Innovation and enterprise blog

25 January 2021

A Week in the Life of Meenesh Mistry, founder of Wholey Moly

Meenesh is the co-founder of Wholey Moly, alongside his wife, Parul. They started their mission to prove that an afternoon snack didn’t have to be a rash, overly sugared vending machine decision by creating delicious cookies made from the best ingredients and free from refined sugar. After taking part in the Innovating for Growth Mentoring scheme in 2017, their cookies were snapped up by some of the finest food retailers in the UK such as Selfridges, Whole Foods and Daylesford. They are new moving towards launching globally and have been using this period of lockdown to focus on improving their digital strategy and recouping retail costs through online rather than in-person sales.

‘We have been on a rollercoaster this year with our little cookie company taking its next steps to become what we imagined. Myself and my wife Parul, have had to keep on our toes since starting our business, especially now with a little cookie monster of our own to take care of.

We successfully applied for the government bounce back loan and we decided to use this to move our strategy from retail to more online focused. We knew it was a completely different kettle of fish and decided to take on some help for this and so we hired an E-commerce Growth Manager to help us create a more digital led strategy to get our name out there online.

Meenesh and Parul, founders of Wholey Moly

During this madness we have been doing our best to connect with retail suppliers and stockists ready for the re-opening of stores and have been getting some great results. It is refreshing to see the support retailers and external organisations have in the underdogs/ family run businesses. So hopefully the public will be able to taste our cookies in shops and cafes near you soon.

Here’s a look at what a week can look like, but I have to be honest it rarely flows to plan, it all depends on what projects we have going on for example at the end of 2020 we had a rebrand of the business and launched a new webshop so for 3 months it was all about branding, website development and digital marketing.

Friday It is probably better to start with Friday afternoon as that is when I plan my following week.

I have a 3 month plan which I try to break down each week, it doesn’t always go to plan but it ensures I’m moving in the right direction. The weekly plan means I know exactly what I’m supposed to be doing come Monday Morning.

Monday My day typically starts around 6am when I squeeze in a bit of exercise – but I have to be honest it’s not always the case. From 7-9am is a daily battle of getting our son who is 3 years old up, fed and packed off to nursery.

My working day then starts at around 9am.

Mondays I cover operations. This means looking at stock levels, forecasting ahead and scheduling new production runs. I also try to catch up on any industry news, reading The Grocer/LinkedIn etc.

Tuesday I keep a minimum of 2 full days for sales, I follow up on any sales leads from prior weeks and work on new business development.

This can mean anything from calls, site visits (although not so much under the current climate) and preparing presentations.

Wednesday I find that meetings can be quite disruptive for productivity so try and schedule my meetings all on the same day – usually Wednesday!

The calls vary massively including funding, sales, industry calls, networking and being pitched at from suppliers.

It can be quite a full on day so I try and get out for a walk on some calls.

Meenesh and Parul in front of a Wholey Moly advert

Thursday Back to sales! Here I follow up from anything on Tuesday but I also spend time with our e-commerce manager and Amazon person looking at our online sales and how we can better optimise it.

We are new to e-commerce so there’s a lot to learn and I find it quite fun to tinker with the various marketing levers.

Friday I leave Friday to catch up on all back office things, most notably finances – paying bills, issuing invoices, doing cashflows.

I tend to clear out my inbox and then look at my 3 month plan and start to plan the following week.

Since lockdown I really miss those water cooler conversations so I’ve started to book in calls with my peers just to have a chin wag on Fridays, which is a great way to finish off the week.

Make sure to check out our new website and if you would like to try any cookies here’s a discount code for our fellow British Library businesses BRITLIB20.

20 January 2021

Meet Annie Gibbs, Founder & Director of Amour Destiné CIC

We spoke to Annie Gibbs, Founder & Director of Amour Destiné CIC and asked her to tell us about her business and how it came into being…

Amour Destiné, French for "Love your Destiny", is a community interest company that aims to improve the socio-economic status of black women in the UK.

We aim to achieve this by helping women affected by, but not limited to bereavement, mental health issues, domestic abuse & sexual violence, immigration problems and care experiences, work towards building the lives they desire. By accessing advocacy support from Amour Destiné, women are able to address the various challenges they may be facing such as no recourse to public funds, family law access and mediation. We also provide a one-to-one and group educational mentoring workshops led by inspiring women and girls.  Amour Destiné helps women develop confidence and self-belief which will enable and encourage them to live out their ambitions to succeed in life.

Amour Destiné provides the platform which has united and inspired many to connect, collaborate, exchange resources and empowered some to test their business ideas through our partners’ events & workshops.

Amour Destiné began as a voluntary pilot program, borne out of my own passion and lived experience of overcoming the loss of my mother at the age of 8 years of age and being placed in care. This experience led me to want to get more involved and to give back to my community. I have, as a result of the pilot program and demands from women seeking my advice and counsel on various issues such as employment, career advice and immigration issues, organically formalised what I have been offering the ladies and therefore, launched a 12-month Destiny Creators Mentoring Programme & Advocacy service in Lambeth & Greenwich. I managed to gather information through digital surveys and feedbacks harvested from mentee workshops regarding how the service has benefited them.  I find the feedback information very important as it is my passion to provide a tailored service which meets the specific needs of my clients on the program.

