Innovation and enterprise blog

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

6 posts from February 2019

25 February 2019

Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs at the Business & IP Centre

Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs (EYE) is a programme that gives new or aspiring entrepreneurs the opportunity to work with experienced entrepreneurs in other European countries. EYE is run at the British Library’s Business & IP Centre by Nigel Spencer, who is responsible for services to support innovation and entrepreneurship. Nigel looks at some of the success stories to come out of the programme…

“One year ago, I wondered how I was going to pay my rent, and this year, I ask myself why I did not join the EYE programme sooner.” James Markey

In early 2017 we held an event at the Business & IP Centre to promote EYE, as we are an Intermediary Organisation for this programme and manage these exchanges. James Markey came to the event and shortly afterwards he joined the programme. In December 2018 James received the exciting news that he had been shortlisted for the EYE programme’s Entrepreneur of the Decade Award and will be presenting his story at the awards ceremony in Brussels on Monday 18 March.

After joining EYE James told us about his plans for a business and we worked with him to identify the type of support, skills and knowledge he would need to help make them a reality. This gave us a clear idea of the type of mentor that would make the best match for an exchange. We then used our networks to find such a person. James was particularly interested in the application of virtual and augmented reality in a training environment.

Over the past eight years, we had worked on a number of projects with a business support service in France called Laval Mayenne Technopole (LMT) who were also an Intermediary Organisation for the EYE programme. LMT are located in Laval in the west of Normandy and we knew this to be an international hub for virtual reality. LMT quickly identified Arnaud Cosson, the CEO of HRV Simulation as someone who would be an excellent mentor and James spent January to April 2018 working with Arnaud in France. Before his exchange, he went on an intensive French language course to enable him to really immerse himself in the work of HRV Simulation and the local community.

Image of James Markey demoing HRV Simulation's product

“I was given opportunities, both to work on my own business, and pick up live business experience within the host company. This ranged from supporting Arnaud with an investment pitch, demonstrating products to potential clients and getting involved in creating both the CRM system to support the growth and the marketing channels to create a future pipeline. In my final week with the company, I pitched my business, after which they became my first client.”

When he returned to the UK, James developed his business model based on what he had learned in Laval and launched his business, JPMentors. He now has clients in France and the UK and has taken on two members of staff and sponsored a youth football team in Portsmouth. The business is growing well and the future looks very bright.

James has definitely been a success story but is just one of the 68 exchanges we have arranged over the past two years and the vast majority of these have been great experiences for those involved.  50 new entrepreneurs have learned from experienced hosts in the UK and 20 new entrepreneurs from the UK have spent time overseas. We have been able to send people to places like Berlin, Lisbon, Valencia, Ljubljana, Vilnius, Naples, Dublin, Amsterdam, Brussels and as far away as Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles. We have welcomed entrepreneurs from Portugal, Italy, Germany, Romania, Poland, Turkey, Greece, Lithuania, Armenia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Spain and Hungary.

One of our more unusual combinations saw an entrepreneur from Anguilla spending time in Finland. Njeri Richardson owned Branches of Learning, an education service in the British overseas territory of Anguilla. Njeri was aware Finland has pioneered the most innovative approaches to teaching children with learning difficulties and she wanted to adopt these methods in Anguilla, so spent four months in 2018 working with Shirin Kulkarni at the Council for Creative Education in Tampere.

On Friday 1 February 2018, the Business & IP Centre’s contract on the EYE programme was extended until January 2022 and we are looking forward to offering these great opportunities to many more entrepreneurs. The geographical coverage of the programme was previously limited to European Union countries with some additional countries such as Turkey, the Ukraine and Serbia, but has now been extended to include Israel, Singapore, New York State and Pennsylvania in the USA.

The programme is funded by the European Union, but we believe that the only risk from Brexit is from a no-deal scenario as this would mean that all UK activity would end immediately. If you are interested in going on an exchange as a new entrepreneur or acting as a mentor to a new entrepreneur from overseas as a host entrepreneur, please contact us through email on [email protected]. You can find out more or apply for the programme here.

18 February 2019

12 tips for starting up a fashion business

As London Fashion Week is coming to an end and to coincide with the new season, The British Fashion Council, who organise the bi-annual event, have released figures from Mintel showing the fashion industry directly contributed £32.3bn to the UK GDP in 2017.

This represents a 5.4% increase after 2016; a growth rate 1.6% higher than the rest of the economy. Womenswear represents 51% of the fashion market, with menswear accounting for 26%.

