Innovation and enterprise blog

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

5 posts from February 2020

26 February 2020

Meet our delivery partner: Elaine Powell

I remember when I attended a workshop delivered by my friend Jessica Huie on Raising your profile through PR. It was such a great session, delivered in a short space of time with amazing tips to implement, that I left feeling inspired and ready to start raising my profile.

Afterwards as I searched through the British Library courses, I saw that there was a gap for courses on public speaking and pitching. 

Elaine at Start-up Day 2018
Elaine at Start-up Day 2018

You see, I was someone who grew up not being self-expressed for fear of people not liking me, my responses or my opinions, I did not share myself and therefore stopped my growth and development that comes from being self-expressed.  

When I began to work in the corporate sector, I had to learn to speak up and out, but it was never comfortable for me, as I would rather keep quiet at the back of the room. Now don’t get me wrong, I could be the laugh and soul of the party. My friends knew me to be talkative and lively at times, but when it came to officially standing up front and centre, I would usually decline. I know many people are like that too.

So when a friend invited me to a speaking club, I thought, “let me see if this will support and help me” and indeed it did. After winning many competitions, I became a trainer for a charity going into schools delivering public speaking. So my speaking journey began and ten years on, is going from strength to strength.

Over the years I have trained over 25,000 people in public speaking and leadership mindset, delivered 600 workshops, presented 150 talks internationally, and curated a TEDx event for three years in London. Most importantly, I love what I do.

So when I saw that I could deliver these workshops and enable others to find their voice and pitch their business and ideas to others, I jumped at the chance.

Who are the workshops aimed at?

I find that there are two types of people who attend the workshops.

Firstly, they are entrepreneurs and business owners who need to pitch their ideas to gain new clients, business investors or funders. They also attend the presenting workshop as it goes hand-in-hand that being able to deliver with confidence, authenticity, and passion is essential.

Secondly, those attending are usually working for an organisation and either within their roles have to pitch frequently or deliver presentations. Hence why they also come to the presentations workshops.

Lastly, there are those that have always wanted to deliver presentations and know that by attending the presentation skills workshop will give them valuable tools and build their confidence at the same time.

Both workshops are highly interactive and feedback is given by all who attended as 1% of 100 people is more powerful than 100% of 1 person.

Elaine and workshop attendees

So what is covered in your workshops?

Pitching With Confidence Workshop

During the workshop you will learn:

  • Why pitching is vital to any business
  • Who you need to ‘Be” for people to buy into you and your business
  • How to craft an engaging elevator pitch
  • What goes into creating a five step pitch architecture
  • How to be an engaging presenter and remain calm 

At the end of the workshop you will:

  • Know who you need to ‘Be’ when pitching
  • Have an outline for your elevator and 5 minute pitch
  • Have practised your elevator and 5 minute pitch
  • Have more confidence to pitch your business, ideas or requests
  • Understand what any audience is looking for when you are pitching
  • Receive feedback on your elevator pitch 

You will come away feeling a lot more confident about your pitch and receive valuable feedback. If you haven’t got a pitch, you will take-away at least a frame work, knowing what your ideal audience want to see, hear and know about you, your business and most importantly what can you do for them.

Presenting With Confidence Workshop 

Presenting with confidence, is something that most people aspire to do well. Whether it is standing up talking at a meeting, delivering a presentation or sharing your voice, opinions and views with others.  When you Present With Confidence you get to touch, move and inspire others.

During the workshop you will learn:

  • How you can effectively use vocal, verbal and visual techniques to engage any audience
  • Understand what nerves are and learn tips to control them
  • How to gain confidence in yourself and your speaking ability
  • How structure is vital to keeping audience attention
  • Gain clarity around your key message
  • Learn how to write and deliver a short engaging speech

At the end of the workshop you will:

  • Have practised speaking several times
  • Delivered a two minute personal story or presentation
  • Increase your ability to persuade and influence
  • Speak with confidence and charisma
  • Learnt how to manage your fears and nerves
  • Start having fun being self-expressed
  • Receive professional feedback

Very importantly you will get to see that you are really much better than you thought, especially after we spend time looking at your mindset regarding public speaking that actually isn’t serving you and creating something that does.

Lastly, we get to have fun in all my sessions. Laughter is a great way to spend the session.

I look forward to seeing you there.

You can see all of the British Library’s Business & IP Centre’s upcoming workshops and events here.

20 February 2020

Learning new languages through music with Bilingual Beats

Update from Bilingual Beats:

Businesses of all types and sizes have been greatly impacted by Covid-19, and ours is not different. For a small business such as ours, the key to survive is how fast you adapt to the new circumstances. And for us it took only four days to transform our company.

