Innovation and enterprise blog

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5 posts from May 2020

26 May 2020

A week in the life of… Rowena Howie, founder of Revival Retro

This month's week in the life of follows Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups alumna, Rowena Howie, founder of Revival Retro, a London boutique reviving 1920s to 1940s glamour in its vintage-inspired and reproduction outfits and footwear. Her diary takes place during the week everything changed and includes details of what's happened since. Here's Rowena...

You never know what’s coming next when you run a small business. Least of all a global pandemic!

I’ve been asked to write ‘a week in the life’ of a small business owner. The week I shall describe was both life changing and, actually, nothing out of the ordinary. Responding to challenges, overcoming problems, finding a path to a better future is in our entrepreneurial DNA.

Rowena Howie, founder of Revival Retro
Rowena Howie, founder of Revival Retro

Tuesday 10 March was one of my favourite kinds of day: I got to be creative, I was at the culmination of a project and we were getting ready for launch, it was exciting. I would be working with a group of talented and highly skilled freelancers. I’ve worked with many of them for years as I value and admire them. As we all know each other, it’s less tense and more fun, the stakes are still high on a photoshoot, we have to get the shots we need but the team knows what’s expected and I know I can rely on them to deliver.

During the first three hours of prep, as hair and make up starts on our models for the day and the photographer, runner and I set up, we fall in to our usual easy rhythm of chat. This time, however, there’s a new hot topic Coronavirus.

This is the week when everything changed, awareness, attitudes, actions. It was before the government announced any lockdown plan it is essentially when Coronavirus changed from something everybody talked about as affecting other people to the realisation that this would change our lives, our businesses, our behaviours, our economy.

That Tuesday we talked about the video that had just been released exposing how bad the situation was inside Italian hospitals. We talked about what had been happening in China. I explained how this was going to affect our supply chain and how this might affect our Autumn/Winter collection and therefore the work that we might be able to collaborate on in six months time. My team were impressed that I had even been interviewed for The Sunday Times and Radio 4 Today programme about this.

Model in Revival Retro outfit

All of our talk was of a distant and remote problem, one that didn’t really seem to affect us directly. I asked the team lots of questions, what do you think? Is this a threat? What are people’s perceptions vs reality? No-one was worried, except me, and mine wasn’t fear it was endless questions with no answers.

As a business owner you need to be working several steps ahead, planning, preparing ready to bend and flex, willing to change which path you take as long as you keep your destination in sight. On that Tuesday the shoot was fun and forward looking. We sanitised our hands, fist bumped rather than hugged and followed the current advice. We were productive and positive about the collection and the campaign launch, everyone thought the garments I had designed and made were fantastic, everyone imagined they would sell really well.

Wednesday was a busy day with a long to do list. Events like photoshoots are all-consuming and you can’t get anything else done. So, my inbox was full, I had breakfast and lunch engagements and there was a trade show that I would need to get to (I was still in normal buying mode). I even had a date planned that evening, a rare prioritising of personal over professional life that I was still managing eight weeks after enacting a new year's resolution.

Our award-winning boutique is ‘not just a shop’ it is the heart of a community, it is a place where you are welcomed, where we connect people, products and passions. As such my bricks and mortar shop is my pride and joy, it’s also a place where I can get very little work done! Being in the shop is fantastic for collaborating with the team, getting feedback from customers, and working on joint projects but it’s the worst place to be when I need to plough through a to do list.

The Revival Retro Boutique shopfront

I’m a perfectionist and an ideas person and I only have to raise my head from my laptop to see something that could be done, to catch a voice through an open doorway to remind me or suggest something to me. Being in the shop, even the back office, just adds to everyone’s to do list! On this day, I had headed to a local co-working space for some solitary and silent work production. There was still lots to do for the upcoming launch. Getting everything prepared to go live in our online shop by the Friday deadline meant I had to help make this happen whilst staff in the shop were busy receiving stock deliveries in the boutique and processing these ready for the shop floor.

I was so engrossed and hammering through the list I almost forgot the trade show and had to rush over Marylebone for the final hours of the show. I ordered fabric samples for the next collection and addressed a difficult situation with a trusted supplier where they had delivered 300 metres of inferior fabric, which had not been returned at point of delivery but already been made in to garments. There’s no clear resolution to this it depends on your relationship and your negotiating skills.

It was on the whole, a pretty good day.... Until everything fell apart! Late in the afternoon the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, had delivered the Budget and despite the intention to help businesses mitigate any impact of Coronavirus my small business had effectively been excluded from help. The criteria for business rates relief had been based on the open market rent valuation of your premises, not turnover, not the number of staff, not profitability. A measure that was intended to help small businesses was being withheld because of the cost of doing business in London.