However, despite the importance of the sector, it is one of the hardest to succeed in, due to high start-up costs, sizeable competition and the diversity of products available.

So it’s essential for anyone starting up a fashion business, to have a business plan in place outlining their strategy, and to understand where their fashion brand or idea sits in the overall marketplace.

Alison Lewy MBE, Fashion Angel founder and author of Design, Create, Sell

Fashion Angel is a fashion business accelerator offering mentoring, workshops (including at the Business & IP Centre) and access to funding to both new and established fashion industry entrepreneurs. Alison Lewy MBE, Fashion Angel founder and author of Design, Create, Sell – a guide to starting a successful fashion business, gives some top tips for anyone planning to start a new fashion business:

1. Develop a business plan before you start – a business plan is your personal roadmap outlining your goals, visions and objectives and not just needed for raising finance. It will be central to your business development and be a useful tool to measure your progress against your projections.                                

2. Don’t underestimate your start-up costs – fashion business start-up costs can be high so avoid nasty surprises and list all your potential costs. Include the cost of your sample collection, stock, equipment, marketing materials, website, IP and professional fees, insurance, and of course any deposits required for rent or utilities.

3. Research the marketplace – find out about the size of the market for your type of product and whether it’s an expanding area. The British Library’s Business & IP Centre is a very useful resource for this as has numerous up-to-date fashion sector specific market research reports you can access for free. Identify your key competitors and analyse their business and marketing strategies. This will help you define your competitive edge and what differentiates your brand from other similar products.

4. Create a strong brand – your visual branding and brand story are central to the way the public perceives your label. Your customers should develop an emotional connection, and brands that create a strong identity are the ones most likely to endure.

5. Profile your target customer/s – conduct primary research to understand your customers’ buying and lifestyle habits and create profiles for each type of potential customer. Keep this information in mind when you are designing your collection/products and setting your prices. Remember, you are not designing for yourself!

6. Plan your product range – offer a focused tight collection to start with, and do it well, rather than try to please everyone. It will be easier to produce too! You can diversify and expand once you have built your reputation and have sales history to base decisions on.

7. Identify your sales channels – think about your route to market and how you will reach your customers. Do you plan to be a wholesale business selling to retailers? If so how will you manage this? If selling direct to the consumer, are you planning to open a bricks and mortar shop or will it be online or both?

8. Work out a marketing plan – you may have an amazing product and lovely website, but how are people going to know about it? The marketing strategy is a key element of any business plan and should detail how you will promote the business, and budget needed accordingly.

9. Adopt a realistic pricing strategy – your pricing must be in line with similar offerings in the marketplace. Unless you are a well-known luxury brand, every product has a ceiling price that customers will pay.

10. Offer excellent quality and customer service – this area allows a small business to shine and can give you a competitive advantage. Reputation takes a long time to build but can be destroyed very quickly. Customers expect value for money whether you are operating at the value or luxury end of the market.

11. Keep a tight control of your finances – monitor your cash flow on a regular basis, this will help you foresee any potential problems arising and allow you to find solutions, rather than suddenly being faced with not being able to pay your bills or suppliers.

12. Take advantage of any networking opportunities – you’ll need all the help you can get, so make sure you tell everyone you meet what your business does. Always carry business cards with you and always ask for one, so you can start to build your own database of useful contacts.

Starting a fashion business isn’t easy, but with passion, drive and a clear vision it can be one of the most exciting and rewarding industries to work in.

To see all of the Business & IP Centre's upcoming workshops, visit our website.

Alison Lewy MBE, Fashion Angel founder conducting a workshop at our BIPC centre.

14 February 2019

Brexit resources available

Now that Brexit has taken place, we've updated the list of resources currently available to help you find the information you are looking for. 

Actions you can take now that do not depend on negotiations

Use the information from the Government to understand how leaving the EU may affect your business and what you can do to get ready, including guides on employing EU citizens, importing and exporting, intellectual property and funding, amongst others.

Brexit Business Resource Hub

Brexit image over EU flag on a jigsaw puzzle

The London Growth Hub and the Mayor of London have launched this new Brexit Business Resource Hub, bringing together key resources from a range of partners to help with business planning, support for mapping business areas with potential exposure to Brexit.

Using personal data after Brexit

Manicured hands typing on a Dell Laptop

This page tells you what you'll need to do from 1 January 2021. It'll be updated if anything changes.

The Institute of Export and International Trade Customs Procedures and Documentation

Customs Declaration on Paper image

A comprehensive look at the information that is required to be submitted to customs to enable goods to be imported and exported. It also looks at the differences between EU and non-EU trade. 