One day back in March we were preparing ourselves for the next school term, and practically the next day we found ourselves with no business at all due to nurseries and schools being forced to close, activities cancelled and gatherings forbidden. I won’t deny that at first we panicked and there were lots of tears in those very first moments, but then we took the resolution be creative and think what we could do to survive. No schools or nurseries and children in lockdown? Let’s do our classes online! We worked really hard to research and learn the feasibility of delivering our classes by digital streaming with a professional result – if we wanted people to still pay for them we should offer something looking professional. Our first attempts were a bit clumsy - tech problems on our side a lot of problems to solve on the customer side – but after several sessions, I think we mastered it! Ever since our first online class we’ve been doing nothing but improve the service – we run 10 classes per week, we do live events on Facebook, we’ve rebuilt the website so that it’s easier to book the classes, we’ve developed several plans (pay as you go or subscriptions) to suit all preferences and pockets, we’re creating new online content (such as videos on demand) to keep people engaged, we’re even translating the songs in order to be able to offer classes in other languages… all in all we’ve transformed our business and adopted a digital mindset to develop new online services and we’re now focused on thinking how to grow our online presence. Of course we miss the way we used to teach children face to face, but life sometimes puts you in a position where you don’t have a choice but to adapt to the new situation and keep going. And that’s what we’re doing now!


UNESCO (the United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organisation) created International Mother Language Day in 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. Every year since then, the day have been celebrated to promote the dissemination of mother tongues and a fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue. One Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups alumna, Bilingual Beats, aims to do the same thing and has developed a programme for teaching young children foreign languages through music.

Image of Bilingual Beats class

Almudena, co-founder, had the idea for the business after finding that the UK had a lack of structured programmes for introducing foreign languages to very young children, “This is the best age to start learning a second language because children do it in a very natural way, and if it's taught through play, it creates meaningful learning and sets the roots for a successful future learning.

“Music constitutes a language itself, but it also makes it very easy to remember words and sentences. The combination between rhythm and melody, with lyrics, helps to process and acquire structures in a foreign language. Besides, music is one of the most loved things for children, and we aim not only to develop their linguistic abilities but also their inner music abilities, which develops in these first years of life.”

Bilingual Beats class with person playing the keyboard and children in a circle

According to UNESCO, despite there being over 6,000 languages throughout the world, only a few hundred languages have made it into education systems and less than a hundred are used in the digital world.

This is reflected in what Bilingual Beats believes to be important, “The benefits of speaking more than one language are quite numerous, including the possibility of communicating with more people of different cultures, the increase in self-esteem, being better equipped for the professional life, etc. However, there is a lot of research demonstrating that there is a window of opportunity during the first years of life for learning languages successfully in a very easy way, and after those years, it becomes much more difficult, often with worse results. The children’s’ brains absorb and retain any kind of learning with very little effort.”

Image of Bilingual Beats class

The desire for parents wanting their children to learn additional languages has increased over the years. Being based in London, the business sees a large amount of their customers speaking more than one language already and for those who only speak English, they want their children to learn foreign languages to increase their opportunities in the future. This trend is part of the businesses growth plan, as they plan to offer classes in other UK locations, with the ultimate aim to expand internationally.

If, like Bilingual Beats, you would like to scale-up your business, click here to find out more about our Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme.

18 February 2020

A week in the life of... Heather Lyons, co-founder of Blue Shift Coding

Heather originally trained as an architect, but had always worked in technology as a user experience (UX) designer. After finishing her architectural studies, she moved to New York to work in technology and taught herself the basics of web development. 

In 2013, Heather was approached by some mums who were keen for their children to learn to code. Heather had been teaching computer-based design at university level in London and had children of my own. She was also passionate about empowering children to create with code as opposed to simply consuming technology through yet another device. With this in mind, she set about teaching code. Their first term started with eight children in her garden! Those eight children all re-enrolled and they soon started running after-school clubs at a nearby girls’ school.

Heather Lyons

Fast forward a couple of years and they are now teaching over 400 children every week at 15 schools across London. They have continued to grow, extending their work to the state sector and collaborating with community trusts. Not only this, but they now run computing camps every holiday and half-term, host corporate workshops for businesses, and have a new private tuition service. And yet, whilst they may continue to expand and deepen their offering, their core tenet of creatively coding is still very much at the centre of blue{shift}. Heather took part in the BIPC’s Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme in 2016 and has been part of the family ever since.

Heather tells us what her week looks like as founder of blue{shift}.

Monday I love Mondays. We start off the week with ‘office quiet time’. Any communication must be done through Slack unless absolutely necessary. It’s a time to put our heads down, get through a pile of emails and get a lot of writing done. We have a very collaborative group at the office, meaning there’s a tonne of discussion. Everyone loves the productivity that happens during our quiet time: it’s incredibly satisfying. 