I’ve learnt over the years that toddler type tantrums can be helpful and cathartic but should be conducted away from the eyes of all employees, customers and pretty much everyone so the next 24 hours didn’t go as planned. Despite all the deadlines, this was a disruption I didn’t need but it wasn’t just the rates relief, this challenge was representative of many of the problems you encounter as you grow and scale and take bigger risks and manage bigger overheads. However, I find that metaphorically ‘throwing your toys out the pram’ can bring clarity as you mentally knock down everything and start again. When you know what’s important and what is of value it is possible to look more objectively at what you can do without, what you can change and what to focus on.

Thursday Sometimes fresh new ideas occur but mainly I believe that with a business that has been going a certain amount of time, that has a strategy and knows its purpose, that you come out with a sense of resolve and focus.

I had created something I was proud of, that the team believed in, that initial feedback had shown customers wanted. This was the future, my own range of products, our first summer collection, consistency in our range, exclusivity rather than price competition, better margin, we decide delivery to market, we have greater control over a whole range of commercial factors that will benefit our future viability and profitability.

Everything was back on track for the launch of our new collection.

Model wearing Revival Retro outfit

Friday Today I would send out wholesale line sheets, I would prepare for a sell-out private launch party for customers on Sunday, everything needed to be ready to put the whole collection live online for e-commerce sales on Monday. We also needed all the photography from Tuesday’s photoshoot retouched and formatted to create the visuals for web and social media along with product shots for the webshop.

90% of production had been delivered and was being prepped for the shop floor by the team. We were ready. Months of work had brought me to this point. But the news was changing.

Saturday In three days the coverage of Coronavirus had amplified, changed its tone and pace of reporting, the news of what had been affecting other parts of the world now seemed very much closer to home, the threat was real, the evidence credible, the tension palpable.

Whereas the discussion on Tuesday had seemed to place peoples perception of the problem at maybe a three out of 10, Wednesday, plus the budget, had moved it to four, reaction to the help (or lack of it) announced in the budget and new data had raised it to five by Thursday. Now difficult questions were being asked everywhere with obviously no satisfying answers from government or experts making it a seven out of 10, as I shopped for prosecco and cake at the supermarket on Saturday.

My launch party was tomorrow and despite the media frenzy, it looked like everybody was still enthusiastic to come.

Sunday As I journeyed through empty streets to the shop to set up, I passed a newsagent and I saw the headlines. I stood still, I took stock, I saw that everything on this grey March morning was different now. People would be scared, people would stay home, people would not be buying new clothes, people would not be responsive in the way they would have to our lovely photographs, they would be distracted by bigger issues and thinking about protecting their near and dear. It didn’t matter how much work I had done to get to this point.

A couple of hours later the apologies and cancellations started to come through, people couldn’t or wouldn’t make the event. That Sunday seemed like the day where the true extent of the pandemic revealed itself to the UK. As people spent the day at home and consumed the media it seemed to sink in, we began to realise the implications of how this was going to affect us. Questions still didn't have answers yet but we began to plan and prepare mentally. A change happened.

Some people did turn up to that little party, some of our most loyal customers and as I expected, they did love the collection and we did get some sales. More importantly though, between the reasons given for peoples absence and the chat over tea and cake with some of our most enthusiastic supporters I was able to take a measure of how my business might be affected in the coming weeks and months.

Everything and nothing happened on that Sunday. But I could take the resolve I had found on Thursday to direct my response to this challenge. I would use the insights I had learned from customers on Sunday. I would gather my team on Monday to discuss and then help focus our response. I needed to direct everyone on how we would overcome problems so people didn’t lose heart, I would find a pathway through this to ensure there is a future for our much loved small business post pandemic.

Model wearing Revival Retro outfit

Monday It was a quiet day with virtually no customers. There was still work to be done with the online launch of the collection, but we were already wise enough to what was coming to hold back stock and revise our plans.

I received a call from my full-time member of staff, they had symptoms. Updated Government advice made it clear Charlotte would be distancing for the next 14 days and suddenly what seemed like ‘just a cold’ carried a weight of worry, a concern for our colleague and even more questions about our safety, our work, our lives.

It’s important to remember that your business is nothing without people. Quite simply, tending to the mental and physical needs of employees is, I believe, of paramount importance. Those of us in work that day talked and I reflected on priorities.

Tomorrow I would not require any staff to come to work and I would run the shop tending to any customers who happened to come. I would consider our next steps and wait for a much anticipated announcement from the Government at a new daily evening information broadcast that was about to start.

My week in the life ends there. It feels like a lifetime ago, so much has happened since.

One of the reasons I work with the British Library is my passion for innovation. Some people think innovation is purely technical/digital or product development but it’s not it’s just as important to your business strategy. A resilience measure, it can be about understanding change happening around you and being able to pivot accordingly, changing your processes and practices to overcome the challenge. The Business & IP Centre have asked me to add to my week in the life to tell you what happened next…

One week later

In just one week sales had fallen away to virtually zero but despite this vacuum, the pace had quickened. I immediately began to review all cash flow forecasts and financial planning for the year. I updated the business and marketing plan and wrote a contingency plan. I knew all of these documents would be required if I were to apply for funding and I needed to focus my mind.

