Innovation and enterprise blog

10 August 2020

Meet Sol Ramos, co-founder of London Basketball Nation and Start-ups in London Libraries participant

There were a strange couple of months in 2020 where team sports were essentially non-existent. As they are slowly creeping back to normality, we wanted to celebrate one of the sports businesses who took part in our Start-ups in London Libraries programme.  Here we speak to Sol, co-founder of London Basketball Nation to find out more about her business, how it came into being and her advice for anyone else thinking about starting their own business.

‘We are London Basketball Nation Ltd. We organise basketball tournaments and events related to the sport.

The business came into being after years of unsuccessful attempts to find where to play amateur basketball in London. We started in 2018 with the experience of being unsatisfied customers who could face a challenge. The CEO of the company (and my husband) is the coach of an amateur basketball team. I spent some of my weekends at basketball courts watching games but also listening to almost everyone involved in the activity complaining about the poor quality of the service they were getting. They were paying to do something they loved during the scarce free time they had, and they were having a terrible time! This concern was shared not just by players but by staff working for existing organisations.

What first started as a chat about how bad things were, ended up in more serious talks about how much better things could be, and we took the matter in our own hands. Having experience in the amateur sports sector and a multidisciplinary team on board was really helpful. We got the support of two experienced officials that have been giving valuable insight from day one.

The London Basketball team

I have a background in Management and I get easily bored.  I was motivated by the challenge but also by the potential results.  Seeing people doing what they love and making that possible is very satisfying. As someone who has several hobbies herself, I can also identify with our customers.

There was little to no information available online about related services so we conducted some research, talking to other teams and players about what they wanted. They were all looking for the same: good venues, but above all, sensible people behind the activity. We thought of offering an “all-inclusive” format (fixture, staff, venue, etc) – from the players’ perspective, they then just had to be there and do what they do best.

We set up a company (just in case “it worked”) in March 2019 and organised a short tournament in June that year to test the waters. Teams decided to give us a chance and we ended up organising a 7-month tournament for adult men (18+) afterwards. We are looking forward to expanding our reach and have not only more teams but also a Women’s division. We celebrated our first year as a company in March 2019.

I found out about the SiLL project thanks to a British Library newsletter around September 2019 and registered for the ‘Get ready for business’ workshop that was taking place in December. My SME Champion, Loretta, got in touch with me to know a bit more about the business and I shyly accepted a meeting. She talked me through the Business & IP Centre services for new businesses. I was amazed by the number of resources and support given to entrepreneurs.

SiLL helped us see the organisation as a business rather than something to do on weekends. It provided us with key insights and added value to our service.  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, as well as networking; social media… you name it! There is a lot of information out there, so much that it can be not just overwhelming, but also misleading. The SiLL project served as a guide.
I would have loved to have known about the project from day one as I think it would have saved me tonnes of time and work.

Two teams at a London Basketball Nation event

Coronavirus has, of course, been a huge challenge. With people not being able to gather in groups and the basketball courts being closed, we have been forced to stop our operations during this period. It really is just me and my husband running the business alongside other jobs right now, and so we have had a real split focus over the past months.

However, it has given us some space to focus on our brand and the digital aspect of the business. My husband is a web developer and he was able to dedicate time to work on the website and to bring more functionalities on board. We are also currently working on LBN Courts, a portal to find and rate outdoor basketball courts. We think this will help players to get back in shape - both physically and mentally - whilst encouraging people to make the of their local facilities (and that way, diminishing the use of public transport). The portal will not only show the location of courts, but it will allow players to rate their features, and to organise training groups - always according to the latest government advice of course.  

I consider myself extremely lucky to be part of the Greenwich business community. Loretta’s insights and support are invaluable. She is a connector, she puts together ideas to create new things, and people to make them come to life. She is always happy to have a one-to-one to talk about the progress of the business, and she makes sure I keep up to date by sending training and promotion opportunities. Not to mention she has such good energy! I am deeply thankful for her support.

A basketball game at a London Basketball Nation event

I have learnt so much from starting up my own business – the main one being that everything takes at least double the time and the money than you expected/calculated, especially admin work! Reaching people is not as easy as it sounds, especially when you’re new in the game.

