Innovation and enterprise blog

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

4 posts from June 2017

30 June 2017

How the British Library can help you turbocharge your business

By Isabel Oswell, Head of Business Audiences at The British Library

The Business & IP Centre officially opened in March 2006 and over the past eleven years, we have welcomed over 650,000 business owners through our doors. The Centre is a front-door to business support, combining access to the UK’s largest collection of business data, intellectual property and market research resources (worth in excess of £5 million) with free and low-cost training, one-to-one advice  and referrals, all located in a welcoming, inspiring and accessible space at the heart of the British Library.

When we first launched, we found that the majority of our users were either very early stage businesses or pre-starts.  Aspiring entrepreneurs would come into the Centre to make use of the extensive range of resources to help them research their markets, identify their potential customer base and determine whether their start-up idea ‘had legs’ before deciding whether to take the plunge and enter the world of entrepreneurship. Our team of trained business information specialists and expert delivery partners further supported this community of start-ups and pre-starts, helping them to get their ideas off the ground by offering training on a range of business topics including writing a business plan, funding and marketing.

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Our changing user base

As the Centre has matured, however, so has our user base and we now cater to a growing community of scaling businesses in addition to supporting new enterprises.  Many of the businesses that were supported by the Centre as they took their first tentative steps continue to return to use our resources as more mature companies who are encountering a whole new set of challenges as they seize opportunities to maximize their growth and reach their potential These include business owners like Paul Lindley – who used the Centre to start and grow the Ella’s Kitchen baby food range – and Shaun Pulfrey, founder of the revolutionary Tangle Teezer hair brushes and styling range. Our service has evolved to support the needs of scale-up businesses and to ensure that start-ups with high growth potential get timely access to the resources, training and expertise that they need to scale their business in a sustainable way. This has included introducing our flagship scale-up support offer Innovating for Growth, an ERDF funded programme giving scaling businesses access to three months of bespoke consultancy support to help them develop and implement a growth strategy. Innovating for Growth has been running for four years and in that time has supported over 320 businesses to increase their turnover and create new jobs for the UK economy.

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How can the British Library help you scale up your business?

We understand that scaling businesses need immediate access to practical advice and guidance across key areas including branding, exporting, raising finance and leadership, and questions related to these issues crop up time and time again at our events and during the consultancy sessions on Innovating for Growth.  But we also know that fast growth businesses are time-poor and don’t always necessarily have the capacity to commit to a longer term programme or to visit the Centre on a regular basis.

For these reasons, our users have called upon the Library to convene a one-day Scale-up Summit, help growing small businesses achieve their potential by giving them the opportunity to put their questions to role model founders and unpick the practical steps they took to make their good business into a great business. This flagship event brings together prominent entrepreneurs, Business & IP Centre case studies and industry experts including The ScaleUp Institute to share the skills and insight that small businesses need to scale up, drive innovation and create jobs.

The event has been specifically programmed to address the four key issues that we know affect business growth, and we’ve brought together carefully chosen keynote speakers along with experienced, expert panellists to explore these issues in-depth and answer your burning questions.  Content includes sessions on getting your business in the media, building a terrific team and identifying export opportunities and will give you the takeaways, practical hints, tips and advice that will help you hack your business growth.

We passionately believe that Libraries are the ideal place not just to start your business, but to scale it too. As your business grows it’s more important than ever to know your customers, be aware of market trends and understand the needs of potential new audiences both in the UK and overseas.  The Business & IP Centre gives small businesses a commercial edge by offering free access to the type of market intelligence that is usually reserved for large corporations. These resources, combined with our workshops and training sessions, allow entrepreneurs to interpret and apply data to real-life business decisions, making the British Library the perfect place to kick-start your business growth.

Scale-up Summit takes place on Tuesday, July 11, 2017 (09.30-18.30) and is a unique opportunity to turbo-charge your business.  Tickets cost just £40.00 including lunch and a networking reception.

Click here to download your full Scale-up Summit schedule

We are delighted to be working with our partners at London Growth Hub and Lucidica to offer ambitious entrepreneurs this unique opportunity to come face-to-face with business leaders, network with peers, share intelligence, spark ideas, find out what drives business growth and increase their odds of scale-up success.


23 June 2017

How to get a granted patent

Getting a granted patent is something that every inventor dreams about. Aside from protecting your invention from copycats and the honour of being a fully-fledged inventor, having a granted patent is a great intellectual property that can give your business economic benefits as well as better valuation later.

It is for these reasons that I worked hard to get a granted patent for my first product, Nimble Babies Milk Buster, which is a baby bottle cleaner that detaches milk fat and proteins from plastic to free bottles from cloudiness and smelly odour.

