Innovation and enterprise blog

20 October 2020

Meet Aleksandra Horwood, founder of Happy Stance Yoga and Start-ups in London Libraries participant

In the Summer of 2019, Aleksandra had just been made redundant: ‘It was a painful experience,’ she says now, ‘and even more painful that I was not able to find a new job. I went to the Job Centre, but they told me they couldn’t help me searching for a job in the field I had worked in before. It was a totally new experience for me.’ Thinking about ways in which she could turn her practical skills and passion for yoga into something that could provide her with a salary, she stumbled across a programme, Start-ups in London Libraries, in her local library in Waltham Forest. ‘I could learn new skills, and get support. I attended all the 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.’

Here we spoke to Aleksandra, now the proud owner of the company Happy Stance Yoga Therapy, about her business, her newly discovered purpose in life and her experience of the ‘treasure box’ that is the Start-ups in London Libraries programme.

Can you tell us a bit about your business idea?

My idea was to create a specialised yoga and meditation programme to improve the quality of life for older people. At the moment there are 12 million people aged 65+ in the UK. Among all developed EU countries, the seniors here have the shortest life expectancy and the unhealthiest lifestyle. I definitely thought I could help here. Healthy ageing is the focus of WHO and the UN and they have made a global call to action – for the decade of healthy ageing, 2020-2030. So what better time than now, as we enter into this decade, to create a business that focuses on assisting healthy ageing?

AleksandraHorwood%2CHappyStanceYogaTherapy

Why did you want to start up a business? What was your motivation?

I really love to help however I can and I like to use my existing skill set, but I also like to learn new things. I can say now that being made redundant was a blessing in disguise. Since I decided not to pursue my journalistic career, it became obvious that I should do something with my yoga teacher role. There are so many already existing yoga studios and gyms, but I have found out from talking to people and a couple of my private students that these venues are usually not age-friendly, the music is too loud, the tempo and energy in the classes is too intimidating and simply not encouraging for the elderly. I thought yoga would be such a nice way to help the elderly stay healthy and socially engaged.

I have always exercised with my grandparents after they suffered from strokes, diabetes, and some reduced mobility issues, and later with my students. Some of who were close to being centenarians! It simply feels good to be able to make positive changes in the lives of older people, their families and their communities.

How did the SiLL programme help?

SiLL was helpful from day one. I gave Sarah [the Waltham Forest Business Champion] permission to remind me of the deadlines for my project schedule we set up together. I tend to get distracted and she was always kind and firm enough in keeping me on track, informing me of any interesting new developments she saw in this field, offering constant supervision and guidance. I was provided with the list of local care homes and organizations I could contact as well as the venues where I could offer my yoga classes.

Defining the process and all its stages were the crucial points for me. I would never have been able to develop my business this quickly without the help of Sarah. She gave me tips for presenting my idea and even kindly offered to go with me to care homes to make an appointment for delivering my trial session as I wasn’t receiving any response. She checked my website, my email signature and my flyers as well as finding and suggesting quiet workspaces in the borough.

Can you tell us a bit about Sarah or the Waltham Forest business community?

I felt thoroughly supported. There was no question I couldn't ask and I always felt that Sarah was really there, in service of the community and I felt complete trust in her guidance and motivation. Her immediate responses to countless emails or LinkedIn messages, networking skills, and also human skills were a huge support for me. She would regularly remind me to take care of myself, have a day off and do something fun and take pride in success I made so far. I would get impatient or unhappy and she would quickly remind me how much I have already progressed, in just two months, in a foreign country, in a foreign language, without family or friends. And then I would take pride in myself and continue my work, my mission of bringing health and happiness to the lives of the elderly.

How did COVID impact your business and how have you pivoted?

Coronavirus affected my business pretty badly. The big studios had resources to adapt much more quickly whereas I was struggling to organise online classes. However, I was able to pivot the business. I opened a Zoom scheduling account to allow me to teach anywhere in the world. This was after years of having an uncompromising belief that yoga requires direct person-to-person connection. Now I see the benefits. My digital sessions focused particularly on elderly people who may have been more isolated than ever during lockdown and centred around mobility and fall prevention to allow for that independence.

