consultants with experience across diverse subjects: website design, social media management, HR, grant funding specialist or business mentor, to name but a few. By building a network of contacts, you will be able to locate assistance with any issues as they arise.

And, don’t forget, your experience could also mean that you are an important contact for others in your network.

The Business & IP Centre offers a range of services from carefully vetted consultants, coaches and industry experts to help you overcome most of the challenges faced by a start-up.


 4.       Can I make it work?

You have to really honest with yourself – can you make it work? What will it take? Planning at the outset, rather than deferring potential difficulties, could be critical. Gut instinct is no substitute for comprehensive research. Find out what others encountered on their journey and how they found workable solutions to overcome inevitable barriers.


5.       Do I need a backup plan?

A good question! Some say that if you feel the need for a backup plan, you don’t have the confidence to succeed. The real answer is that you need several backup plans – at key stages of the business plan.

You will undoubtedly need a brief but solid business plan covering key points. A business mentor with experience of supporting start-ups will be able to guide you through the process, ensuring that you identify important areas of your business and address them appropriately.


Come along to our business clinics at the Business & IP Centre which are suitable for any type of business in any type of situation, and our experienced business advisors are here to provide you with cost effective business support services that result in tangible and measurable benefits to your business.


Nauzar Manekshaw, Business Advisor with the London Business Support Service