However, it has also given me lots of advice that I would p[ass onto anyone else thinking about starting their own business:

  • Do your research: know the market, the customers and the competence.
  • Someone has already done it: maybe not exactly what you are thinking about doing, but someone has already walked the steps to set up a business. Someone has already made the mistakes and reached success. Use it and share it.
  • Be organised and have a plan: Having a plan, even a vague one, and keeping records of things you want and what you are doing to get them is really helpful. It’ll keep you focused, and with time it’ll give you information to analyse and understand what happened and why, and identify what can be improved.
  • Be responsive: reply to everything (emails, calls, social media messages, etc) as soon as possible.
  • Do not assume anything. It is better to talk about things rather than thinking they are a certain way. Ask for confirmation, repeat things, write down dates and meeting notes.
  • You can’t make everyone like you or what you do, and there’s no point in trying to do it. Focus on providing a good service and listen to feedback, let your actions speak louder than words.
  • You can’t control everything. Deal with it.
  • You can do much more than you think.
  • Just start!’

Find out more about London Basketball Nation.

If you’re interested in joining the online Start-ups in London Libraries webinars and workshops, you can find all of the information at bl.uk/SiLL.

SiLL funder logos - ERDF, Arts Council and J.P. Morgan)

 

06 August 2020

The beer lover’s guide to the perfect IP brew

Since Babylonian times, humans have been in search of the perfect beer brew. The brewing business today is a testament to the originality and passionate dedication of its forebears.

Each generation has created beers that have inspired the next while building a major industry.

Beer and commerce are an easy blend but what’s the one key secret to brewing success? Earning from your brewing creations by protecting the Intellectual Property that made them.

If you have developed a novel invention to brewing, a unique brand or a secret brew that gets people at the bar talking, then Intellectual Property is something you should invest in to reap the rewards you deserve.

Here are four different forms of intellectual property every new brewer should consider.

Brewing breakthroughs with technology

The sheer size and volume (literally) of the brewing industry means that it’s constantly innovating. So it’s not surprising that there’s some pretty clever technical innovation happening around the brewing and bottling process too.

If you’re a keen inventor, find out what some of the big problems that need ‘fixing’ in brewing today and ask ‘could you engineer a solution’?

If so, you’ll soon encounter the remarkable world of patents. A patent is an exclusive right granted to the maker of invention. It is a form of Intellectual Property that protects technical innovations. The innovation is eventually made public in exchange for the owner having a monopoly on the idea for a period of time (usually 20 years).

My favourite example from a past brewing patent is the story of William Painter. You may not have heard of him but without doubt you will have benefitted greatly from his invention, the ‘Crown Cap’ bottle top. Or in patent speak, ‘a bottle sealing device’.

William Painter was an accomplished inventor with a keen commercial eye. His devised a way to effectively seal a bottle of beer to prevent it from going flat. This involved a sealing disk topped with a metal cap. The advantage too was it could be opened easily. Perhaps you’ll recognise this from the patent image below?

Patent for William Painter's bottle sealing device

We’re still using the same basic technology on bottled beer and soft drinks today.

In 1894, when Painter was granted his patent, there was no shortage of bottle sealing devices but his particular patent (US468258) ensured bottling could be mass produced, increasing supply and meeting demand from a very thirsty public.

Painter himself went on to found the Crown Cork and Seal Company and quickly developed manufacturing technology to enable his patent’s potential to be fully realised. The company was immensely successful and is trading today as Crown Holdings Inc.

The lesson here is that if you find the right problem with the right solution and obtain effective Intellectual Property protection with a well drafted patent, it can be a significant advantage in a highly competitive market place.

Brewing up an awesome beer brand

Beer has personality. It has unique characteristics all to its own particular brew. It has heritage and modern edge with everything in between. Local, global, national. There’s a beer brand to suit every taste.

There are thousands and thousands of them. And a registered trademark for each.

You may have heard of the beer brand Bass. That brand has heritage, and is also UK trademark number UK00000000001 from the 1st January, 1876. The registered trademark is still in force today and no doubt worth more than every penny of the original registration fee!

Bass beer logo

 

The Bass brand also benefitted from what we nowadays call product placement. It’s not too discreetly featured in the French artist Édouard Manet’s famous, “A Bar at the Folies-Bergère”.

But beer brands rarely demure.

If we look at a modern brand such as Beavertown, they like so many beer brands, have registered their trademark too. The name is just too recognisable not to.

You can do this too. There’s a database of existing marks to check your own mark is original and to help decide what classifications of trade to choose.

Because it’s not uncommon for beer brands to produce all manner of merchandise and marketing material, so why not maximise the reach of your trademark by applying in a number of different trademark classifications?

With so many beers on offer, the beer brand you want to brew will need to be your unique identifier. Your trademark is, to put it simply, the legally registered name and/or image of your brand. It protects you by preventing others from blatantly copying or ‘trading off’ your good name and reputation. If you find yourself in that unenviable situation (and plenty have), the registered trademark is your comeback to cease and desist unfair imitation.