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

I would suggest searching for a mentor is the most valuable asset. Someone who will guide you, support you, but also question your ideas, your strategies, your planning, and priorities. Someone who has soft skills too, to be able not only to instruct you but also tutor, monitor you and tell you that you need counselling if that is the case. Your life experience is also a great asset as you will recognize and accept other people's help and not be too stubborn or too proud to ask for it when needed. Do not be a perfectionist, like me, just start somewhere and work from there. 

Happy Stance Yoga

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

I have learned that I have strength, capacity, and curiosity to start anew even when the conditions are not very favourable. I must admit that I felt very depressed in summer since I couldn't find a job and I was thinking if I can stay in this country, what will happen with my marriage if I have to go back to Croatia to look for a job. I am going to be 50 next year so that didn't help when looking for a job as everybody was asking for young people. I found my self-worth, I regained self-confidence and I am more engaged than ever with different sectors in the community, searching for the best ways to serve elderly, whom we owe everything, yet they experience a lot of hardship, isolation, even ageism, age-based discrimination, etc. I found out how good I am in networking, doing research and informing people about these issues.

What would you say to anyone looking to go to a SiLL workshop/talk to their local Start-ups Champion?

I would absolutely recommend it. I think of the local start-ups Champions more as leaders since they recognise the potential in everyone, and they offer support during the process, it is not just telling you can do it. They share their authority and accountability, they connect and explore and ask how can we do things better? They listen and they ask the right questions. 

To find out more about the Start-ups in London Libraries programme and to register for one of our free workshops, visit bl.uk/SiLL

SiLL_logo_lockups_CMYK

 

12 October 2020

A week in the life of... Laura Rudoe, founder of Good Ventures Ltd

Laura Rudoe is an alumna of the Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme and the founder of Good Ventures Ltd., the ethical development company behind natural and eco-friendly beauty brands: Evolve Organic Beauty and S5 Skincare. Each product is lovingly handcrafted in her eco studio in Hertfordshire by a team of artisans, and is cruelty free, vegan-friendly and blended with organic ingredients.

Laura Rudoe, founder of Good Ventures Ltd wearing a white blouse

A Harvard Business School graduate, Laura balances growing her sustainable business whilst nurturing her family, where she is a proud mother of three. With a qualification in nutrition, Laura has always been an advocate for organic living and wellness and is passionate about making a difference in people’s lives.

Monday I begin the week with an early start and a cup of herbal tea whilst I tackle some emails and make a plan for the working week. I find that as a business owner, I always need to be planning ahead, yet maintain flexibility as you can’t always predict what might be just around the corner!

My inbox fills up very quickly, so I make myself some avocado on sourdough toast for an energy boost! I review some reports from my team and squeeze in a leftovers-based lunch between calls with each of my team leaders. Mondays tend to be a bit of an admin and planning day for me, so I unwind with a Peloton class and by cooking dinner for my family in the evening.

Tuesday As I managed to have such a productive day yesterday, I enjoy a more relaxed and slower start to the day today with an awakening yoga flow in the garden. Mid-morning I host our weekly trade meeting, where we review wholesale sales reports, online sales, and any key upcoming activities across our marketing, new product development and operations teams. It’s a meeting to ensure everyone is aligned and we can share updates which affect other teams in the business. We have always held this meeting, but it feels even more important since the start of lockdown, as my team is now working from different locations. Previously, we were all under one roof: our artisans making products and our office team, but since lockdown started, the office team (sales, marketing and customer service) have been working from home. Our artisans have continued to create products in our eco studio, but have had to change their ways of working to ensure everyone stays safe.

