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19 July 2017

Top business advice from the British Library Scale-up Summit

The British Library welcomed over 130 ambitious businesses to the Knowledge Centre on Tuesday July 11th for its first ever Scale-up Summit, in partnership with London Growth Hub and Lucidica.

Attendees were able to pick the brains of over 20 entrepreneurs and business experts on issues such as building a brand, researching export markets, raising finance for fast growth and cultivating a top-team of employees.

If you weren’t able to make it on the day, never fear – we’ve rounded up the top-tips and advice from our stellar line-up of business brains here.

Raising your profile and building a brand:

The day kicked off with a session on how to get your business in the media and raise your profile. Julie Deane OBE (The Cambridge Satchel Company) and Will Butler-Adams OBE (Brompton Bicyles) gave a keynote exploring the strategies they have used to generate media interest in their companies.  Will and Julie were joined by Jenny Costa (Rubies in the Rubble), Siddarth Vijayakumar (Grub Club) and PR expert and Founder of JHPR Jessica Huie MBE.


British Library Entrepreneur in Residence Julie Deane

The top tips from this session were:

‘Believe in your business’ – Both Julie and Will stressed that, as a business owner, you have to have 100% passion, conviction and belief in your product. Passion is the secret ingredient that will help journalists and the media really engage with your business.

‘Know your customer’ - Before you can build your brand and make sure you’re getting it in front of the right people, you need to understand your customer really well. Jenny Costa recommended taking advantage of all possible sources of information to learn about who is most likely to buy your products in order to communicate with them most effectively. The Business & IP Centre provides access to all of the latest market research intelligence, reports and sector trends through its £5 million collection of business data and journals which you can use to get to know your customer.

‘Be authentic’ – There are no original business ideas, there are only original people, and as a business owner you are your own USP. Siddarth from Grub Club encouraged businesses to embrace their own authenticity to give their business a competitive edge.

Going global for growth

Delegates reconvened after a short break to hear from Paul Lindley (Ella's Kitchen) and Sean Ramsden (Ramsden International) about the challenges and opportunities of growing a business internationally, and how to stay in control when you do ‘go global’. After the keynote, Paul and Sean were joined by Bill Russell (Intellectual Property Office) and Matt Lumb (Tangle Teezer) for a lively discussion on how export can help you unlock your business growth.

Paul Lindley speaks about growing Ella's Kitchen internationally

Important advice from this session included:


‘People are more the same than they are different’ – Businesses can feel overwhelmed when considering entering foreign markets, and it’s easy to get weighed down worrying about differences in currency, cultural and social behaviour. However, our panel encouraged the audience to remember that, ultimately, potential customers across the world share more similarities than differences, and chances are that a good business idea will speak to people on a universal, human level. Businesses seeking to scale through export should have confidence in this fact.

‘Remember your WHY’ – Paul Lindley stressed the importance of remembering your overarching mission and objectives to help stay focussed as your business grows. Paul said that even though Ella’s Kitchen makes baby food, that’s not the reason the company exists. Rather, the company’s real mission is to improve children’s lives through developing healthy relationships with food: making baby food products provides them with the funds to keep on with their mission. Remembering the bigger picture helps to maintain focus when things are moving quickly in your business and you risk losing control.

‘Protect yourself’ – Although it sounds obvious, many businesses make mistakes when going global by not protecting their product and brand, exposing themselves to potential copycats and IP infringement. Before launching in new markets, businesses should check the IP protection they have and conduct an audit of what they need, ensuring that they minimise risks.




‘Go and visit’ – Astonishingly, business owners often think they can successfully grow in a foreign market without ever having set-foot in the country in question. There really is no comparison for field research, so if your business wants to expand globally don’t forget to travel, meet people face-to-face, have conversations and build relationships to give you the best possible chance of international growth success.

Raising finance for growth:

After lunch, the Summit moved on to tackle the thorny issue of finance. Helene Panzarino (author of Business Funding for Dummies) brought the audience up to speed on the current funding landscape, exploring the challenges and opportunities of funding a scaling business.  Next up Steve Moore and Paul Barham (Flight Club) took to the stage to share the amazing (and entertaining) story of how they raised finance to grow their social darts concept to two central London venues and 200+ employees in just three years.  Founder of Crowdcube Darren Westlake joined the panel and helped address a barrage of questions from businesses keen to understand more about the best ways to raise finance and minimise risk whilst scaling.

