Innovation and enterprise blog

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

4 posts from May 2016

26 May 2016

Be business savvy like Shakespeare

Poet, playwright, producer; what we know of Shakespeare’s life proves one thing – it’s possible to be creative and commercial. The starving, tortured life of the artist is a later romantic idea but Shakespeare was of course a renaissance man through and through, and so should every contemporary creative be. He didn’t consider himself too big to collaborate, to find inspiration in other work, nor to share rewards among his fellow actors. We know that his company the Lord Chamberlain’s Men were the first in English history to have actors as shareholders and to receive a profit in their performances. Here is a fine, early example of employee incentivising!

Not only did Shakespeare earn good money over the course of his lifetime, at the end of his career he enjoyed the fruits of his labour living out his days back home in Stratford-upon-Avon, in what is thought to have been the second biggest house in the village. Not bad for a mere ‘player’.

How did he do it? Here’s what every creative entrepreneur, especially those writers and artists in the performing arts, should know about living off your work. All inspired by the life and work of our greatest bard (and sometime businessman).


Image taken from page 61 of 'An inquiry into the history, authenticity, and characteristics of the Shakespeare Portraits, etc. (A supplement.)'


1. “When we mean to build, we first survey the plot, then draw the model” Henry IV Part II

First things first: before embarking on any endeavour it sure helps to know where you’re going. This is especially true for starting a business. ‘Surveying the plot’ might as well be surveying the market; who are your competitors, what is the opportunity, will there be demand for your product or service? And as for drawing up a model, working out your business model is a must do. It’s essential to work out your sources of revenue as well as factoring in operating expenses too. Shakespeare knew all of this; he knew what his audience liked, what they’d pay, where the opportunities to perform were and what costs needed covering. Each performance had to pull a profit.

We know Shakespeare also invested a lot in his acting company which meant he was receiving earnings every time the company performed, whether or not he was there. Here is a perfect example of passive income and one to build into any business model.

In 1605 it’s thought that Shakespeare purchased real estate near Stratford that doubled in value and earned him money every year. Today we call that diversifying your revenue streams (another aspect of a business model). Shakespeare probably would call it plain old common sense. It meant he could keep writing and the world is better off because of it.

You can find out more about on to plan your business with links to some helpful guides here.

2. "Neither a borrower nor a lender be” Hamlet

Shakespeare’s character in Hamlet, Polonius, gets it right. Be smart with your resources. Many business owners believe getting into debt is the only option for starting a venture and seek finance from any lender that will provide the funds. While sometimes this is unavoidable, the level of debt should be considered very carefully.

One option is for entrepreneurs to seek funding from friends and family. While it’s a ‘safer’ way of finding finance, is the friendship worth ruining if it all goes wrong? And will wasted money cause family resentment? It all could all get very Shakespearean very quickly and your business dream could turn to tragedy.

Many businesses these days are taking a lean start-up approach to minimise risk and get validation for their idea from customers as quickly as possible. You can join in on our free webinar Introducing Lean Start-up and find out more to help minimise your risk. It’s what Polonius would advise. 


Image taken from page 835 of 'The Works of Shakspeare; from the text of Johnson, Steevens, and Reed. With a biographical memoir, and a variety of interesting matter, illustrative of his life and writings. By W. Harvey'


3. “Let every man be master of his time” Macbeth

Taking any advice from Macbeth might be foolhardy but this little aphorism was when he was far less of a megalomaniac. It’s worth living by because you can lose and regain money but you can never regain time. It’s your most precious (and scarce) resource.  A successful entrepreneur makes every minute count and time should pay for itself; it’s the resource you need to achieve goals for the business. But it’s the hardest thing to manage. It’s very common for business owners to become distracted by events or new opportunities and advance two steps in eight directions rather than eight steps in one. If you feel like you aren’t using time well, quickly do something about it, before you lose more! Time is very malleable and using it is the finest art. So respect it, allow flexibility with it and use it to look after your personal needs too and you will be a master of you and your business. Macbeth got one thing right at least.

Image taken from page 262 of 'Illustrated Poems and Songs for Young People. Edited by Mrs. Sale Barker'


4. “And do as adversaries do in law, strive mightily but eat and drink as friends” The Taming of the Shrew

Never under estimate the power of networking. In Shakespeare’s time as today who you know will make the difference between making it and getting nowhere.