After two long years, I am proud to say that our UK patent has been granted which gives us exclusive rights to the technology until 2035 and this has improved our chances of getting our patent applications approved in other countries too. What I hope to do in this blog is to share my learnings from the two-year journey and help you decide whether a patent application is for you.

Nimble Babies Patent Certification PR-min

Do I really believe that my product is novel and inventive?

Just like most things that entrepreneurs do, getting a granted patent is quite a high-risk activity that can end up really putting pressure on your pockets. Before you set out and spend thousands of pounds in filing a patent application, your answer to the question above should be a resounding yes.

It can cost you around £5,000 to get a patent granted, so you have to be pretty convinced that your product is novel and inventive, which are the two main criteria used by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) to judge whether your product is worthy of getting a granted patent.

Being novel means that no one has ever done exactly what you have done. Can you think of other brands and products within and outside your field that have done the same thing that you’ve done? Has anyone used the same ingredients in the same proportions before?

Being inventive refers to doing something not obvious to anyone who is skilled in your field. This is a little harder to prove but a good starting point is to ask yourself “Did I have to do something different to resolve a specific issue with the product?” If the answer is yes, say you had to change the way things are added, or you had to find better ingredients that are more suitable and didn’t find those solutions in any literature or other sources, then most likely you did have an inventive solution.

If you really feel strongly that your product is indeed novel and inventive after answering the questions above, then chances are you might be right. But to make sure that your assessment is right, you should do a formal patent search using tools like WIPO and Espacenet. These patent search tools are great but be ready to wade through tons of patents and applications. Searching broadly requires some skill, you may want to hire a professional who can do a patent search for you and just hand you a report with what they think are the relevant patents and applications to review. Before spending on anything, my advice is for you to get familiarised with it by attending free workshops on intellectual property run by the British Library and its National Network.

Should I hire a patent lawyer?

Once you’ve completed your patent search and have decided that you really have a patentable product, the next thing to do is to instruct a patent lawyer to formally file the patent on your behalf.

If you’ve done the patent search yourself and thought that it was a piece of cake, then you may think that you’d do the patent application yourself and save £5,000. My advice is not to fall into this trap. Writing a patent specification is highly technical and the whole application process takes two years, which involves a lot of written communication with the IPO. Doing it yourself means that you may miss out important details that would end up screwing your chances of securing a patent.

Although the total cost for your application will be £5,000, it can be split into two separate payments. You will need at least £3,000 to pay for the first step, which is the drafting and filing of the patent specification. The other £2,000 is to pay for interim services by the patent lawyer to review the examination reports from the IPO and draft a response. The interim services may cost more or less than £2,000 depending on how many rounds of examination and responses you’ll have with the IPO.

Choosing the right patent lawyer

Since it is a two-year process, my advice is to find the right patent lawyer. Think of it as having a boyfriend or girlfriend for at least two years, so you really would want to get on well with your patent lawyer. Try to meet at least three patent lawyers from different law firms so you can have a better understanding of the whole application process and to also find the right lawyer for you who understands your industry and product well and asks the right questions. There are free IP clinics all over the country where law firms send out their lawyers for free 30-min consultations.

I must admit, I made a mistake and chose a law firm, which I thought was the right one for me. They were good in the initial meetings but, because I negotiated prices down to save on cash, I was assigned a trainee lawyer to draft my patent specification. The job was not bad but I felt that the trainee failed to capture well what was truly inventive. Because I didn’t know any better, we went ahead anyway with what was drafted and filed it.

But fortunately, a few months after we filed, I met a freelance patent lawyer through an introduction. He is very experienced and was genuinely interested in helping me succeed and I felt that he understood exactly what I did. And to top it all, he charged less than the law firms because he didn’t have huge overheads to pay, apart from his own daily rate. After some thought, I decided to cut my losses and transfer the case over to him and this is probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in the business.

This freelance guy came in at the right time when we received the first examination report and he took care of rewriting the specification as much as it was allowed and wrote a better and more accurate specification to give me the best chance of success. And yes, after two long years of waiting and responding to the queries of the IPO, they were convinced that my product was indeed novel and inventive and have finally handed me a Certificate of Grant of Patent. I can now proudly say that I am a bona fide inventor with a granted patent under my belt. We still have to complete our filings in other countries but having a UK patent granted gives us a better shot at achieving it.

If you’d like to learn more about patents or capitalising on your intellectual property, check out the Business & IP centre’s workshops and events here, to help you grow a successful business.

14 June 2017

Five email marketing tips to increase sales

With so many advances in digital marketing, email is sometimes considered a rather old-fashioned marketing tool. However, with around 53% of people now opting to view their emails on mobile, email is still one of the best ways to reach your existing and prospective clients.

If you want to speak out about your brand, build new relationships and convert those all-important leads into paying customers, email is still king.  7 in 10 people are said to have taken advantage of special offers from an email campaign in the last year, and 44% of people made at least one purchase from an email campaign.