IP and Brexit: the facts

Intellectual Property examples on a storyboard

Information on trade marks, designs, patents, copyright, and exhaustion of IP rights during the transition period.

12 February 2019

A week in the life of... Rachel Walker, co-founder of The Fold Line

Rachel is a co-founder of The Fold Line, an award-winning online sewing community and sewing pattern shop. Championing independent pattern designers, they are the one stop shop for all your dressmaking pattern needs. Founded in 2015 they are the home for people who love sewing and making their own clothes and are alumni of our Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme.

With a background in science research, it wasn’t until after finishing her PhD that Rachel decided she wanted a career change. She started to work part-time for a sewing company in London, teaching classes and helping at events, as she had always enjoyed sewing as a hobby. She then retrained in pattern cutting and over the next year, moved into overseeing pattern production and development, using the project management skills she had gained from her studies. During this time she met Kate (co-founder) and after a couple of months they decided to start a business together.

As avid makers, Rachel and Kate struggled to keep up with all the sewing pattern releases and growing number of bloggers sharing their makes and tips. They were inspired by the growing online sewing community to build a home for everyone interested in dressmaking. From this The Fold Line was born, a place you can meet other makers, share tips and ideas and get lots of inspiration for your next project while keeping up-to-date with the latest sewing news and pattern releases.

Kate and Rachel, Rachel is a co-founder of The Fold Line

You can expect to find lots of inspiration and catch up on all the latest sewing news on their sewing blog and vlog. They also have an extensive sewing pattern database where you can use a pattern finder tool to search over 10,000 patterns plus read lots of sewing pattern reviews from the community. 


The first thing I do on a Monday morning is take my enthusiastic Labrador for a long walk to tire him out. Once back home I begin the week with catching up on everything that has been going on over the weekend. I reply to any outstanding emails, pay invoices and browse social media channels for news in the sewing community. I also take the time to reply to questions and comments from our community of makers on our website and social media.

In the afternoon I plan out my tasks for the week ahead and check we have everything we need. I will usually spend the rest of the day on accounts, making sure our freelancers are paid and looking at our spending over the last week.


Another long dog walk. When back at home I start the day by emailing the freelancers who work with us on creating content and sharing it across our social media channels. I’ll also order more stock for our warehouse and check on the status of orders that need to be sent out.

In the afternoon I will work on one of our consulting jobs, creating content and scheduling it for the week ahead.


First thing in the morning I photograph any sewing patterns that have been delivered so that we can get the new products added to our website. Later in the morning I visit our warehouse and the team that picks and packs all the orders that go out from our online shop. It’s a good opportunity to take any new stock with me and also talk through problems with the team.

In the afternoon I email new pattern designers about adding their sewing patterns to our new online shop. I’ll also update stock levels depending on what products I took to the warehouse. I’ll also spend time on social media looking for new sewing challenges people can take part in, sewing meet ups that have been arranged and sewing pattern releases so we have new content to share with the community.

The Fold Line new website - pattern page


Another long dog walk! I then meet up with Kate, who is the other founder and director at The Fold Line. Over tea we talk about how we are getting on with big projects we have planned and chat through any difficulties we’ve had during the week. We also analyse sales of sewing patterns from our online shop and look at current trends. We brainstorm about new content for blogs over the coming months as well. If it’s been a challenging week we will treat ourselves to a nice lunch!

In the afternoon I’ll update our diaries and schedule with the plans we have made. I’ll also do more work on one of our consulting jobs.


I usually spend Fridays working on the second consulting job we do, designing and testing creative content for publication.


We often attend sewing meet ups on Saturdays where we join a group of sewing enthusiasts for fabric shopping or a fashion exhibition. We might also be guest judges of handmade outfits at sewing parties. On Sundays I try not to work. If I have time I’ll try and do a bit of sewing for myself and make a garment such as a top or jacket. I do like to reply to all the emails that we have received over the weekend on a Sunday evening so that I can start Monday with an empty inbox!

06 February 2019

Why have a mentor? Discover more about our Innovating for Growth: Mentoring programme

Mark Zuckerberg had Steve Jobs, Jamie Oliver has Gennaro Contaldo and Lady Gaga has Elton John. We’re talking about mentor and mentees. Are you looking for your own Elton? Do you want guidance like Mark? The Business & IP Centre runs a mentoring programme as part of Innovating for Growth, pairing up entrepreneurs who have completed our Scale-ups programme, with those who have started their own new business. To see the eligibility criteria, visit our website.