I was also mindful of the needs of my staff right now, lockdown hadn’t been announced yet but I decided to close the shop to the public because the news was now concerning everyone.

Revival Retro staff

Communication was vital; with staff, with suppliers, with other business owners. Understanding the landscape, not just our own experience, was vital to navigating our way through it.

Two weeks later

Chancellor Rishi Sunak had made further announcements and I moved swiftly to furlough all our part-time staff to save jobs long-term. I had defaulted on my rent and my landlady hadn’t answered any of my proposals. Business had dropped off a cliff edge, including web sales. People were stockpiling and on a long list of discretionary spending, fashion comes last in people’s priorities when all they will do is stay at home.

I had decided not to launch the entirety of the new collection, the demand simply wouldn’t be there to achieve sales through and seeing future gaps in my supply chain I figured it was better to hold back stock and release some items as new in Summer 2021.

Lockdown had been officially announced and I was working from home trying to access finance. Major problems with the new Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) had brought about press opportunities and I appeared on all the major news channels, radio and print media about the plight of my small business.

Three weeks later

Getting nowhere fast with my CBILS application I couldn’t see how the business could even make it to the end of the month (April).

I think it’s important to note the toll on the mental health of small business owners: Not only is this your dream obliterated due to something beyond your control, but there’s also the responsibility that people’s jobs and livelihoods rely on you, if you care about your customers then failure seems like failing them too. It’s a lot to carry, whilst at the same time having no money to pay yourself, support your family and keep a roof over your head.

Still determined though and still believing in the long-term potential of the business, I’d brought one member of staff back to work and we were working on future facing projects. I was also actively networking online and participating in all kinds of small business support zoom calls, webinars and online learning.

In one of these calls, I heard about the Pay It Forward Crowdfunder campaign and that Sunday, unable to enjoy a scheduled day off as all of this is whirring around in my head, I decided to map out what that might look like for us.

Four weeks later

I’m very proud that we have so many loyal repeat customers. I work exceptionally hard to create a fantastic experience at Revival Retro and build genuine relationships with our customers, not just automated interactions.

Going the extra mile and encouraging my staff to do the same had paid off.

We had launched our Crowdfunder and in week one had already raised more than £12,000 for our small business. It was incredible!

It wasn’t just the money either, alongside the pledges were endless messages of support, promises to come back and shop with us, love for what we do and why we are important to people. This got me through an incredibly tough time and I am immensely thankful.

Customers were happy to buy vouchers now to redeem later, which turned around our cash flow position. Followers and fans were all too happy to champion our brand. People far and wide donated anything from £5 to £500 to save a high street hero much loved by many.

Model wearing Revival Retro outfit

Seven weeks later

By the end of April we had met and exceeded our £25,000 Crowdfunder target. Our small business was saved (particularly as we were excluded from Government grants and the CBILS loan money was still not available). We were able not just to meet payroll and necessary obligations, but pay what we owed to other small business suppliers and plan for the future.

The success of the Pay It Forward campaign for Revival Retro was transformative. We would not be in the position we are today without it. Many small business owners have asked my for tips on how they might run a successful campaign and I’ve written a blog about this which you can read here.

From resilience, we can now begin to look to recovery. I am encouraged that our customers see us as “not just a shop” which offers opportunity as we shape the future of the brand. It’s going to be more important than ever to innovate for growth.

21 May 2020

Heart Street - the survival of a vegan street food business

Evie-May Ellis, founder of vegan street food business, Heart Street, who used BIPC Norfolk to help start-up her business, gives an honest insight into her business during lockdown...

Evie-May founder of Heart Street stirring a pot at her stall

I never enjoyed cooking. Ever.

As part of my home education development, my Mum would often encourage me to take interest in ‘hands on’ activities but I was having none of it. I was never happier than when I was curled up with a notebook, planning a million and one random projects that I believed would be "the next big thing." One of my favourite projects was organising and leading garden tours around Mum's flower beds and our fishpond. The guest list usually included the local vicar and a myriad of elderly ladies with names straight out of the murder mystery programmes my Mum enjoyed watching in the afternoons.

I loved planning, but I never liked cooking.

Food dominated my upbringing, being a symbol of love and affection from both my Mum and my Grandparents. Sundays and special occasions were for incredible roasts laid on by my Nan, with the best cuts of meat and endless silver dishes filled with roasted spuds, Yorkshire puds and multi-coloured veg. When Mum went to work, and my sister and I would work on our studies (and multiple viewings of Sister Act), she would always fret about there being enough food in the house, despite the fact she had stock piled enough to survive a zombie apocalypse.