Top takeaways for raising finance included:


‘Know your financials (or find someone who does)’ – Business owners often shy away from finance, but if you are seeking investment you need to know your numbers inside out and be prepared to answer some pretty difficult questions on them. Investors and lenders can sense when businesses aren’t confident about their cash, are ‘winging it’ or – worse – are trying to conceal information. The key to successful fundraising lies in having confidence in the financial facts and understanding what they mean for your business growth.

‘Don’t be afraid of debt’ – There are lots of negative connotations surrounding debt, but it’s an essential element of any business growth and successful scaling-up is all about striking a healthy balance. Before you start to raise finance, work up a plan that sets out how much money you need and how much debt you’re comfortable with, and stick to it.

‘Find out what support is available, and use it’ – Whether your plan is to fund your growth through investment, crowdfunding or debt, there are plenty of public and private initiatives that can help to enhance your growth potential. Steve and Paul of Flight Club spoke in particular about the Government’s Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme and Enterprise Investment Scheme, both of which helped their business to maximise growth whilst minimising risks.

‘See the bigger picture’ – Entrepreneurs are naturally protective of their companies, and this is especially the case when giving away stakes in the business to potential investors. However, it’s important to see the bigger picture and keep the end goal in mind. As Paul Barham said on the day, ‘it’s much better to have 40% of a really valuable business than 100% of nothing.’

Our panel discuss strategies for raising finance


Leadership for scaling business:

As we all know, most businesses start with just one or two founders, but as the business grows the team behind it needs to get bigger too, yet entrepreneurs often struggle when it comes to delegating and relinquishing control. For these reasons our final session of the day focussed on strategies and tips to help business owners build terrific teams. Rob Law MBE from Trunki gave a great keynote all about how the Trunki team grew from 1 to 80+ employees, and the strategies that helped them keep their team values, authenticity and – most importantly – fun at the heart of the business. Rob was then joined on stage by business and life coach Rasheed Ogunlaru, Irene Graham of The ScaleUp Institute, Simon Pitkeathley (London LEAP Member) and Adrian Philips (Bradt Travel Guides) to debate and answer audience questions.


 Here’s what we learned about building a terrific team:

‘Ask the right questions’ – When recruiting a new team member, it’s important to ensure that their skills match the role, but don’t forget to find out why they want to work for you and what they know about your business. Asking questions that focus on soft skills, personal interests and long term goals gives a much more accurate sense of whether a potential employee will add value to your business.

‘Listen to your team’ – When you first launch your business you’ll be taking care of every element of operation. However, as you scale and take on a more leading role in your company’s structure, it can be easy to unintentionally lose touch with what’s happening on the shop floor, or to assume that you already ‘know it all’ because you’ve been there and done it yourself. But scaling companies face very different logistical challenges and things will have changed over time. For this reason, don’t forget to take the time to regularly listen to your team members and be open to implementing their ideas and suggestions.

‘Create a culture of development’ – Staff stay motivated and committed to an organisation when they identify opportunities for professional development and feel they are being invested in. Offering perks such as training creates a more skilled workforce and reduces staff ‘churn’ as well as capitalising on accumulated ‘insider’ knowledge and expertise as your business grows.

‘Keep it fun’ – Rob Law said the best piece of business advice he could give is to ‘have a vision, share your mission and play with whoever turns up’ and this really encapsulates the sense of fun that is intrinsic to the Trunki brand. Keeping this sense of fun a visible part of your organisational culture – whether through team socials, competitions or celebrating success – boosts morale, keeps your team motivated to do their best for your business and ensures that you never lose sight of the reasons you started your business in the first place.


Rob Law responds to a question on leadership in scaling businesses

Attendees were also able to attend a roundtable forum with London Growth Hub to hear about other support available to help London businesses grow, and listen to closing remarks from Rajesh Agrawal (Deputy Mayor of London for Business) on the important role scale-up businesses play in building a more vibrant and prosperous city.

Scale-up Summit attendee Michael Murdoch (Founder and CEO of The House London Ltd) said "The Scale-up Summit at the British Library was fantastic.  It's amazing to hear stories from successful entrepreneurs who have been there and done that, plus there was a wealth of helpful and practical knowledge offered all at an affordable price!  Looking forward to more events like this in the future."


Attendees enjoyed a networking reception after the event


If you’re a growing business with big ambitions, you might be interested to apply for a place on Innovating for Growth - our three-month small business support programme which gives ambitious business access to over £10,000 worth of specialist advice. Applications are open now and the deadline is September 8th.


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