The results from a survey conducted in 2019 reported that 78.4% of women preferred to have more one-to-one coaching/mentoring support.  72% reported that they really enjoyed the networking opportunities Amour Destiné offered with 36.4% wanting this to be more than once a year and the other 36.4% preferred three times a year.  As a result of this feedback, we have developed our Destiny Creators programme to provide a combination of monthly virtual group sessions as well as face-to-face group sessions.

As well as being the Director of Amour Destiné, I am a board member for a community forum in Greenwich and Director of Treasury for a black female-led frontline domestic abuse service provider in Croydon. These positions have enabled me to hear and to understand the needs of women affected by socio-economic problems in and around London. Information collected and collated from digital surveys and workshop participant feedback questionnaires has enabled me to further shape the programme. Acknowledging the voices of women in need of support has improved the services offered by Amour Destiné. In the past year and a half, over one hundred participants have been willing to contribute in providing feedback comments.

Furthermore, we have a good social media engagement with one thousand, two hundred and fifty five followers across a number of platforms where we have conducted polls and utilised questions to further develop our mission to meet the needs of our community.

We work collaboratively with local groups, organisations and individuals to address social economic issues affecting the quality of women’s lives.  This enables us to ascertain the needs of their beneficiaries through digital surveying.

Annie Gibbs, Founder & Director of Amour Destiné

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

Amour Destiné was formed as a result of losing my mother at the age of 8 years to HIV as well as the experience of learning to push past my own challenges in life growing through the UK care system. I wanted to create a support service for black women to break through barriers and to build on my late mother’s legacy. I had been bothered throughout my life when I think about the struggles my mother faced during my childhood, being passed from service to service because of her Malian heritage, having encountered language barriers because she could not speak English.  My mother had no family in the UK. She was a survivor of domestic abuse and did not have a supportive network to fall on. I remember her struggles and having only one or two friends.  

My ambition and desire had always been to make a difference in the lives of black women surviving abuse. My current frustration now is to find that the difficulties my mother faced in the past are still existent in the 21st century. It is my mission therefore, to ensure that any woman who reaches out to our service does not feel isolated and unsupported like my mother did. In addition, it is my desire to make knowledge and information accessible to all women who reach out to Amour Destiné. The Amour Destiné platform provides services to equip and empower women succeed to overcome obstacles that life throws at them. To all black women, Amour Destiné says, “Your Chapter does not end there” and that “You own the rights to create your own destiny”.

How did the SiLL project help you in setting up your business?

I attended the side hustle to business workshop at Woolwich library on International Women's Day, delivered by Loretta Awuah, who I am grateful has now become my mentor! She provided me with the details of the SiLL programme virtual workshops: ‘What next for my business idea?’, ‘Get ready for business’ and ‘Marketing Masterclass’. I felt I had nothing to lose so I decided to register and to attend the sessions with the view of developing my understanding and knowledge surrounding intellectual property and marketing. To launch a product that I could use as part of my workshops and to improve the sustainability of my project ideas that I had been testing in the community.

After attending the workshops mentioned above, I have since had several 1:1 sessions with my mentor, Loretta. She helped me see how valuable my work is and to overcome the fear of the unknown.  By breaking down the various elements of the services I was offering and what my project needs were, I was able to develop and progress it further. She also encouraged me to take the next step to register my project as a community interest company and encouraged me to pursue funding opportunities. The SiLL programme has also helped me to connect with various individuals/organisations.

What was the most helpful part of the SiLL project for you?

I found all of the projects incredibly helpful. Loretta’s 1:1 mentoring support, as well as the workshops, have helped me to enhance my knowledge of business. It is difficult to pinpoint one element because all the sessions were helpful and they equipped me to move my ideas forward. If I have to, I would say, launching my product and services. For me, the most helpful part of the SiLL programme was the workshop on intellectual property. As a result of this I was able to gain a better understanding of how to protect my ideas. The sessions facilitator even followed up with me afterwards with answers to a few of my questions that helped me make my decisions to launch my hand-painted African print wellbeing boxes on Etsy.

Hand-painted African print wellbeing boxes

Can you tell us a bit about Loretta and the Greenwich Business Community that is coming as a part of SiLL?

Loretta’s support has been invaluable. From the first time I met her on International Women’s Day to present, she has been so encouraging and very open to book 1:1 sessions with her. Her knowledge, patience and genuine interest in my business has been invaluable. She has connected me to various individuals in the Borough and helped me to identify my opportunities. Just knowing that I have someone who cares, that I can email with any questions no matter how silly I may feel about asking and sharing good news makes me super grateful. It makes the process of growing my community interest company and navigating things easier. She has also referred an individual to my service in need of support which reassures me further that she believes in my work.