Running a business can be lonely and frustrating, so having a support and skills network to draw upon is a business must. None of us are gifted at everything; we all need help from someone else at some point. Pulling together different skill sets such as finance, marketing and technical knowhow will greatly increase the chance of your business surviving.

You should also know and respect your competition. They may be adversaries but its good to ‘eat and drink as friends’ because you can learn from them, find out what made their success and learn from their mistakes too. You can find out more on researching your competitors here.

Another good way to network is to joining a trade association for your industry. And if you feel this is an area you’d like to work on, you can ‘eat and drink as friends’ at our event, Networking for Success.


5. “The Fashion wears out more apparel than the man” Much Ado About Nothing

In other words, find the trend and milk it! If you’re going against the general tide of opinion, fashion (or demand) you will surely struggle. Your idea may be the most worthy, most needed for humanity or most creative but if no one ‘buys it’, it won’t make you money or be a business. End of story. Shakespeare worked in the mass entertainment of his time and he was acutely aware of the trends in theatre. The theatres themselves were designed to maximise revenue, with a popular groundlings area at an affordable price to higher paying seats for those who could afford more comfort. He and his contemporaries knew what people wanted and were prepared to pay to be entertained.

‘Fashion wears out more apparel’ could not be truer lesson for any budding entrepreneur regardless of their sector. People don’t buy clothes they buy a look, they don’t by a product, they buy convenience, they don’t pay to see a show, they pay for an experience or to escape from reality. Work out what really motivates people and serve their needs. Do this and you have the beginnings of a real business. Don’t and you risk it all.

You can minimise risk by doing effective market research. Our guides can help with this important process.

Image taken from page 21 of '[Cook's Handbook for London. With two maps.]


6. “Sweet are the uses of adversity” As You Like It

The ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ will be firing your way when you run a business. It’s what you’re able to do with it that will secure your survival (or not). A lesson from Shakespeare’s life is helpful here. His theatre company the Lord Chamberlain’s Men owned their own theatre in Shoreditch (smart) but didn’t own the land (a risk).  So when the lease on the land expired, the landlord claimed ownership of the theatre. That was certainly an arrow of outrageous fortune! The company though turned adversity into the sweetness of victory and decided to ‘liberate’ the theatre. Over the Christmas break, while the landlord was away celebrating, the company came and unpacked the whole theatre and transported it across the river to Southwark. It worked out even better for them longer term, because the locale was now outside the jurisdiction of the City, and therefore less likely to be closed down and they had longer term control of the playhouse. Adversity was turned into opportunity. It’s something that all business owners may have to face, especially today when how goods and services are being delivered is changing so rapidly.


Image taken from page 381 of 'Edith the Captive; or, the Robbers of Epping Forest. By the author of “Jane Brightwell,” [i.e. J. M. Rymer.] etc'


7. “The robb’d that smiles steals something from the thief” Othello

During Shakespeare’s life his plays would often be copied down and sold by bootleggers but there was very little he could do about it. Even though he couldn’t benefit from his intellectual property in the same way that he’d be able to do today, his work undoubtedly had an intellectual value at the time. The upside was that knowledge of his work did spread and enhance his reputation even if he couldn’t directly profit from it.

There’s no doubt if Shakespeare were writing today, he’d make sure all of his work would be copyright enforced and royalties taken.

Every business needs to think about its intellectual property and where they create value through innovation and it could be something as simple as their logo being trade marked.

Thankfully today we have laws that protect the interests of the innovator. Every business, whether it be technically based or creative needs to look carefully at its IP. You can find out more about how intellectual property affects you and your business and make sure you’ve got recourse when a thief tries to steal your IP!

Image taken from page 422 of '[The book of the Thames.]'


It can be lonely and uncertain being your own boss, but if you sign up for a reader pass at the British Library and use our Business & IP Centre where you’ll be able to do your market research, learn new skills and meet lots of other people just like you.

The British Library's current exhibition Shakespeare in Ten Acts is a landmark exhibition on the performances that made an icon, charting Shakespeare’s constant reinvention across the centuries and is open until Tuesday 6th September 2016.


Jeremy O’Hare is a Relationship Manager for the British Library’s Innovating for Growth programme, which provides £10,000 of fully-funded and tailored advice for businesses looking to grow. Since joining the British Library in 2005 he has worked with countless businesses, facilitating advice and research as well as providing workshops and information advice for start-ups and established businesses. 