Skip forward 10 years and you will find me handing out dishfuls of homemade chilli, feeding the array of lovely customers that visit my street food stand, Heart Street, and spreading the message that food is one of the greatest joys in life. This is just one of the amazing privileges that have come my way since I launched the business in April 2019.

I always knew I wanted to run my own business. From the garden tours to my Open University Business Degree, I loved to organise and execute plans and to learn about the processes of ‘business’. Even during my, much misplaced, desire to be a performer I always knew what I really wanted was a cabaret club or a dance troupe. Something I created and that embodied my passions.

Working my way through a number of jobs (recently revealed during a Zoom quiz, that number is 25), I fell in love with hospitality and worked my way to management. During this time I became vegan and started triathlon training. This combination fuelled my love for food as I saw how it could make me stronger and fitter. Plus, vegan cooking is amazing!
With my passion for planning, my restlessness in employment, my love for and connection to food and my ability to cook pretty decent vegan fare, it was inevitable. The natural development was to quit my very well paying job, take all my savings and get into debt to launch a very niche street food business in rural Norfolk.

Heart Street menu

Although I run Heart Street by myself, I never would have been able to get this far without the amazing support of my friends and family and the resources available to me through organisations including NWES and BIPC. I had frequently attended NWES workshops with various business ideas, none of which were viable. But in 2018 I attended a one to one meeting and pitched the idea of Heart Street.

You know, this could work.”

Those words stayed with me, through putting together a wildly optimistic business plan and receiving my start up loan, and I knew I would finally achieve running my own business.

NWES helped support the entire start-up process and provided me with information on the BIPC and the amazing services they offered. There was a wealth of support and contacts to offer advice, and many courses available — I specifically participated in any social media focused training. The most beneficial interaction came from a one-on-one with an accountant during my first year of trading — without that meeting, which was completely free through BIPC, I would never have financially survived my first year, let alone ended with some sort of profit!

I was lucky enough to speak at the BIPC Kings Lynn Hub about my experience as a budding entrepreneur, a truly lovely experience and just one of the many amazing opportunities I have had over this last year. I cannot express enough the importance of organisations like this for hopeful entrepreneurs, especially in such rural areas!

All of that seems years ago now, the energy and excitement of setting up my business sits in stark contrast with the daily worry and feeling of loss that COVID-19 has brought looming over 2020.

This year was due to be big for Heart Street. I had doubled my bookings, reinvested profits to grow the stall and cemented several private events. My reputation was growing and there wasn’t a single weekend in the year I wasn’t due to be out on the stall.

Heart Street food stall

But like many other people across the country, and indeed the world, the pandemic brought everything to a smashing halt. Cancellations started dripping in and then flooded my inbox. Phone calls had to be made, accounts had to be looked at, ambitions and dreams had to be put to one side.

This was about survival.

Considering the horrendous occurrences that are appearing every day on our TVs, newsfeeds and radio stations it feels selfish to focus on what could seem such a minor inconvenience. But my business, as with many small business owners, has been a lifetime of dreaming, planning and hard work. It is the epitome of everything I care about, a culmination of love, kindness, childhood memories and my life experience rolled into something I am so incredibly proud of and I adore.

To have all of that teetering on the brink of collapse is incredibly hard.

But that is one of the risks of running your own business. And that’s when you have to dig really deep and remember why you wanted to do this in the first place. It won’t be the first time you have to do it, and it won’t be the last.

Heart Street food of cous cous and vegetables

Starting your own business is not something to be taken lightly, freak global pandemics aside there are so many hard times involved, far more than I ever imagined. Financial concerns seem more prominent, you will work harder than you ever have, and surveys show 58% of small business owners suffer with mental health issues caused by isolation.

It is incredibly hard, but one of the best things you will ever decide to do.

So, my advice to anyone wanting to set up their own business? Be realistic. Think long and hard about if you are willing to risk financial security and free time for a potential pipe dream that may not even work? What would you feel if you don’t go ahead? Disappointed? Relieved?

Talk to as many people as you can. Get advice from organisations such as BIPC and make the most of any classes, webinars or online information they can provide. Knowledge is power! Talk to those who run their own businesses, whether they are in your field or not. Business advice books only get you so far and they won’t be as brutally honest with you as an owner who is down to their last penny!

Most importantly, remember why you are doing this. To be your own boss isn’t enough. What really makes this part of who you are? What message do you care about spreading? Who do you want to be in this world? Because that is what will keep you focused and hopeful through the roughest of times.

As for me and Heart Street, well; COVID-19 has definitely done a good job of derailing us but we are getting back on track. Researching grants and schemes and doing a little bit at a time to try to survive this storm. Survival is the key term here! Many of my street food pals have launched into delivery services, and they are proving rather successful, but this hasn’t been an option for me at this stage.

As such a fledgling business, with less than a years’ trading under my belt, I need to focus on survival and that means being conscious of cash flow. At this moment in time even buying stock would be too much of a financial risk.