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

If you are reading this and you are at a place in life where you are considering using your passions, talents and purpose to start a business, I would say the best part is already done. The fact that you have the idea is the beginning of great things. Explore your idea by gaining support from a programme like the SiLL programme to discover what is possible for you and your ideas. Know that all great things have to start somewhere.  It is useful to know that there is no right or wrong way to achieve your dreams.  Your business ideas are deeply personal to you.  They are not supposed to be perfect so allow yourself to grow from what you experience and that it is YOUR journey. Don't allow anything to stop you!

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

Since launching my business I have learnt many things along the way. The key things I am grateful for learning are that it's so important to ask others for help. Especially in the very early stages you will need others. There is always someone who will know the answer to your questions. But you will not know unless you ask. The least that will happen is that they will say no, or they don't know how they can help.

Find people who you can collaborate with and whose purpose is aligned with yours. You do not have to say yes to everything. As not all things are going to be for you and your business.

Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Life is for growing and it is alright to try something or a few ideas as this is the only way that you are truly going to know what works best for your business.

Prioritise time for yourself to do the things that offer you happiness and joy. This could be spending time with people that you care about, or time out to read or go for a swim. Whatever this looks like for you, please ensure you develop the habit of practicing self-care.

Above all don't forget why you started and who you stand for. So that you maintain a healthy, loving, balance between yourself and your business.

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

If you are considering joining a SiLL workshop/talk go for it. You have nothing to lose. You will find others on the programme that are on various stages of their business journeys to yourself as well as those at a similar stage. You will learn so much from each other. The facilitators are very welcoming and every session is open to asking plenty of questions. So be intentional with your time when you attend to gain maximum support from the sessions. You won't regret it!

 

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15 January 2021

Meet Alison Cork, Ambassador for the British Library’s Business & IP Centre

Amidst all the uncertainty of 2020, becoming an Ambassador for the British Library's Business & IP Centre has been a definite highlight, and it caused me to reflect upon my lifetime journey with books and learning.

I remember libraries vividly as a child. The distinctive smell of beeswax polished wood and slightly musty odour of much borrowed books – I particularly liked the way the pages seemed to soften the more they were thumbed and read. I wasn’t so keen on the plastic protective covers that used to crack with age and scratch my fingers. I also remember the pleasing silence of the library and the squeak of the wooden floor boards as I explored new categories, each one a new world to me. My favourites were history, biology and fiction. At one point I was reading up to nine books a week. Sitting on the purple boucle sofa at home with a pile of them by my side, I would devour each title until the pile had disappeared and I had an excuse to go back and get more. I loved having my dad read to me, and the way he carefully turned the pages as he narrated each story. Without realising it, books became my path to a world of imagination and possibility, and a love of learning.

Alison Cork sitting in armchair

My next clear memory of books was at school, in my case a convent in south east London. There, courtesy of an inspirational Latin teacher, I discovered the great love of my life – the Classics - despite the fact that the nuns had neatly ruled through any text they felt to be unsuitable for young ladies, which, let’s face it, meant most of Catullus. Sadly for the well-meaning nuns, this had quite the opposite effect on me and piqued my curiosity further. Latin led to Greek and a change of school, as there weren’t enough students who wanted to study Greek to merit a state school teacher’s salary. Happily for me, the teachers in my next school were just as dedicated and I was surprised but thrilled to win a place to study Classics at Cambridge - not bad for the great granddaughter of a hackney carriage driver from Brixton. But that’s the thing about books, they are totally democratic. They will take you where you want to go.

At Cambridge the doors of life opened for me and I learned to become an independent thinker. That in turn led me to realise that I didn’t want to follow any well-trodden career path of accountant or lawyer. I wanted to drive my own destiny. It was no more than an instinctive feeling, but I followed my gut and after graduation, started a little publishing business. Again, books were in the mix. All of a sudden I realised that I was an entrepreneur, albeit an accidental one. I was running my own show. The challenge for me at the time was that I lacked any role models or mentors. No-one in my family ran a business and there were very few women blazing a trail that I could point to, with the exception of Anita Roddick of Body Shop, Debbie Moore of Pineapple Studios and Margaret Thatcher, if you count running the country as a form of business.

Fast forward almost thirty years and I was surprised to find that still, only one in four businesses was owned or run by a woman. So I started a not for profit called Make it Your Business, to support and encourage other women to start their own business. Then I heard about the Business & IP Centre and in particular their success with female and BAME led businesses, and once again curiosity got the better of me. I wanted to know who they were, what they did, and why more people didn’t know about their brilliant Business & IP service. I was amazed by what I found – a truly results driven business advisory service that was dynamic, authentic and successful, helping businesses to start up and scale up in equal measure, delivering a fantastic return on investment. Best of all, a service open to all and almost entirely free.

Alison Cork working at desk

Which brings us to the current moment. Whilst Covid has been an enormous challenge, I can’t think of a better time to be a part of the team at the BIPC. This uniquely valuable service has become even more important in the current climate. Our goal now is to ensure that this service is made available to every community in the land, as we rebuild the economy and create much needed jobs post Covid. I’m looking forward greatly to the challenge.