A hand placing a label onto a bottle

I enjoy a large salad for lunch before heading back to my computer and replying to a few emails. This afternoon includes attending an interesting webinar about new sustainable ingredients and packaging options for the beauty industry, which is something I am hugely passionate about. I scribble down some notes throughout the webinar and add some tasks for tomorrow to my Asana list. Asana is a programme I use all the time - it’s a great planning tool! Quick dinner with my family and then I attend virtual book club, followed by virtual choir, both on Zoom. Book club works fairly well, but choir takes a little more getting used to. There tends to be a slight delay on the video call, so the mute button comes in handy!

Wednesday Today I have blocked out my calendar for a session of product blending and formulation designing, which is my favourite thing to do. I have a quick green smoothie to keep me going, and then start blending in our in-house lab at the eco studio. Formulating products is both a science and an art, and involves a fair bit of trial and error before I produce some samples I am happy with. All samples go through ‘stability’ and ‘challenge’ testing to ensure they do not separate over time and to confirm their ‘best before’ dates. After I have tested the samples on my own skin, I then offer samples to my team before we carry out further trials on larger numbers of people. Creating new products is one of my favourite parts of my job!

I spend the afternoon conducting further ingredient research and a little more formulation in the lab and then head home with lots of little pots and bottles of product samples. I’m tired after a busy day, so I enjoy a short evening walk with my three children after dinner, then enjoy a good book in the bath before bed.

Evolve moisturizer in cardboard packaging

Thursday My day starts with a virtual pilates class - I used to attend a reformer pilates class once or twice a week, which I miss, but this is still fun. I spend the rest of the morning focusing on finances, knee-deep in spreadsheets and ensuring everything is as it should be. I make a vegetable soup for lunch and then spend the afternoon sharing feedback on various projects with my team. People describe me as a very hands-on founder as I love to be involved in as much as I can and share my input where possible - whether it is writing nutritional advice as part of a campaign with my marketing team or planning new product launches with my NPD (new product development) team.

I spend most of the evening juggling taking my children to various clubs and activities with my husband, which isn’t easy! Somehow I manage to squeeze in an hour-long mentoring session with a budding entrepreneur I am currently working with.

Friday As yesterday ended up being a little more hectic than planned, I start the day with a 10 minute meditation session before breakfast. I split up my spreadsheet-filled morning with a 15 minute virtual coffee break with my team (as everyone who is desk-based is working from home at the moment). I then film some content for our social media platforms, which involves me talking to the camera about our latest product launch and explaining how and why I designed it.

I like to make sure I have read and replied to as many emails as possible before I turn my computer off for the weekend - a clear inbox equals a clear mind for me!

My evening is spent enjoying a nice glass of wine at my local pub with my husband and a couple of friends.

Weekend I try to avoid working on the weekend as I prefer to spend time with family. The kids have various clubs, piano lessons, sport matches etc. so weekends tend to revolve around them!

01 October 2020

Meet our delivery partner: The House

Story Cube founders Michael Murdoch and Robbie Dale run webinars introducing Story Cube. Story Cube was born out of the work of The House, an award winning branding and marketing agency based in London, and can help to refine your brand strategy, tell your story and increase sales.

Michael and Robbie

Who are Michael and Robbie?

Michael Murdoch

Michael founded The House branding and marketing agency in 2009 and has been a Brand Strategist for nearly 20 years working with emerging and established organisations around the world like NHS, MTV, Diabetes UK, Sanyo, Fairtrade and Nokia to smaller start-ups like Franklin Scholars, Mixcloud and Olive Branch. Michael has won awards for his work and helps clients find their full potential, taking them step-by-step through their projects in partnership with them. Graduating from courses at Central Saint Martins, UWE and Oxford University, Michael loves working with entrepreneurs and hopes to pass on his skills and expertise on to help them be the top 10% of organisations that succeed.

Robbie Dale

Robbie is a creative director and writer with nearly 20 years’ experience who was named in both the inaugural BIMA Hot 100 and Drum Digerati for his input into the British digital marketing industry. He has won more than 50 awards for creativity and effectiveness, is an alumni of the prestigious Marketing Academy scholarship and has helped many organisations - from charities and start-ups to the likes of Microsoft, Lego and the BBC - connect with their customers in interesting and impactful ways.