Click here to see an image of Heart Street food.

So for now, I am just here, at my desk, in my little office, surrounded by newspaper cuttings, congratulation cards, recipe notes and a calendar full of black crosses.

And I’m doing what I’ve always done — planning.

19 May 2020

Happy Birthday Start-ups in London Libraries!

Earlier this month, Start-ups in London Libraries - our programme designed to take business support out to high streets across London - turned one year old. We originally launched the project on 2 May 2019 at City Hall with an event chaired by our BIPC ambassador Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon and with a keynote speech from Deputy Mayor for Business, Rajesh Agrawal.  Our ambassador, Tim Campbell MBE, who joined our panel discussion on the launch day, summed up the aim of the project: "everyone should have access to this business information and support. Libraries are not only books. They are about connecting people, social mobility, making a real change and impact on people's lives."

Since that day last year, over 1200 aspiring and early-stage entrepreneurs have received support from our team in local libraries across 10 boroughs and have begun to change the face of entrepreneurship across the capital.

Of course, given the current circumstances, we will have to delay our official celebrations for our first birthday, but we couldn't pass up on this opportunity to celebrate some of the incredible early-stage entrepreneurs who have taken part in the programme and become part of the fabric of SiLL. Read on for just some of their stories...


Photo by Jessica Chia - Salma in her beekeeping outfit
Photo: Jessica Chia

Salma turned her hobby of 10 years - beekeeping - into a successful business. Her company, Bushwood Bees, sells honey, bee-based products and hosts beekeeping experiences at one of her hives on the roof of the East London Mosque. During this period of lockdown, they have been running digital tutorials and demonstrations of beekeeping on social media and continuing to sell their products online.

It was the strong ethos behind her own beekeeping hobby that spurred her to take the leap: "I have always been an advocate of beekeepers sourcing locally reared bees rather then importing so it just made sense that I should supply this growing demand for buying local. This was far more a motivation then anything else."

She used the Start-ups in London Libraries programme to ground her business idea and get it up and running, particularly in terms of technology. About her one-to-ones with our Waltham Forest Business Champion Salma says "Sarah also gave me really good ideas for improving my business plan. It was helpful to have someone with fresh eyes looking at my ideas. She was willing to help put a pitch together, gave really practical advice and was able to give me fresh perspective on parts of my plan that I would not have had otherwise."

"The workshops are immensely helpful when it comes to developing your business ides. The Start-up Champions are great, they have real knowledge and can steer you in the right direction. And if they don’t know, they will they to find out!"


Ahmad owner of Baracat and producer of Foodology

Ahmad's educational app company, Baracat Bros is going from strength to strength and his product, Foodology has recently been featured on ProductHunt, the go-to platform for launching new products. Designed with the aim of fostering learning through their interactive and engaging nature, Ahmad now has two products - Foodology, which focuses on educating children about nutritional value in foods and Bubblo World, designed for preschool-aged children.

He said about his experience with Start-ups in London Libraries: "I came out of the workshops with actionable advice like how to access funding, how to create a business model canvas and where to find resources to continue learning... Loretta [our Start-ups in London Libraries Greenwich Business Champion] is building a business community for people who want to pursue their own businesses and need the practical knowledge and the support network to do so successfully. I really believe that such communities are invaluable for anyone building their own business."


Loretta and Warda creator of Language Waves in Woolwich Library

While studying speech therapy, Warda noticed how much of it didn't take into account culture and family background. Aiming to change the one-size-fits-all that she was witnessing, she started Language Waves, providing a fully-accessible and culturally diverse speech therapy service. Since registering her business (after taking part in the Start-ups in London Libraries workshops) she has been able to trademark her training manual, been awarded several funding grants to help further her business and received multiple top notch testimonials for her work. 

Her local SiLL Business Champion, Loretta, helped her through the start-up stage: "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. 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."

Read more about how Warda created a fully-accessable and culturally diverse speech therapy service.  


Charlie Boyd business owner of Firm Feet

Charlie Boyd’s business, Firm Feet, focuses on various sessions to achieve movement and connection with your own body: "I recognised that movement was something I required for healing and liberating myself. I love dance and the type where I could feel as free as possible and let go. So I designed a session drawing on my qualifications and experiences that I knew worked for me so would surely help others." Her focus is on improving mental and physical health through movement and she has recently pivoted to develop audio sessions for people to use during this time of heightened anxiety (also designed with the aim of lessening people's screen time!)

Discussing her one-to-one advice sessions with the Waltham Forest Champion, Sarah, she says "Sarah has been instrumental in helping me gain clarity on moving forward and valuing myself. She always goes above and beyond supplying me with important documentation and hints and tips. I would say to anyone to not hesitate going to speak to your latest representative, there are only things to gain by doing so."