Many entrepreneurs have built successful businesses using email lists as the core of their marketing. Want to know how to maximise your email marketing efforts?

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List Building

It may seem obvious, but many people overlook this first step as they believe they already have a large list of contacts. This isn’t enough. You must be sure you have a solid bed of leads in your list, not just a list of random emails. There is no point having a gigantic email list if it’s full of people who have no interest in what you have to offer.

Get your email list right from the very start; attract those who are genuinely interested. Filling your list with your target market means you will have more chance of converting those leads into customers. For this reason, be very wary of accepting lists from third parties. It’s better to have a list of 10 people that are interested in your product, than 1,000 people who are just going to ignore your emails or unsubscribe.

Opt-in forms are a great way of collecting solid leads. If someone is already on your website, chances are they already have a need for your product or service. You can use opt-in forms to collect leads in various ways. You can offer blog updates, free downloads, it all depends on your business. This allows you to keep in contact, develop a relationship and nurture the lead ready for a sale.

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Crafting the email

The subject line is often overlooked but it really shouldn’t be. If you think about it, the subject line decides whether that content gets put in front of a client or whether they decide to hit delete.

Make sure your subject line is simple, short and to the point.  A subject line should be compelling, outlining the value of the email but in just a few words.  

When it comes to the content, again we have to say keep it simple. People don’t pay much attention to their emails. You have only a short amount of time to get to the point and make an impression before they click next. There are lots of great ways to make a good first impression by email.

Keep your emails brief. Your content should focus on one key topic and no more. By focussing on one amazing offer or one 'must read' blog and keeping the call to action clear, you will increase the number of click-throughs you receive. 

Time and Frequency

Many people ask about the optimum time and frequency to send out email campaigns. Despite extensive research and numerous theories, there is still no right answer to this.  It varies dramatically depending on your target group.

The frequency is ultimately decided the importance of your information to the end user. You want to keep in the client's mind, but you don’t want to overdo it. There are too many businesses that are overdoing it and annoying their email recipients.

Be wary of sending too many newsletters; what is important news for your business, may not be as interesting to an end user. Much like blogging, original and useful content is what keeps people interested.

Think about the benefits you have to offer your leads and try to make sure each email is benefit driven.  If you have an active blog, this is a great place to start for your email content. It doesn’t take much more work to share weekly updates about a useful blog you have written. There are many other benefits to blogging for business.

As for the best time to send emails, again, this will very much depend on who you are targeting. If you are a B2B company, it might make sense to email on a weekday morning when most employees check their inbox. However, if you are targeting a younger crowd, you may want to email in the evening or at weekends.

When you have a good idea of who your target market is, you need to research their behaviour before you do anything else. Tailored research will guide you to find the optimal time for your specific customer base.

Test and evaluate

As a marketer, there is nothing worse than receiving an email with typos and errors. Generally, your clients will think the same. When email is the sole point of contact with a client, you want to make your impressions count.

If you are sending a campaign to hundreds of clients, you want to be triple sure it’s perfect. Proofread it and send yourself a test email as the very minimum. When you read it back, try to think from your client’s perspective to ensure the correct tone is coming across.

You can even set yourself up with a number of different email accounts to check across different platforms. You want to be sure that the email you send won’t display errors in another browser or platform. With the rise of emails on mobile, it’s also a good idea to test this as well.

Over time, it’s important to analyse your list so you can find out exactly what works for your clients. Your list is unique to your business and this means a lot of trial and error is involved.

By reviewing the number of people who opened an email, the number that clicked links and the number of unsubscribes you begin to get a picture of what works and what doesn’t. Then you are in a better position to craft campaigns that your audience will find useful and engaging.

Illustration of a scientific lab, repressing 'Test and Evaluate'

That being said; don’t get too hung up when people unsubscribe from your list.  Part of the process of email marketing is highlighting those key clients who are interested in what you have to say and what your company has to offer. People may unsubscribe because they realise they have no need for what you are selling. Remember, you are not targeting these people.

Not having these contacts in your list will actually enable you to get a more solid idea of your target customers. Essentially, by unsubscribing, they have done you a favour. You are now left with a more focused list of leads who are actually interested in your product of service.  


Want to take some of the stress and time out of creating successful email marketing campaigns? The final food for thought is some awesome hacks that will increase your productivity when it comes to email marketing.


Creating an email autoresponder takes a lot of the hard work out of the process. An autoresponder is an email that goes out automatically when triggered by a certain event. An event could be a number of things. For example, when someone signs up to your mailing list or when someone downloads an e-book.

As soon as you receive that person’s email address you can email them automatically. Your auto-response can even be a series of emails, beginning with an introduction, then a link to an important blog and perhaps directing them to a special offer on your site.