We found many enquirers had misconceptions about being a mentor/mentee, didn’t really know what it was or just wanted more information, so we picked the brains of those currently in the mentoring programme for some insider knowledge.

Deborah Wood, founder of Ascendit, a networked team of business experts, highlights the importance of having a mentor, “Open your mind to be able to learn from and be supported by others. Business lessons are universal so there will always be something to draw from someone else's experience that can help you develop your business. If you have a skilled mentor then they will quickly identify a point that will make a difference to your development.

“[I wanted a mentor as] I’m a great believer in mentorship. I was very fortunate to have my very first one at the tender age of 15, when taking art in school. I had absolutely no experience but clearly was talented. My art teacher thought I would benefit from studying at art college. My first choice was to apply to Central Saint Martin’s in London. I got in and the rest is history.” Tina Bernstein, founder of Mapology Guides, who produce illustrated self-help maps for life's journeys.


What are the programme’s eligibility requirements?

  • Your business has to have been registered as a Sole Trader or on Companies House for at least six months by the application deadline (see below)
  • Your business should already have a ‘live’ website
  • Your business should have already generated some revenue from sales (e.g. from trading at local markets, trade-shows)
  • You will be able to attend the Introductory Mentee Workshop
  • You or your business must be based in London

Tina confirms how mentoring at this stage of her business helped more than if she’d had someone at the start, “I suppose having a mentor right from the start would potentially have helped with avoiding making so many mistakes. However, being good at business is all about learning the lessons and mistakes are part of the journey. Personally, I wouldn’t have wanted someone to guide me right from the start. I’m grateful for all my mistakes and what they’ve taught me. I’m sure I benefited more at this stage of my business.

Can I still apply if:

… I haven’t been registered with Companies House for six months, but I was previously trading in another country before then?

Yes, as long as you also meet our other requirements.

… My company has not yet generated any revenue, but we are expecting some invoices to be processed by our clients soon?

Sadly, no. You must have generated some revenue from sales at the time of your application. We encourage you to apply for future cohorts when this happens.

… I am rebranding my company and/or taking it in a new direction?

Yes, as long as this is a development of your existing company and not the creation of a separate business entity. The mentoring programme is a chance for you to grow your current business endeavour with a Mentor.

 Deborah confirms “The matching process was perfect as my mentor and I are from the same broad industry category. This meant that he immediately understood my business and was able to draw lessons from his own business development to guide help me. [Having being registered for over a year and generated revenue helped] as we had some operational experience to work with and shape.

A mentor and event attendee in discussion during a Speed Mentoring event hosted by the BIPC

The Programme

Who are the Mentors?

The Mentors are alumni from our Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme who have volunteered to take part in the programme.

Sarah Orecchia, founder of Unbeelievable Health, an Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups alumni who is a mentor says, “The Innovating for Growth program is something I shall always be grateful for. Having access to invaluable advice from so many professionals in the fields of IP, marketing, sales, supply chain, finance and more helped us to strengthen the foundations of our business and also taught me what being a good mentor is all about. I'm a real Business & IP Centre nerd and recommend it to anyone I come across who's starting a business! When I started my business I was really fortunate to have a couple of great mentors and it truly made a world of difference. Their straightforward advice and support helped me to avoid numerous pitfalls and guided me in the right direction. As Maya Angelou said – ‘If you get, give. If you learn, teach.’”

Amelia Rope, founder of Amelia Rope Chocolates wanted to become a mentor "Because it was important for me to give back'; not only to the Business & IP Centre, but also to individuals who were at the stage when a mentor may be of some help. We all have so much experience gained from getting things hopelessly wrong or delightfully right. If you can share an ounce of these with a budding start-up in the hope its saves them making the same mistakes it has to be worth it. The thorough training from the Business & IP Centre before we kicked off was invaluable. One fellow mentor I met on the course will be a friend for life."

I understand that the Mentee Introductory workshop is mandatory. If I am unable to attend in person, can this be done remotely?

It is essential that you are able to attend this workshop so as to have a greater understanding of the programme, your expectations as a mentee and also the expectations of your prospective mentor. If you are unable to attend the workshop, you must let the Innovating for Growth team know by emailing [email protected].

Should you unexpectedly not be able to attend after receiving a place on the Introductory Mentee Workshop, we do allow you to defer your place once to start with the next cohort.

I’ve been successful in getting a place on the Mentee Introductory Workshop. Am I now guaranteed a Mentor?