Sol, her husband and team from London Basketball Nation

Sol and her husband are big fans of amateur basketball and her husband even coaches a team. Trying to rectify the poor experience of amateur basketball tournaments they were experiencing, they started London Basketball Nation. After setting up their company "just in case it worked", Sol organised a short tournament in June that year to test the waters. Teams decided to give them a chance and a 7-month tournament followed. They celebrated their first full year as a company in March. Sol says "we are looking forward to expanding our reach and have not only more teams but also a Women’s division." 

"Start-ups in London Libraries' helped us see the organisation as a business rather than something to do on weekends. This is my first experience as an entrepreneur and I had to learn a lot about legal and financial aspects of a business in the UK; networking; social media… you name it! There is a lot of information out there, so much that can be not just overwhelming but also misleading so the SiLL project served as a guide. I would have loved knowing about the project from day one."


Usman, founder of Haven Coffee

Haven Coffee is a socially-conscious coffee company. Each cup of Haven Coffee bought supports refugee communities across the UK, providing barista training for refugees building new lives for themselves in the UK. The Haven team also organise events to promote refugee artists and creatives. Usman, the founder of Haven, has recently introduced a virtual coffee scheme allowing customers to purchase a coffee in advance. And many of their events, including their art exhibition have moved online. 

Usman took part in our first round of workshops and has received support from our Waltham Forest Champion, as well as from TERN (The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network).


Oz, founder of The Scissors of Oz

Oz is the proud owner of The Scissors of Oz, a creative hair and healing Hub in Peckham. Her ethos goes beyond hair, providing a space for other womxn to test business ideas in collaboration with her and her space, exchanging skills and running workshops. A fundamental part of the business's ethos is 'breaking stigmas of conventional pursuits of “beauty”.

Oz is preparing for re-opening when she is able to and explains "my next step for our relaunch is to introduce more sustainable ways of hairdressing , use of products and services. I'm aiming to look into new ways of reusing items for environmental benefits and sustainability, as well as running workshops to empower people through hair."

She used Start-ups in London Libraries in Southwark saying "the SiLL project has given me the confidence and support every new business owner needs especially if you are going at it alone. My mentor Dean is very understanding and experienced and he is there to guide me with every step I take. It’s nice to have someone by your side who really cares about getting you to where you want to be."


Channing Cloirec founder of Channing's Shining Cars

As a 21 year old with English as a second language, accessibility was a key consideration for Channing Cloirec when taking part in any sort of business support programme: "I'm not well-placed to start any business without experience in the UK. SiLL is the best way to find exactly what you need with reactivity. Without SiLL I wouldn't have been able to realize the formalities of the company."

Channing's car export business, Channing's Shining Cars, is continuing to grow and develop. Since registering in July 2019 he has built a healthy profit margin, and displayed impressive growth of his business, including recently selling his 15th car! His new venture is called Pops n Bangs, a car lottery. 


Aleksandra Horwood founder of Happy Stance Yoga

After being made redundant, Aleksandra was looking for ways of using her practical skills and passion for yoga into something that could provide a salary. Focusing on our ever-increasing older population, her idea was to create a specialised yoga and meditation programme to improve the quality of life for this demographic. She wanted to create a different environment for older yoga lovers, making it less intimidating, more welcoming and focusing on exercises that would help specifically with mobility. She has recently adapted her business, Happy Stance Yoga, to offer Zoom sessions for older isolated people to help with fall prevention and ensure they are getting their daily exercise.

And just a few weeks ago, Aleksandra ran a stretching and meditation session for our SiLL team to help us during this high-pressure time, so we can testify to her ability as a guide!

She says: "I attended all the SiLL workshops and it was breath-taking how in no time I learned about all the practicalities so I could move on and test my business idea. So many people have ideas, but they do not know there is a treasure box in the reach of their fingertips. It is free and highly professional, effective and tailored-made for each individual, each business idea." 


An example t-shirt from Moses' collection - Carib Brit

Moses launched his Greater BRiTs campaign at the Start-ups in London Libraries Greenwich Christmas start-up market, which took place at Woolwich Library last year, after taking part in the core SiLL workshops. "These two workshops gave me invaluable information on the support available to business start-ups, most of it free of charge. As a result of information I received from the workshops, I was able to successfully trademark and protect my BRiT logo."

Moses explains: "the Greater BRiTs campaign came about as a positive response to heal a divided Britain from the feeling of general anxiety about the future of the UK post the Brexit referendum.  The British people have the creativity, inventiveness, energy, perseverance and resilience to see Britain thrive." Moses developed Greater BRiTs with the mission of "celebrating Britain's Unity, Inclusivity and Diversity". Moses has designed a BRiT t-shirt with over 300 customised messages to reflect the diversity of the British lifestyles, personalities, professions and communities.

We may not be currently in your local library but the Start-ups in London Libraries workshops are now all online. Visit the Startup in London Libraries website for all the information and to register for the next round of free webinars. 