23 May 2016

Writer in Residence Update: No Copyright? Wonderful!

Because I spent many years in business focused on developing new products I’m always looking for inspiration. New products rarely appear out of nowhere, instead we think of them because we see something that gets us thinking in a different way. I’ve been planning a new workshop for June based on using some of the British Library’s archival materials and I think there’s a whole new world to be explored when developing new products: the realms of expired copyright.

Alice in Wonderland: an out of copyright bestseller

Recently the British Library held an Alice in Wonderland exhibition, with an accompanying pop-up shop. So hugely popular was the shop that it stayed open well past the planned closure date. Most of the items were sourced through small independent designer-makers. Alice in Wonderland, of course, is a wonderful source of inspiration: it is a beloved classic, full of witty writing and illustrated with memorable flair. More importantly, it is out of copyright, and therefore any designer-maker is can develop their own interpretations of it and may freely use both the original text and illustrations. The result was badges, chocolates, clothing, colouring books, umbrellas, crockery, toys, bags and many more items.

So while copyright is an important protection, at the moment when it expires (in the UK, 70 years after the death of its creator, to give you a very rough idea – you should always check each item individually for any exceptions but there are experts on hand in the Business & IP Centre to do just that), it opens up a whole new world of inspiration and product possibilities which could be a goldmine for businesses.

A little exercise for your business


Here is an image used by the British Library in its shop, as a greetings card. It’s taken from a book, Birds of America. What would you have done with this image in your own business? How would you have used that image and the rest of the illustrations within the book for inspiration? Stop reading right now and write down 5 ideas. Right now. I dare you. Thinking out of the box around unusual items often brings us new ideas, whether directly connected or not, so it’s a useful exercise to do regularly.

Here are a few ideas: a game app where you collect endangered birds and protect them from poachers or other dangers; wallpaper (feathers are very ‘in’ right now in interior design); wrapping paper; fabric and lampshades; a children’s story book; the decor for a themed restaurant; branding your ‘kennels for pet birds’ or wildlife sanctuary or aviary; a talk for schools on the importance of conservation; a range of ‘superfood’ products from the Americas.


I’m running a workshop in June where we will be working with ten products taken from the British Library’s archives. All of them are copyright free. We’re going to practice working with them to develop new ideas, as well as exploring the new product development process and how you can make the most of it. We’ll also have an expert with us who will give us tips on how to search the British Library archives and check what you find is usable. You’ll leave buzzing with new ideas and I hope many of them will become real products in time.

There are millions of amazing items just waiting for your business to find them and turn them into bestsellers. Come along and explore.


Melissa Addey on behalf of the Business & IP Centre

Book for Melissa’s upcoming workshop ‘When Copyright Expires: Product development from the archives’ on the 20 June here.


19 May 2016

Kikka Digga - Business & IP Centre Success Story

Kikka Digga logoOn Saturday I visited Plumpton College near Lewes, for their annual open day. On display amongst the new-born lambs, Sussex wines, tractors and chainsaws was a stand for Kikka Digga. With my curiosity for all things new, I sauntered over and chatted to the demonstrator Nick Skaliotis. It turned out this was the very first public outing for the his new invention, which he claimed would make digging gardens significantly easier.

Mid-way through our conversation I asked if Nick had patented his invention, he looked more closely at me and said, "I know you". It turned out he has been a regular in the Business & IP Centre at the British Library. In addition to getting help with his patent from our wonderful Inventor in Residence Mark Shehean. He also attended several of our workshops including lean start-up webinar, social media for business and trade marks.

Kikka-Digga, product demonstration
After hearing Nick’s story I just had to buy his product to see if it really did live up to his claims. Also, I hoped it would help me to avoid the lower back-pain I now get every time I dig over my vegetable patch.

As soon as I got home I took the two pieces of metal out of package and installed them onto my fork. This was as simple as the instructions indicated with just two items to clamp onto my fork.

As you can see from my photos below, I was able to dig over a small section of my very weedy heavy clay soil quickly and easily using Kikka Digga. And, even better, I had no twinges in my lower back afterwards. So I am definitely sold on the product.

I also like the name Kikka Digga, for being simple and memorable. And it has even more k’s than the legendary Kodak brand. George Eastman said about the letter k, “it seems a strong, incisive sort of letter.” I am also glad to see that Nick has registered the name at the UK Intellectual Property Office.