A series of emails like this offering something useful each time fosters trust between you and that client. As these early emails help to form a relationship, getting them right is crucial. You can spend more time crafting the perfect series as you will save time and money in sending them. There are plenty of ways in which you can automate your marketing.

Illustration of a robot, representing 'Automation'

Spam fixers

There is one thing worse than receiving a spam email, and that’s sending one. There are some simple ways to ensure your email won’t be flagged as spam. For subject lines, this free spam checker is great for testing if your email will trigger a spam filter.

Being honest in your emails is an absolute must. Don’t lie about anything in the subject line or try to trick people to open them by suggesting something that’s misleading. This is the same with sales emails. Make sure to highlight that this email is, in fact, an advertisement.

Allowing people to unsubscribe with ease is super-important. You need to make it easy as pie for people to unsubscribe from your list. Offer a link in the email which is easy to see and ensure that they are removed immediately.

We hope these 5 email marketing tips will get you on your way to creating your own compelling campaigns.

For more marketing advice, why not come along to one of the workshop held at The British Library Business & IP Centre?

13 June 2017

The proper way to build a brilliant brand

On Thursday 15 June 2017, the British Library’s Business & IP Centre will be hosting Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Brilliant Brands. The panel will consist of Inspiring food and drink entrepreneurs speaking on their respective journeys to business success and the creation of their exciting brands. One of the brilliant brands on the night will be PROPERCORN, represented by co-founder, Ryan Kohn. We caught up with Ryan to find out a little more about the PROPERCORN story and to discover how it developed from an entrepreneurial dream to a big business, selling three million bags a month.

What makes PROPERCORN so different from any other popcorn brand on the market?

We’ve grown at a serious pace over the last five years but we’ve never compromised on our popcorn. We’re total flavour fanatics, so the recipes still start in our kitchen and the process involves careful sourcing, blending and tweaking until we’ve got the perfect product. Every bag is made using natural seasonings and our passionate team still manages to bring to life incredible recipes like Peanut Butter & Almond and Sour Cream & Black Pepper. We’re also very proud to be the only independently-run, British brand of the four leading popcorns on the market. This definitely helps us to retain flexibility in our entrepreneurial approach.  


Tell us about the early days of starting your business and why you think your idea succeeded?

My business partner, Cassandra, came up with the idea when she was 25. Like all great ideas and entrepreneurs, she spotted a gap and was brave enough to make the leap. It’s easy to forget how little there was on offer in terms of healthy snacks at the time; it was either a chocolate bar or a rice cake and not much else in between. Cassandra was determined to bring something to market which found that tasty/healthy sweet spot. Quite simply, it made sense - and when we brought together our dogged determination, her creativity and my business experience we found we had a pretty formidable team. 

Did you expect such fast growth when you started and how have dealt with the challenges that such change brings?

To be honest, our initial business plan was much punchier than we actually achieved. However, this was probably due to our inexperienced forecasting than anything else. I am extremely ambitious and with past businesses, I have learnt that there is a lot to be said for momentum. I believed in what we had and knew that once we got the ball rolling, that momentum would follow. Our first stockist was Google HQ where we became the best-selling snack; this was an amazing case study and a quick succession of major retailers followed. Challenges are endless and pitfalls inevitable, so resilience and reacting positively to any mistakes is key when starting your own business. I really do believe in the power of being positive and the challenges you overcome, only make you stronger. It helps too when you have an amazing team supporting you and we certainly have that at PROPERCORN.


Did you have any concerns about entering an already saturated market? And, if so, how did you manage to stand out?

We were one of the first to market, but a couple of competitors had launched before us. Initially, we thought it was detrimental to our ambitions that others were doing the same thing, but, when you’re trying to build a new category it was, in hindsight, brilliant that we had others pushing the same message. We wouldn’t have been able to do it alone as a start-up with limited budgets. Together we have built the fastest growing snack within crisps, snacks and nuts sector for the last five years on the trot.

From the get go, our flavours have always made us stand out and we’re very proud to have won the Great Taste Awards for our efforts. We also have an enormously talented in-house creative team who create everything you see on our packs, cases and campaigns. I’d like to think it’s the attention to detail and passion that goes into all elements of PROPERCORN that really sets us apart.

Finally, do you have any wise words of advice for budding food entrepreneurs hoping to follow in your footsteps?

If you’ve spotted that gap and you really believe the demand is there, have a go at pulling together a skeleton business plan. It sounds really obvious but even a crude skeleton will give you focus, whatever the industry. Think about what a successful year looks like, how you might go about achieving that success and then just go for it and don’t hold back.

For your chance to hear more from Ryan and to quiz the brains behind Beavertown Brewery, Cauli Rice and The Spice Tailor, book your Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Brilliant Brands ticket here.