This programme is run in collaboration with ten London boroughs: Bexley, Croydon, Greenwich, Haringey, Lambeth, Lewisham, Newham, Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.



14 May 2020

Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups diary - The Good Slice

This year we’re following another business through the Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme, The Good Slice. You can read last year's diary from JR Pass here. You will hear first-hand about the different sessions, how they are using the programme to discuss diversifying and pivoting their offer during this time of change. Here we find out more from Ed…

Ed, co-founder and Dough Man at The Good Slice
Ed, co-founder of The Good Slice

Hello, I’m Ed, co-founder and Dough Man at The Good Slice - a social enterprise with a simple message: Eat Good, Do Good. For every pizza we sell, we provide a meal to someone in need. One-for-one. So far we've provided 5,000 meals to the children of Well-Wishes Nursery in Malawi, and 12,000 meals to London’s homeless community, via our partners Glass Door Homeless Charity.

We pop up at events across the country, including some pretty big festivals - like Glastonbury and Hay. There’s been a great appetite for our pizza and our purpose, and our one-for-one model is making a real difference. We’re therefore looking to expand into the delivery market - operating through delivery only Cloud Kitchens. Our experience on the festival circuit coupled with order enquiries from a number of corporate clients indicate that there is a real gap in the market for pizza with purpose.

Eat Good, Do Good t-shirt

Feeling more than a little nervous about the future, we were welcomed onto the Innovating for Growth programme in early April. On the 28th February, we’d received an offer to trade at Glastonbury’s 50th anniversary - possibly the biggest news Calum (the other co-founder) and I had ever received. A few days later we were processing the prospect of cancellation... In the weeks that followed, all of the weddings, festivals and events that we were wholly reliant upon from income were postponed for a year. Could there have been a better time to benefit from the expert advice and guidance delivered via this programme?

We kicked off with a workshop on the business model canvas. This session, combined with follow up work and a deep dive one-on-one on the same subject, encouraged us to explore how we delivered value. The framework lays bare what it is you do, how it is you do it, and who you do it for - placing your value proposition front and centre, with Uday, the external consultant from Red Ochre.

In the Growth Strategy meeting we identified our value proposition to be our pizza - freshly made with seasonal ingredients sourced from local suppliers who champion sustainability - and our purpose - we’re on a mission to share good food that enables communities around the world to live good lives. How we deliver this value and to whom are the key questions we went onto discuss with Robert (another external consultant from Red Ochre).


With a number of thoughts, ideas and strategies whizzing around, we moved onto talk branding with Al from aba - a brand and people agency focused on building brands with purpose. We discussed how brands that start with why stand to win the emotional and commercial battle (I can’t recommend Start with Why - Simon Sinek enough). The session cemented what we knew and inspired us to create content that will help tell our story. The Good Slice is a brand driven by purpose.

Calum and I left jobs in ‘the city’ after becoming disillusioned with what we saw as misguided homage to individual enrichment over the common good. In our eyes business as usual - with a focus on churning out short-term financial gains to shareholders - was/is broken. A 10,000km road trip through East Africa laid bare the fact that the world provides for seven billion people, but our greed and waste leaves a billion starving, while another billion become obese. We vowed to inspire change; to prove that business can be a force for good. This purpose drives us forward every day.

With renewed vigor, we moved onto marketing with Dave from aba. What size pond do you operate in? How is it changing? What size fish are you? Key questions we began to consider. Further discussion centered upon which channels to focus attention. Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Tik Tok, Google, email… this list goes on. Too often have we fallen victim to shiny object syndrome. I’d recommend Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares - a helpful guide to this ever evolving world.

Next up, product and service innovation - a big one for us given these challenging times. We joined the programme with ambition to expand into the delivery market - operating through delivery only Cloud Kitchens. These production kitchens would utilise the now ubiquitous food delivery apps on your smartphone, such as CityPantry and Deliveroo. Ahead of the pandemic, we were working closely with these platforms to identify areas of unmet demand. We planned to rent kitchen space from Karma Kitchen, the WeWork of commercial kitchens - once we’d established suitable locations. The focus was to be on corporate catering, delivering pizza with purpose to offices in central London. For obvious reasons, this plan is on hold.

Instead we have identified an opportunity in the chef-to-customer market. Pizza by post… With Adrian from Newable, we discussed logistics, operations and scalability. Work continues apace on this project - I look forward to updating you on progress in a few weeks’ time.

That brings us to the end of the first half of the programme. Each session has been immensely valuable, helping us as we pivot and manoeuvre the business into a position from which we will not only survive, but thrive. Please follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for updates as they come. Otherwise, I look forward to writing another instalment for you next month. Peace, Love and Pizza x

Read part 2 here.