The Innovating for Growth team work hard to make sure that we can match you with an appropriate mentor so as to try to ensure the most positive experience as possible for you. This careful decision process is based on the information you provide on your application form, your interactions during the Introductory Workshop, and the experience/skillsets that our existing pool of Mentors have to offer.

Therefore, if we feel like we are unable to match you with a suitable Mentor this cohort, we will automatically enrol you onto the next cohort. In this instance, you will not need to reapply or attend a second Mentee Introductory Workshop.

The mentor appointed to me understood retail and my various challenges, that’s because they’ve themselves been through them at an earlier stage. I felt we spoke the same language. I think the matched approach is imperative to a successful mentor/mentee relationship. I was very grateful for the hand-picked approach.” Tina Bernstein, founder of Mapology Guides

How often does the programme take place?

The programme takes place on a bi-annual basis (approximately).

How much time will I need to commit to the programme?

If successfully matched with a Mentor, your mentoring sessions will consist of one one hour introductory meetings of one hour at the Business & IP Centre, followed by five meetings of 1-2 hours over the course of four months. The time, dates and locations for the remaining five meetings will be decided between you and your Mentor.

What type of Mentoring will I receive?

This is something that will be discussed in greater detail at the Introductory Mentee Workshop. However, it is good to know that the purpose of the programme is to provide a holistic mentoring experience, and we cannot guarantee that you will receive mentoring on a specific topic i.e. marketing, finance, international trade, etc.

Does the programme provide any financial support?

No, the programme’s purpose is to build your entrepreneurial confidence and it seeks to offer the following non-monetary benefits:

  • Practical advice, encouragement and support from experienced entrepreneurs
  • Identification of goals and establish a sense of direction
  • Exposure to new ideas and ways of thinking
  • Strengthen your interpersonal and communication skills and learn to listen actively and accept feedback
  • Increase your confidence and motivation
  • Expansion your professional network

Will I need to pay to participate in the programme?

No. The Innovating for Growth project is funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the British Library, making this programme completely free to you. All we ask is that you pay for your Mentor’s coffee or tea during your mentoring meetings as they are volunteering their own time to help you.

Sarah explains the importance of having a mentor, “As humans, we tend to wage an internal battle between lacking confidence and feeling like we can do it all. Starting a business takes a LOT of time and many mistakes can be made along the way. A mentor helps to guide you and provides often, invaluable advice and insight. I had several mentors for different areas of my business. Sometimes just a few meetings or conversations are needed, and sometimes the relationship may last longer. To those who are unsure about having a mentor - I ask - what is the downside? Go for it! And once you've built your enterprise, get out there and give back by mentoring others! It's very rewarding!”


I would like to become a Mentor for the Innovating for Growth: Mentoring programme. Is this possible?

We only recruit our Mentors from our Innovating for Growth: Scale-up programme. If you meet the Scale-up programme eligibility requirements, we encourage you to apply so that you might Mentor with us in the future.

If I don’t get onto the programme, are there any other Business & IP Centre opportunities available to me?

Yes, certainly. The Innovating for Growth programme in general offers a Start-up and Scale-up programme, both with the goal to help your business prosper. Additionally, we invite you to take a look at the Business & IP Centre website for all the fantastic programmes and events we have on offer all year round.

If you have any further questions for the programme, or would like to clarify anything you have read here, please reach out to [email protected].

BIPC banner promoting the Innovating for Growth: Scale-up programme

05 February 2019

A week in the life of... Merilee Karr, founder and CEO of UnderTheDoormat

American by origin, Merilee Karr is an adopted Brit, having lived in London for the last 18 years, always in the southwest near Putney. She founded London’s premier short-term lettings company back in 2014 and is an alumni of our Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme. Passionate about providing visitors with a ‘home from home’ experience and not leaving homes empty when their owners are away when others could enjoy them, UnderTheDoormat was born. Now hosting over 200 homes and attracting over 5,000 visitors a year, UnderTheDoormat is paving the way for 'responsible short-letting’ across London, for both homeowners and guests to enjoy. 

Merilee Karr, founder and CEO of UnderTheDoormat

A typical day for me is varied – and no two are ever quite the same! As a founder of a young and growing company, it’s important to be ‘hands-on’ in the running of the company. On the flip side, my role involves a lot of external focus to grow the business and includes everything from speaking at conferences, meeting with property companies for partnerships, carving out potential strategic partnerships with suppliers and of course meeting new investors and keeping my current investors and board members up-to-date. Every day is a challenge for me, and I love it when I have a combination of internal and external things are on my to-do list.

My ‘workday’ can include any of the following:

  • A team meeting going through our monthly results and key metrics for the business

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