It also represents the incredible value of your brand. And because your trademark is your intellectual property, you can sell it or licence it to whomever you choose. It’s what will earn your reward in the future for all the thousands of hours of hard brewing.

To discover more about patents or trademarks, visit our website.

Beer that creates a first impression.

To own a registered design is to have rights over the appearance of a functional object that can include colour, shape or even texture. The form is what creates its appeal as a marketable object, instantly recognisable.

As one form of Intellectual Property, registered design is worth considering. Especially if you’re producing a beer product that wants to be distinctive.

For example there are many distinctive shapes of beer bottles that are themselves an identifier for the brand just as much as a trademark is.

And this is not only something for new beer brands striking out to get noticed, registered design is used by older established brewers as well.

Affligem, is a beer brand with an astonishing heritage, coming close to one thousand years of brewing history. But a brand with such pedigree still values other Intellectual Property assets, even if the taste of its brew is so famous.

They too have a registered design on their classic bottle shape.

Affligem beer bottle

If it’s something a thousand year brewer would have, why not consider it as a new brewer?

You can register a design with the Intellectual Property office and the Business & IP Centre runs regular webinars on it. See our upcoming webinar schedule.

The secret bit behind the beer magic.

If you’ve spent hundreds of hours in the quest of brewing perfection, and you think you’ve found it, what’s the best way to protect it from the rival brewer next door?

The answer is disarmingly simple; keep it a secret.

Don’t underestimate the importance of keeping trade secrets in the brewing business. Plenty of brewers rely on it.

A proper definition of a trade secret is a technique, process, formula or method of creating something that has commercial value and is known to only a limited number of persons. It is often kept secret through the use of legal agreements (such as employment contracts) or non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).

Unlike all of the other forms of IP mentioned, this is known as an unregistered right. Meaning you don’t have to register the secret with a governing body. It is yours to keep and the length of time is how long you want the secret to be kept.

A good trade secret is also good for the brand. It helps create a mystery around the product and keeps people guessing to how it was made.

Four cheers for IP

These are four forms of Intellectual Property every beer lover and maker should consider. You can pick and choose which of these works best for you. Maybe all of them. It’s all up to how you innovate, create and ultimately protect your most valuable asset, your own unique IP brew.

Jeremy O'Hare is the Business & IP Centre's Information Expert. You can find more information on intellectual property and the Business & IP Centre's upcoming events, by visit bl.uk/bipc.

03 August 2020

Meet our delivery partner: Mark Sheahan

Mark is the Business & IP Centre’s Inventor in Residence, as well as the President of the Institute of Inventors & Patentees (a registered charity), Managing Director of Compgen Ltd (Licensing) and Proprietor of Plasgen Design (Product Design). He is also Chairman of Morgan Goodwin Ltd (Online Trading Platform) and Ambosco Ltd (IT Development). He’s also a  Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and Vice Chairman of the Round Table of Inventors (CTRI). Here’s a bit more information about him and how he can help you at one of his Ask an Expert sessions…

Mark Sheahan

I’m an experienced business owner with a demonstrated history of working in the inventing, business mentoring and licensing industry. My specialities are in business planning, invention, entrepreneurship, manufacturing, plastic injection moulding, packaging closure technology, intellectual property and licensing. 

One of my inventions, SqueezeopenTM, won me the accolade of Inventor of the Year in the UK and the top Grand Prix Award at INPEX in America. The product is an easy open and close plastic container.  

My Ask an Expert sessions are confidential, free one-hour meetings and are aimed at inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs. I suggest, to get the best out of the hour that they bring everything they can bring to the meeting, particularly samples, working or not, drawings and patent documentation, if applicable.

I see my role as nurture and clarity and try not to be judgemental in anyway. In fact, I like seeing people as early as possible, even with half-baked ideas/inventions. As, all too often, they take a wrong path and spend time and money unnecessarily. 

My first question in the meeting is normally about the idea/invention itself, as it does not matter how well you do everything else, if it does not work or has a major flaw/s the project is likely to fail. As an engineer, I can generally spot manufacturing problems and advice accordingly. Another area I like to explore with entrepreneurs is whether it is the best solution, being either cheaper or better, ideally both.     

Once I am happy with the idea/invention and only then I will move on to the business side, e.g. intellectual property position and strategy, business model, manufacturing, sales and marketing and, if applicable, licensing. 

It is very easy to get overwhelmed with advice, so you end up not knowing what to do next. I try and give that clarity and re-motivate anyone who comes to see me to take those steps.  

To book a session with me, click here.