The Good Slice banner

04 May 2020

Book and podcast recommendations from the BIPC team

Missing our collections and the lovely members of the team who can help you navigate your way through them? Following on from the book recommendations from our BIPC entrepreneurs for World Book Night last week, we also asked our BIPC team for any suggestions of books, podcasts or online content which you may want to explore during this period. Here are their suggestions of what to get stuck into:

Meron, Business and IP Reference Specialist

In terms of books, She Means Business by Carrie Green is great – it’s insightful, gets you into a 'success' mindset and has amazing 'actions' at the end of every chapter. 

For podcasts, I really like Start-up Stories by Andrew Warner. You get to hear the stories of many amazing entrepreneurs, through all the ups and downs. It’s very useful for visualising how you can overcome struggles yourself. 

The Influencer Podcast is also very good. It is shorter, which I like, and Julie Solomon covers some great topics that would help any entrepreneur at any stage. 

Lola, Subject Librarian in the Business & IP Centre

Testing business ideas: a field guide for rapid experimentation by David J. Bland/Alex Osterwalder. This book explains how systematically testing business ideas dramatically reduces the risk and increases the likelihood of success for any new venture or business project. The visuals/designs make the book fun to read and easy to understand.

Plus, you can find more information on business ideas at

Crafts have surged during this period and as a result Crafts Magazine has selected a range of craft-related podcasts to inspire and inform you.

And then if you discover an undiscovered talent that could be the basis of a business, the winner of the Best Start-Up Inspiration Book Award at the 2019 Business Book Awards, The Creative’s Guide to Starting a Business: How to Turn Your Talent into a Career by Harriet Kelsall takes you through the very first steps of defining creative and financial success to ultimately establishing a rewarding start-up.

Neil, Manager of Business & IP Centre

A couple of oldies but goodies that I recommend are:

Loretta, Start-ups in London Libraries Champion, Greenwich

In terms of business podcasts that I recommend for people to listen to I would suggest:

  • Hustle – I have to admit to a vested interest here, as I host this myself with my co-host Farah, but we aim to focus on exploring the business journeys, trials and wins of underrepresented entrepreneurs.
  • Championing Women’s Voices hosted by June Sarpong
  • Nick Bradley’s Scale Up Your Business
  • Lead to win with Michael Hyatt & Megan Hyatt Miller

I also think Andyshvc (a startup investment coach) is great to follow on Instagram.

Members of staff
Loretta (left), Neil (center) and Mark (right)

Nigel, Research and Business Dev Manager

Two that are worth mentioning, particularly at this moment in time are:

  • Value proposition design by Alexander Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur, Gregory Bernarda, Alan Smith - a very useful approach to assessing changing needs and priorities at a time of massive disruption and developing products and services that meet these needs.  Also an effective process for assessing and revising existing business developments. Feels very topical!
  • Lean customer development: building products your customers will buy by Cindy Alvarez – this showcases really practical approaches to engaging with customers to find out how their needs and experiences are changing.

Gloria, National Network Co-ordinator Apprentice

There's a book I recently read She's Back by Lisa Unwin and Deb Khan.  It's aimed at women who had taken a break in their career (mostly because of motherhood, but also for those who took a break later in life for any other reason). It’s very uplifting and has plenty of resources and practical tips.

Mark, Start-ups in London Libraries Champion, Lewisham

In terms of books – everyone should read Rich Dad, Poor Dad. I would also recommend following the Financial Times and Bloomberg on Instagram.

Alex, BIPC Sheffield

There are some good podcasts coming from Courier at the moment, especially in reaction to the current situation.

Remi, Business Programmes Manager

I have so many recommendations:

  • Profit First by Mike Michalowicz – I think this is a must read for any business. It will have you thinking about finance and operating your business with an exit plan from day dot.
  • Any book by by Seth Godin – he makes all businesses think a little further outside of the box.
  • The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick – a book on how to talk to customers and figure if your business is a good idea when everyone else is lying to you. For me, this is an absolute must-read before investing into your business.

In terms of podcasts, I like Founders Clinic by Andy Ayim and Nana Parry – a podcast where underrepresented entrepreneurs openly and honestly discuss their companies.

Vanesa, Innovating for Growth Project Manager

I recently watched a Netflix TV series called Self Made about Madam C. J. Walker, the first female self-made millionaire in America. She was an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and a political and social activist. She was also a black lady which back in the 1900s in the US adds even more merit to what she achieved. It's still so topical, it even covers the struggles for women to get funding! I found it very inspirational, so if you were looking for something to watch these days, I strongly recommend it. 

Clare, Strategic Partnerships Manager

Some of our BIPC Ambassadors have been involved in some great content. For example, Paul Lindley's book, Little Wins is very apt for current times. Plus, our Entrepreneur in Residence, Julie Deane was interviewed for the BBC podcast The Disruptors. Her discussion with Kamal Ahmed and Rohan Silva really was a great piece - she was on top brutally honest form!