Kikka Digga trademark

You can see a demonstration of the invention in action on YouTube. And keep up to date with Nick’s progress on Facebook or Twitter.

I can’t wait to see how the gardeners of Great Britain take to this wonderful invention.

Kikka Digga consumers demonstration of the product functionality in their garden

Kikka Digga newly assembled on my fork in seconds

Visual example of the Kikka Digga's results from the product

My first few digs into my heavy clay soil are surprisingly easy

An example of the Kikka Digga's results from the product usage

Misty is as impressed as I am by the speed and ease in digging up the plot.


By Neil Infield in the Business & IP Centre London team

11 May 2016

Scaling up with Innovating for Growth

And we’re off! This May we're welcoming fifteen new small businesses onto our Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme. Since the launch in 2012 we have helped over 250 businesses reach their potential.

We know it can be difficult to take your business to the next level. So, if you've got a great idea for growth but need some objective advice and support then this could be the programme for you. 

Innovating for Growth business products on display at the British Library
Caption: Innovating for Growth business products on display at the British Library

Successful applicants receive over £10,000 worth of business support on everything from marketing and branding to intellectual property. Over the course of three months you will work with at least eight specialist advisors who will help you grow from start-up to scale-up.

That’s not all - it costs you nothing but your time. And if you’re successful you will have the chance to refresh, reenergise and refocus your business. Click here for more information.

Here’s the lucky fifteen we are starting to work with this month. Could you be next?

Amplify Trading

Amplify Trading design and create education technology and processes for the banking and finance sector and in 2015 they won the CFA Institute global award for innovation in financial education for our practical approach to education.

Bramwell Brown Clocks

Bramwell Brown Clocks design wall clocks that mechanically move to demonstrate a barometric weather forecast or a local tide level. The clocks are UK-made and of premium quality, aimed at the contemporary home accessories market.

Chatty Feet

Chatty Feet bring back fun and silly moments into your life with our sock personalities. The socks are produced in Europe from high quality combed cotton with the illustrated character visible on both sides of the socks. ChattyFeet is sold in 9 countries and our collection grew from 4 to 27 characters in three years.

Nova and Koa

Nova and Koa is the gym bag reimagined. They have created the world's first fully functional gym bag that looks like a handbag. Unique to the market, their styles feature separate breathable and water resistant areas for trainers and gym kit, with a top section dedicated to handbag essentials. 

KOVA Interiors

KOVA help businesses improve their image, premises and presence by designing and building office fit-out, office refurbishment and office furniture, allowing businesses to grow, flourish and achieve extraordinary results.

Location Cars Ltd

Location Cars are the longest standing car hire company in London. They provide a private hire corporate car, chauffeur, minicab and courier service to get you where you need to go.


Ohyo is an upmarket UK brand developing and promoting smart and adaptable products. Ohyo recently teamed up with the London designer Felix Conran in 2015 and invented a multi-purpose bag that converts from tablet, messenger, backpack to grocery bag.  Ohyo also produces collapsabottles a reusable bottle that, when empty, will collapse to fit into a pocket or a handbag.

OI Engine Ltd

Ol Engine is an exciting new software platform that provides consulting support to help innovation managers engage their employees and customers in collaborative problem solving.

One Point Consulting

One Point Consulting help clients with digital transformation consulting, implementation and managed services


Quast is a consultancy, specialist in Quality Assurance and Software Testing. Their aim is to bring together the best pool of talent in QA and software testing, and make it available to their clients.


Spacechips helps suppliers of space-grade microchips understand future commercial and technical trends for the space industry and how such companies should align their product to maximise success. They also provide design consultancy services to manufactures of satellite sub-systems.

Splaat Media

Event photographer Splaat have experience in a number of areas such as drama, dance and music performance photography, sports tournament photography, prize giving and formal dinner photography.  They specialise in making photographs available for our customers quickly and in creative ways.


Tinderflint are a production agency producing content for various brands, agencies and charities. They work collaboratively with clients from the planning and development stage, through production and creation to delivery and distribution of content, translating brand intent into the right content for the right audience.

Turning Earth

Turning Earth provides open-access ceramics facilities, on a membership model, as well as entry-level classes. Their mission is to expand access to ceramics both for hobbyists and those who want to turn it into a viable career.


Überology combines improvement science with creative thinking and a collaborative approach to deliver highly effective solution-based programmes for healthcare organisations. 


European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) Logo

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