Story Cube - the formula to help ambitious entrepreneurs inspire, pitch and sell with ease.

Necessity is the mother of invention.

In such testing times for families, businesses and other organisations, we require all the wit and wisdom available to us to make it through to the other side.

We've helped thousands of organisations explain what they do to help them inspire, pitch and sell with ease. We do that using Story Cube, a simple formula that breaks down the key questions you need to consider when building the foundations of your brand. Maybe now's the time to try it?

Want to know more about the session?

Successful organisations know how to tell their story. They understand what their audience needs and they understand how to communicate that with a minimum of fuss. That, essentially, is the secret of good branding and how you make more sales.

During our interactive webinar, we'll teach you the principles behind successful brands, giving you practical tips to shape your own story without spending a small fortune. You'll get hands-on with your brand, to help you create your strong and succinct story.

Join experts Michael Murdoch and Robbie Dale to understand how you can create an organisation that people fall in love with. Grab the chance to ask questions and see for yourself how you can...

  • Improve your creative communications
  • Get more customers and make more sales
  • Attract the best talent to your team
  • Pitch to investors with confidence (and much more!)

Watch the two minute video to find out more.

Story Cube - 2 mins from The House on Vimeo.

Who is Story Cube for?

  • Founders/Owners of businesses, social enterprises and charities.
  • Entrepreneurs who want to improve their knowledge of branding, marketing, storytelling and sales.
  • People with responsibility for marketing, design or communications.
  • Anyone with an idea they want to test, improve, launch and grow.
  • Students and freelancers looking to master their craft in branding, marketing and sales.

We are proud of our statistics...

Stats - 500+ business supported, 100% would recommend to a friend, 94% average feedback

Why should you attend?

One company who attended said, "I’ve attended several workshops at The British Library and this is by far away the best. Thank you!".

Our session has been built on over 30 years combined experience working with hundreds of businesses. So, whether you’re planning something new, just starting out or looking to refresh an existing brand, we have the formula and plenty of ideas that will help. Your customers want to know the story behind your organisation, what makes it stand out and why they should care. It’s why so many of the best new businesses are putting brand at the heart of everything they do.

Here are six ways our Story Cube formula can help you...

Story cube benefits

In this workshop, you’ll learn...

  • The six killer questions you need to answer to better tell your story
  • How to answer the questions via tips, exercises and examples
  • How to articulate your Value Proposition clearly and succinctly
  • How to test and validate your ideas about your brand
  • How to differentiate your brand and stand out from the competition in the real world

Hackney Brewery testimonial

What you'll take away?

You'll leave the session with a downloadable appendix packed full of online resources, case studies, worksheets, videos, templates and other tools to help you with your long term goals. They will make it easier for you to build on the foundations laid down in the webinar once you’re back to work.

Not only that, you'll have started to answer the six key questions that feature in every great brand story and you'll be another step closer to finding more customers, attracting talented team members and securing investment.

We're here to help entrepreneurs excel...

Over the past decade we’ve worked with businesses, charities and other organisations of all shapes and sizes to develop the structured process we’ll share in this session. The ideas we use are tried and tested and have been chosen because they help organisations thrive. Without a great brand story and strategy, a depressing number of ventures fail before they ever really get going. By asking the right questions we want to stimulate your thinking and make sure that doesn’t happen to you.

Who has attended and tried Story Cube?

We have worked with hundreds of businesses from all sorts of backgrounds including, but not limited to...food and beverage, furniture, technology, creative agencies, co-working spaces, fashion houses, charities, universities, schools, photographers, consultants, property companies, tour companies, edtech, fintech, medtech (any other tech), travel accessories, uniform manufacturers, banks and many more. The oldest business for 700 years old and the youngest was seven minutes (they chose our workshop to start!).

Organisations we have worked with...

Story Cube has been delivered to students, start-ups, social enterprises, charities and established organisations.

Tickets from just £10: https://bit.ly/StoryCubeWebinars-BL. To see the rest of the BIPC webinars, visit our events page.