THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Innovation and enterprise blog

25 November 2019

Meet Warda Farah - owner of Language Waves and Start-ups in London Libraries participant

Warda Farah is a speech and language therapist. Her company, Language Waves, has a particular interest in providing a fully-accessible and culturally diverse speech therapy service. She has recently taken part in the Start-ups in London Libraries programme in Greenwich. 

Warda had done the research, confirmed her business idea (speech therapy that was accessible to everyone who needed it and, most importantly, took into account culture and family background) was solid and sought-after and registered her business. The next step was to tie the various ideas she had for Language Waves together to form a future-proof plan and ensure she could achieve her ambitious vision. And so she participated in the Start-ups in London Libraries programme to help her get her business idea off the ground: ‘It helped me to develop my scattered ideas into a coherent business plan. I was able to figure out how I could package my approach, get a better understanding of my target audience and most importantly how I could monetize my idea.' 

The Start-ups in London Libraries programme is comprised of workshops which guide participants through the complexities of starting up a business, registering your company, protecting your intellectual property and conducting research. Off the back of these, Warda and her business partner, Joan-Ann were able to trademark their training manual. SiLL participants can also get one-to-ones with their local borough Champions who can offer specific advice. Warda said her one-to-ones with Greenwich Champion, Loretta, were among the most eye-opening experiences on her business journey: ‘I see her when I’m at different stages of the business. Her feedback helps me plan, focus and set realistic expectations for myself. Also her belief in my business has motivated me as she has brought out the best in me.’

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Warda with the SiLL Greenwich Champion, Loretta

As part of Start-ups in London Libraries, Greenwich have developed a strong business community, with a network that meet once a month to brainstorm and share knowledge. Warda says: ‘I think it’s a really exciting time, I meet lots of people who want to start their own business and I always refer them to the SILL programme and Loretta. This is because it’s so accessible well set up and you know that you are getting advice and support from people who know what they are doing.'

'A lot of people do not know where to start but the Start-ups in London Libraries programme is very clear, you just need to put the work in. You have to be strategic, specific and focused and not give up. The people that I have met at the Greenwich Network so far all seem very motivated and it’s great to be around this energy. I’m excited to see how everybody’s business does.’

And so are we!

Q&A with Warda:

Can you tell us a bit about how your business started? What inspired you? 

I won a Lord Mayor Scholarship and studied Speech and Language therapy at City University. It was during this time that I noticed the lack of diversity in the profession. 95% of speech and language therapists are from white middle class backgrounds which raises the issue of therapy not being tailored to take culture and background into account. This is a profession that has to represent the diverse population it serves in order to be effective and, from what I could see, this wasn’t happening. I was extremely surprised that there was not discussion of how to make speech and language therapy services accessible and culturally diverse, so I began my research.

It is clear and evident that there is a cultural mismatch between therapists and BAME clients and instead of labelling parents and children as hard to engage we should be reaching out them and being innovative with how we deliver our interventions.

We have three key aims that we are working towards:

  1. A world where a child’s ethnicity, socioeconomic status and parental background is not a barrier to receiving quality speech and language therapy assessment and intervention.
  2. We want the wider public to have a better understanding of what a communication difficulty is and the long-term consequences this can have on the child, family and their community.
  3. We would like the speech and language therapy workforce to represent the diverse population it serves.

You are a young entrepreneur - what have been the benefits of this and what are the challenges?

As a young person this is probably one of the best times to start a business - there are so many pots of funding and support that is available to young entrepreneurs. You have to be willing to look around, go to events and find out what support is available to you.

In addition to this if you are lucky enough to still live at home and not have any dependents you can focus solely on your business with less distractions. 

However the downside to being a young entrepreneur is that I think Millennials like myself are so used to instant gratification that we may be impatient with how long it can actually take to get a business off the ground and making money. This is why realistic expectations are so important and reviewing of your business plans and goals should be a regular occurrence. 

In my own personal experience being a young black woman in business has at times been incredibly tough, I feel like I have to really sell and prove myself to show that 1) despite my age I have the experience , 2) despite my gender I can be just as tough as the men if not tougher, 3) despite the fact I may face bias based on my ethnicity I do not let it stop me. 

You have to learn how to use people's assumptions and negative stereotypes of you to be your USP.

What advice would you give anyone looking to start up a business?

Start now. I know a lot of people who feel that all of the conditions need to be right before they begin their business but I believe an entrepreneur is the person who sees an opportunity and goes for it. Time waits for no man and there is no such thing as perfection. When we began Language Waves we made lots of errors which helped us fine tune our processes, better understand our audience and even developed our thinking. We are still making errors but we see them as learning opportunities.

I would also say don’t start a business because your main aim in life is to be a millionaire. There is a long and arduous period when you are working hard e.g. going to meetings, negotiating contracts, networking, creating content and you are not financially compensated, in fact you can be worse off than when you had a 9-5.

During this period remember that you are setting the foundation and ground work for your business. Many people overestimate what they can achieve in a year and underestimate what they would’ve achieved in 3 years, this is the long game so be patient and continue to work through the pain.

What would you say to anyone thinking about starting up a business?

Join the SiLL programme - it's what made me feel like I could really start and run a business

What are the key things you have learnt while starting up your business?

A couple of my most valuable lessons have been:

  • Your customer and ideal client is key, you need to know the needs, likes, dislikes and habits of this group to ensure you target your product at them.
  • Know your value and do not be ashamed to talk about money. Your specialized knowledge is what people will pay for.
  • Make decisions quickly and be slow to change them. Joan-Ann and I have the saying “lets sleep on it and discuss in the morning”.
  • Quantum leaps exists, do not be scared of them. Sometimes opportunities will arise which you feel you are not ready for, just do it you will surprise yourself.

To find out more about Language Waves visit https://www.languagewaves.com/

For more information on Start-ups in London Libraries, visit bl.uk/SiLL