I’ve been working with a business coach to help clarify our three year and one year plan. At the moment, we offer face-to-face clubs, camps, and private tuition. Our offering would be well complimented through the online delivery of instruction; I’m working on a plan to get us there!

In the afternoon I run through all the 50 after school clubs we’re due to teach next term with my head of Operations. We determine which schools will be doing robotics, which will be doing coding and which will be doing some of our more bespoke offerings (including video production and Virtual reality). 

Children at Blue Shift Coding workshops

Tuesday We have a team meeting every Tuesday morning. This week I delivered the three year vision to the team. Everyone was buzzed. Positive result!

In the afternoon I interviewed an amazing candidate to be our new Head of Education. We had an amazing discussion about the ways he uses things students are passionate about (like Pokemon) to structure his lessons. 

I reviewed profitability of our after school clubs and looked at those clubs that need a bit of account management.

Wednesday One of our core values as a business is empowerment. We want to empower children, teachers and their parents with the confidence to create with technology, inspiring future innovators. As part of our emphasis on empowerment, it’s important that everyone at Blueshift is empowered with an understanding of coding and computational thinking. 

Every other Wednesday, we do an in-house coding session at the office. This week we generated smiling worms in Scratch and learned how to create ‘functions’. 

At the end of the day, I took a new robot (called ‘Robo Wunderkind’) home to test with my five year old daughter. 

Children at Blue Shift Coding workshops

Thursday I discussed a ‘Tech Olympics’ with one of our partner schools in Marylebone. We’re going to have teams of eight year olds from 10 different schools compete in various events from robot building to coding to drone flying. We’re still deciding on a theme, but are hoping to create a series of challenges around saving our oceans!

In the afternoon, I went to IDEALondon in the City to meet with some of the companies there. IDEALondon is a consortium of groups that help start-ups, started at UCL. I had a catch up with some of my former mentors from UCL who led a programme I participated in; a programme that helped me to use evidence-based approaches in our teaching methods. I also met with some lawyers while I was in the City. 

Friday I spent the morning at physical therapy for my knee which I broke a year ago. Unbelievably, I tripped over a delivery of robots in the office last year. It was a robot injury! We now have a storage space.

I went back to the office and discussed our marketing strategy for half-term camps and then discussed a grant proposal we’re writing to create tools to support primary school teachers who want to integrate more computing into the curriculum.

Every Friday, I like to go home a bit early if I can to spend some quality time with my family. I have a 12 year old daughter, 10 year old son and five year old daughter. It’s always a bit loud in our house; can’t wait for a bit more office quiet time next Monday! 

Blue Shift Coding workshops

14 February 2020

The rise of flexitarians and veggie butchers

The Vegan industry is booming. Many people are changing their diet for any number of reasons from diet and health to environmental factors. According to a recent Mintel report (which is free to access in the Business & IP Centre) a rise in flexitarians has aided the success of the meat-free market, especially amongst the younger consumers.

The report shows 34% of meat eaters are reported to have reduced their consumption in the last six months, giving a recent boost in sales of meat-free foods (UK Meat-Free Foods Market Report 2018/19).

With Veganuary having recently ended, I thought what better time to present my findings on this dynamic market and continue the conversation. Having recently acquired a new role within the Business & IP Centre, I was keen to get right into it and creating an industry guide that highlights useful databases, publications and websites on key industries seemed the best way about it. I chose the vegan, vegetarian and free-from market after seeing a demand for it whilst on the reference desk and was surprised that there wasn’t already an industry guide created on this topic. It was one of the biggest emerging markets and it seemed a great idea until I ventured forth and realised why there wasn’t an industry guide on it already.

I started with the Cobra database looking for Business Opportunity Profiles (BOP) that would be useful for anyone looking to start, run or manage a small business. This is a useful database that holds hundreds of how-to guides, reports, factsheets and even small business ideas to get you started, which you can also access for free in the BIPC. But there were no leads there specifically for vegan start-up businesses. I did however manage to find a BOP on Dieticians and Green Grocers and a Mini- Business Opportunity Profile (MBP) on the Vegetarian/Vegan Restaurant and Vegetable box scheme. Not as much as I would have liked, but it was a start. The Small Business Help Books, located by the entrance of the BIPC, proved even harder, only finding general titles on How to run a sandwich and coffee shop and Starting your own Speciality Food Business and Jonathan Self’s book Good Money, which was an account of the authors own experience of a successful ethical business start-up. Maybe the market research statistics would prove more fruitful...

Vegan Trade Journal

The EMIS Database which offers company information and sector research on the top emerging markets proved the most effective with reports on the Global Dairy Alternative Products Market (2019-2024), Global Meat Substitute Market (2018-2025) and Global Gluten-Free Food Market (2018-2025). You can access all of these reports for free in the BIPC. Additionally, Mintel a widely used market intelligence agency on consumer and lifestyle markets provided a broad range of useful consumer trends reports such as Attitudes towards Healthy Eating, Lifestyles of a Generation and Free-from Foods. But I wanted to find more alternative product reports on the UK market.

Veggie Butchers screenshot

Global Data’s Veggie Butchers report although not a recent report, could provide vital insight into meat alternatives (sausages, kebabs, mince etc.). I knew ‘niche’ industries would be difficult and I was happy to find useful content within the broader realm of veganism, vegetarian and free-from foods. But I was determined to dig as deep as I could and using various key word variations I was able to discover useful reports to add – I was especially excited to find a report titled Veganism on the Upswing on EMIS, and Passport proved very useful with reports on Vegetarianism and Other Meat-Restricted Diets and excitedly a report titled A new vegetarian boom is in the making. It seemed I was able to extract key reports that would prove useful for anyone wanting to venture into this industry and I was very happy that the Vegan, Vegetarian and Meat alternative space in terms of market research was on the rise and I look forward to seeing this go from niche to mainstream in the near future.

Meron Kassa, Business and IP Reference Specialist at the Business & IP Centre London

Meron has worked at the British Library for over six years, working in several other reading rooms including Maps and Manuscripts, Asia and Africa and Rare Books and Music before landing a role within the British Library’s Business & IP Centre last year as a new member of the team, where she delivers reference work and will soon be delivering 1-2-1 business advice clinics, as well as workshops and webinars on a regular basis.

03 February 2020

The story behind proofreading

Many unseen tasks are involved in bringing a great piece of content to the public and one of those is the critical job of proofreading. One Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups alumni business, The Proofreading Company, does just that and more, offering language services including editing, proofreading, translation and copywriting.

Co-founders Peter and Rosie wanted to start the business due to their love of storytelling and working with language. Rosie explains, “The question was: how do we turn our passion into a vocation? Both Peter and I studied languages together at Oxford University and then went into interpreting and publishing respectively, but after a while we decided to join forces and start The Proofreading Company. In the proofreading world, we feel you tend to get either freelancers working solo or companies that offer a rather impersonal service, where work is churned out without much care. We wanted to fill that gap: to create a business that has significant capacity while still being friendly, caring and customer-focused.”

Co-founders Peter and Rosie

Each week is different for the company, with many different jobs, such as helping international organisations publish error-free, well-written reports, writing copy that reflects a company’s brand and purpose, translating a French-language academic paper into English so that it can be submitted to a British or US journal and even reworking lyrics for rock songs!

The landscape of proofreading has seen changes in recent years. “Almost all of our work is now digital rather than on paper. Thinking back to the time of proofreading symbols to mark up a printed document makes me a little nostalgic, but there’s no doubt that working on a computer saves a lot of time and trees,” Rosie explains. And despite the move towards short forms of communication–like social media and text messages–people still care about carefully crafting their writing: “Our customers care about correct spelling and consistency, because they want to convey their ideas clearly. They don’t want their reader to be distracted by inconsistencies or stuck trying to work out what a sentence is trying to say. There are different contexts in which we write; in a text message or on social media, people might not mind bending grammar rules, but they still want their professional documents to be absolutely perfect.”

There is the question of what’s next for the future of proofreading; will machines replace human beings? Rosie thinks it’s a bit more complex than it first might seem. “So many subtleties and layers come into play when we edit or translate a piece of writing. We bring our language and grammar expertise, but also the cultural knowledge, emotional sensitivities and common sense that are (so far) unique to human beings. There are infinite ways in which we can use language. The quirks of a writer are often what make their style unique. How would a computer deal with the brilliant first sentence of Faulkner’s Absalom! Absalom!, which is composed of 1,288 words?”

The longevity of proofreading confirms Rosie’s belief it’s here to stay. “Last year I visited the British Library’s exhibition on writing, which featured a Chinese scroll from 672 AD where a list of proofreaders is included on the document. Proofreading existed more than 2,000 years ago, and probably long before! We’re open-minded about AI possibilities, but computers have a long way to go to compete with human beings when it comes to language. From where we’re standing, the future of language services lies in human linguists whose work is enhanced by clever machines.”

The Proofreading Company logo

With humans continuing to lead the way, The Proofreading Company is looking to rebrand to reflect the wider scope of services it offers – so watch this space.

If you have ambitions to grow and scale-up like The Proofreading Company, find out more about our Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme.