Innovation and enterprise blog

28 February 2021

Innovating for Growth Diary - Sian Zeng

Every quarter, Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups chooses 18 high-growth businesses to take part in our 10 week programme designed to help business owners re-evaluate their business across areas such as marketing, products and services and business model.

We have been speaking to Sian, founder and director of luxury wallpaper business Sian Zeng, who is one of our latest Innovating for Growth cohort, to see firsthand the impact of the programme on her business. In this first installment of her diary, we meet Sian, hear about how she started her business, and discover how her first batch of Innovating for Growth one-to-one sessions and workshops have helped her re-evaluate her priorities. 

'Hi, I’m Sian, Founder, and Director of Sian Zeng; we create innovative wallpapers and wall decorations that enchant and delight. Reproduced from original artwork, our captivating designs take inspiration from fairytales and the natural world, all with the intention of helping people bring art, nature, and imagination into their homes.

Sian Zeng painting one of her bespoke wallpapers
Photo: Veerle Evens for Etsy

We sell a range of products to cater to different spaces and budgets, with our dreamy designs available as both classic and magnetic wallpapers, as well as our growing collection of removable wall stickers. Our magnetic wallpaper is one of our most unique products that allow users to place magnets onto their wall, like a fridge or radiator. Our cast of magnetic characters and illustrations were designed with this in mind; move our magnets across the surface of our magnetic wallpaper and suddenly it’s not just a wall - it’s the backdrop to a story. Since opening, our products have been featured in Elle Decoration, The Sunday Times and The Telegraph, and in 2019, we were awarded the honour of the Grand Prize at the Etsy Design Awards.

I started my company shortly after graduating from University and as a result, I had very little business experience. A creative first and foremost, part of me always knew there would always be gaps in my knowledge that could be a game-changer for my company. After more than a decade of growing my business organically and at a steady pace, I thought it was time to see how I could accelerate our growth whilst still maintaining our meaning. So here enters the Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme.

At the first group session with Rasheed Ogunlaru, Getting Ready for Growth, I met members of my cohort and it was so inspiring to hear their stories as well as share my own. What really resonated with me from that session was when Rasheed said something along the lines of “this isn’t about giving up the part of your business you’re most passionate about.” I immediately thought about how I had begun to outsource the creative side of things recently, becoming more of an art director rather than painter/designer for upcoming collections. This was the reason I had started my business more than a decade ago - to create unusual, beautiful illustrations for interior spaces - but the more the brand grew, the more I felt I should be focussing on other aspects. This was a big light bulb moment for me. 

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I really like how the course is structured, where each session leads into the next. We began with a business model workshop and then our first one-to-one session, which allowed me to really step back and see my business structure from a bird’s eye view. Then at my one-to-one with Robert Foster from Red Ochre, we delved deeply into my business structure and worked together to create a detailed plan of what to do next.

One of the main things that arose during our session was that I felt spread too thin. As founder and director of a company, it can feel like you have to not only oversee everything but do most of it too, when actually a lot of the tasks could be delegated to my team members. Robert suggested I create a delegation stack to help me categorise tasks into ones I can delegate, automate, divest or outsource. Once I’d done this exercise, I found I’d freed up lots of my time already.

As a high-end wallpaper company, we’ve always paid lots of attention to branding as it is an integral part of the quality and craftsmanship we portray. Our message has always been creating luxury, innovative and dreamy wall coverings for the home. During my workshop with ABA Design, I was presented with the personality archetypes. It was here I discovered there were more elements to our brand personality and I was able to refine it even further, making it easier for us to feed all our designs into our values.

Our archetypes were ‘the creator’, ‘the explorer’ and ‘the magician’. I always felt like creativity was integral to our brand, and with exploration, this definitely ties into the adventurous element of our designs, as well as my constant experimentation with new technologies in the design process of our wallpapers. The magician part surprised me the most but makes a lot of sense; many of our designs contain magical elements, such as a bear riding a crane or flying hands that look like birds in mid-flight. 

Over the past few years, I have noticed a clear trend, where our company’s growth is directly linked to the release of new collections. As a result, I made it my priority to release collections more frequently and bring in help to facilitate faster product launches. During my product and service innovation session with Fluxx, we discussed how I could make this process more efficient. They suggested I should write down every step involved in the development of a product so I can see how much involvement is necessary from me at each step. From there, I can decide where I can bring in help, tighten up the process and minimise my workload, so it can be focussed elsewhere. This really helped me to oversee a very integral element of the business that will enable us to accelerate our growth.

I have very much enjoyed the first half of the programme and feel it has already brought tangible benefits to my business. I am more confident about the direction we need to take as a brand and how we can grow with our core values in mind. If you would like to explore our designs and keep up to date with our journey please follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

In a month’s time you will hear from me again about the second half of the programme.

Until then, wishing you all lots of magical moments!'

24 February 2021

Start-up Stars: Taste of Success

Last week at our Start-up Stars: Taste of Success event we heard from Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups businesses, Chilli Tuk Tuk, The Good Slice, Ming Foods and Enrica Rocca on how they entered into the busy and thriving world of food and drinks businesses. What were the key takeaways from the event?

  • Don’t be a perfectionist, learn from your mistakes and keep going when you are challenged
  • Have the right people alongside you
  • Have a passion for your product

Start-up Stars event Zoom screenshot

On top of these, we’ve rounded up some of our favourite insights and lessons shared by our panel during the evening:

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Calum and Ed, co-founders of The Good Slice, spoke about their business with purpose saying “it gives us a reason to get up in the morning”. When they were getting started they were balancing lots of different roles, including working in their day jobs. They realised that it’s key to ‘not try to bite too much off too quickly’ when growing, and keep it manageable. As Sam said ‘ignore the voice in your head telling you everything has to be perfect, it’s helpful to acknowledge that it’s ok to make mistakes as long as you learn.’

Charlotte, who took over her mother’s cookery school business, Enrica Rocca, along with her sister spoke about optimising marketing opportunities by getting their clients to rate them on TripAdvisor and working to get free press coverage where possible. She mentioned something pertinent she learnt from taking part in Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups which was ‘you can’t do it all, and you can’t do it all well’. She explained that realising this forced her to prioritise her time better, for example, by starting to use a bookkeeper to outsource certain tasks.

Sam Duong

Sam, founder of Ming Foods, has seen huge success in his business, selling over a billion pancakes and growing from a team of 6 to 18. Yet, he still says that some of the challenges his business has faced means it’s ‘like riding on the back of a tiger, it’s a very hungry tiger and at any moment it just wants to turn around and gobble you up, so you get very good at riding tigers.’ He says the key to his success has been resilience and training up his staff to a high standard. His top three tips for start-up food businesses:1) look at margins, 2) be all over health and safety and legal requirements, and 3) love the product -  “If you don’t really love the product then you can’t speak about it passionately”.

Amisha, who is the co-founder of award-winning Indian takeaway Chilli Tuk Tuk discussed the complexities of starting up: ‘being a start-up is so incredibly tough but entrepreneurs shouldn’t get lost in perfectionism.’ Instead Amisha discussed the importance of resilience above all else, as well as motivation and determination – ‘it helps to surround yourself with motivating people’. She also elaborated on running a business with family commitments explaining that “you have to say no to things”.

Our panel also all mentioned the benefit to them of taking part in Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups. For any businesses ready to grow and move to the next stage, applications for the next round are still open until 3 March. Head to bl.uk/grow for more.

Our Start-up Stars events are for members of our Start-ups in London Libraries and Innovating for Growth communities. To find out more about these, visit bl.uk/SiLL and bl.uk/grow.

22 February 2021

Meet the Reset. Restart experts

Our Reset. Restart programme couldn’t run without the knowledge and expertise of our delivery partners. Here we introduce all the people you’ll find talking you through each topic and providing the answers to your questions.

Anis Qizilbash

Reset. Restart: your mindset (introduction to programme)

Anis Qizilbash sat on steps outside

Who runs it?

Reset. Restart: your mindset is run by motivational keynote speaker, coach and creator of Mindful Selling, Anis Qizilbash. As someone who recovered from depression and addiction, Anis has helped 1,000s of freelancers and start-ups gain clarity and confidence to grow their business. She delivers keynotes at conferences around the world helping leaders and teams up their game. She has appeared in The Guardian, Entrepreneur, Forbes, amongst others, for her insights. She shares mindset tips and strategies on her YouTube Channel. Here’s more from Anis.

When coaching the founder of a services start-up, let’s call him Arjun, we begun the first of many pre-meeting strategy coaching sessions – that’s a coaching session I arrange with my clients to help them prepare for their important prospect meetings. Typically, these coaching sessions are arranged the morning of or the night before their prospect meeting.

While practicing our drills, usually eloquent and prescient in the way he speaks, Arjun was fumbling, withering and dithering. He knew what needed to be asked and said to get his potential client’s buy in, but it just wasn’t coming out right. He could feel it was off, too.

“What’s on your mind?” I asked him.
“I am nervous, this is such an important client and it could make or break us. I am scared of messing it up.”
“How would you rate your confidence on a scale of 1 to 10?”
“Minus one bajillion”.
“So it could be better?” We laughed. But his body language said it all, slumped shoulders, shallow quick breathing, eyes darting. It was like a shadow of Arjun.

After further probing I walked Arjun through a few mindset exercises, it only took a few minutes. Afterwards he straightened his shoulders, sat upright, looked right in the camera (it was a Zoom meeting), and in a measured and succinct manner, easily steered our rehearsal meeting, touching on the points we discussed, with wit and passion and broad smile on his face. I felt like Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, “by George he’s got it”. The real Arjun had returned. He felt as ready as he could be.
His meeting went well, he secured a follow-up meeting to move the proposal forward.

Is this for you?

Reset. Restart: your mindset is perfect for you if you want to learn how to reset your mind so you can bring your best self to the moment, whatever moment that might be. You want to shake off a negative spiral so you can sort out on oversight on your product; stop stressing about no sales pipeline so you can do something constructive; a news-headline triggered you and now you’re feeling hopeless; your kids are driving you up the wall; you’re finding it hard to focus. Or maybe you want to switch off at the end of the day so you can enjoy me-time or time with your loved ones. In this session, you will ponder, you will practice, and you will leave equipped with practical tools empowering you to bring your A-game in any situation.

Johnny Martin

Reset. Restart: your finances

Johnny Martin

Johnny Martin FCA is the Numbers Coach – an experienced Finance Director and BIPC partner who now passionately demystifies business numbers and jargon. He is the author of the highly acclaimed book Understanding Your Business Finances.

It’s much easier to run a big business than a small business. You have a team to delegate to. And you can delegate all those things you don’t enjoy. Which normally includes finance!

But why is finance the most unloved part of running a business when we know it is so crucial. Part of it is to do with numbers, part to do with jargon and part to do with early childhood experiences of money and maths!

But I think also entrepreneurs in the main love what they do and that is their passion, the business side is a “distraction”. So what this webinar will do is encourage you to look at the business side with more enthusiasm. It’s not about making anyone an accountant, but with three key principles and about 30 words you will be able to look at your accounts and cashflow with greater clarity.

A key message from the webinar is that it’s not just your business finance you need to look at. I am a firm believer that most businesses that get into trouble do so not because of the businesses finances being out of control, but the owners. So we will look at some resources to help control and plan your personal and business finance.

Undoubtedly one of the hardest things when running a business is getting on top of, and keeping on top of, your finances. After all, when getting your finances under control you not only have to compete with numbers and figures, but all of the jargon as well. This webinar will break down what you need to know and understand into seven key steps. By the end you will be much more confident in managing this important aspect of your business.

This workshop will cover:

  • the key jargon
  • using a case study to help you get clear on your cash position
  • best ways to manage cashflow including making sure you get a salary
  • how to budget both for the business and yourself
  • online accounting tools to help you
  • how to get financial help
  • establishing routines for more robust finances.

Tonisha Tagoe

Reset. Restart: your social and environmental impact

Tonisha Tagoe

Tonisha Tagoe is a Cannes award-winning film and television producer, academic, executive coach, start-up consultant and mother. Over the past 15 years, she has worked with successful individuals including Robert Greene, Michael Essen, James Caan and produced evergreen content for various media powerhouses such as Start-Up Loans, BET UK, Metro Bank and the MOBO Awards. Tonisha is currently a work-based Learning Lecturer specialising in the development of entrepreneurs.

This webinar is focused around teaching consumers and business owners alike how to be more environmentally and socially responsible. These two key principles are at the forefront of my mind, and I am passionate about equipping entrepreneurs with the skills and knowledge needed to succeed the right way. Businesses must now pivot their practices and reduce their impact on the environment while providing prosperity to our local communities, and my webinar shows participants how to do exactly that.

Key takeaways:

  • How to pivot to more sustainable business practices
  • The best methods for reducing our waste
  • Sharing business assets that can help local communities
  • Case studies of businesses who went green and remained successful
  • How increasing our social impact can improve long-term sustainability.

Paul Grant

Reset. Restart: your funding options

Paul Grant

Paul Grant has been running workshops, webinars and masterclasses for more than a decade with the BIPC, principally focusing on funding and growing a business. He is founder of The Funding Game which offers practical guidance, support, tools, events and networking opportunities for entrepreneurs seeking capital for their start-up and scale-up ventures. Paul is an experienced entrepreneur and was founder of a London-based company for seven years which was funded through equity and debt finance. The company offered London-wide catering to the corporate and retail markets. Paul then worked with BA Capital and Capital Partners Private Equity Ltd. where he built a network of over 500 business angels, while coaching entrepreneurs individually and in groups on all aspects of funding and growing their early-stage businesses. Here’s more from Paul.

One of the biggest hurdles of early stage companies is fundraising. Entrepreneurs looking for investment often face difficulty when navigating their way through the many funding options available without giving away too much control of their company. I have spent many years demystifying the funding game for entrepreneurs so that they can take the right decisions when it comes to launching and growing their businesses.

What’s covered?

My webinars helps entrepreneurs discover routes to capital that they may not have heard of before, and decide on the best approaches for their business. Included in the session is advice on the latest government loans and support initiatives, and how to take advantage of angel investment and crowdfunding.

What can attendees expect?

Attendees can expect pacy and highly interactive sessions packed with valuable content and practical guidance. All events include follow-up information and support, as well as road-tested formulas and templates for attracting investment that have been validated by hundreds of investors. My aim is for everyone attending his events to leave with clarity and confidence about securing the right investment, so they are free to spend more time on their business.

Kay Kukoyi

Reset. Restart: your digital productivity

Kay Kukoyi

Kay Kukoyi is a Software Delivery Specialist, global tech startup mentor, author, speaker, and lecturer. She has written five books for entrepreneurs and SMEs, including an Amazon international bestseller, and has been recognised on the #IB100, the Financial Times and Inclusive Boards list of the 100 Most Influential BAME Leaders in the UK Technology Sector.

Kay is the CEO and Founder of Purposeful Group, which encompasses multiple brands that support and empower thousands of entrepreneurs around the world to start their businesses the SMART way through books, mentoring, masterclasses, and programmes.

Why does it matter?

The smart and efficient use of technology is a secret weapon for entrepreneurs. Unfortunately many aren't aware of all the tech and tools available that would make their lives much easier.

When people come to the Reset. Restart: your digital productivity webinar, many are surprised by the number of business tools that are available free of charge that they don't know about, so we're hoping to rock your world with new options and opportunities that you can take from the workshop and start using right away!

Who is it for?

The workshop is for new entrepreneurs but also people who have been running a business for some time and haven't had a chance to explore the latest software and strategies available to people running their own businesses. Maybe you've just been so busy you haven't had time to explore what's out there, or maybe you're someone who's felt nervous about using new software because it feels too overwhelming. In either case you'll be shown some great, easy-to-use tools that I hope will inspire you!

What to expect

You'll be attending the workshop with entrepreneurs from all over the country, and you'll be able to ask questions at any time. There's often some lively banter, with people participating and sharing that good British sense of humour so it feels like a fun event. The major feedback that we've received from attendees is that they learn a lot.

People are free to share what they do, and sometimes others want to connect, so you may be able to do a spot of networking too!

If you're able to get onto one of the workshop follow-up sessions, those are more intimate with a maximum of 10 people in a group, and you'll get a chance to discuss your business. Together, we'll work through any business challenges you have and the tools that would be most useful to help you move forward.

Robbie Dale and Michael Murdoch

Reset. Restart: your customer offer

Michael and Robbie

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.

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.

This webinar takes a detailed look at the Value Proposition Canvas, a well-known framework that makes it easy to see if your business is providing the value your customers are looking for. Or, to put it another way, the Value Proposition Canvas helps you ensure your customer offer is something that customers are actually interested in, and - crucially - that your customer offer is something they're willing to give up their time, energy and money for. We look at the different areas of the canvas: jobs customers need to do, pains customers are trying to avoid, gains customers are trying to achieve, the product or service you offer, and the ways in which that product or service relieves customers' pains and provides gains to them. In doing this, we help organisations understand that the things they do ultimately need to mirror the things their customers are looking to do. That's what makes for a product or service that is in high demand and gets talked about.

Every webinar ends with an open Q&A session so we can give live, bespoke feedback on challenges businesses are facing day-to-day.

So, if you're struggling to get people excited about what you do, unclear about how you can stand out from the competition or simply want to better understand what makes people buy from certain brands, then this webinar is for you.

Robert Foster and Uday Thakkar

Reset. Restart: your business model

Robert Foster

Robert is a marketing expert who started, grew, and sold a successful online business. Robert has been a business advisor since 2002 and has helped thousands of entrepreneurs to succeed. He is an expert in strategy, business planning, marketing, project management and innovation. He has years of experience in using business model development to help entrepreneurs improve their businesses.

Uday is a serial entrepreneur, having started and sold several businesses. Since 2002, Uday has been a business support advisor, winning a national award for mentoring. He is a much in demand trainer and coach and has helped thousands of entrepreneurs to succeed. He is an expert in strategy, business planning, finance, leadership development and marketing. He has years of experience in using business model development to help entrepreneurs improve their businesses.

“Business modelling is a wide and often misunderstood subject. This webinar will explain what a business model is, and where it fits in the business strategy process.

We start with a discussion of the relationship between strategy and business modelling and specifically the cause of major failure in implementing effective business strategies.

During the course of the webinar we go on to explore the various aspects of a business model from problem, customer, solution, and value proposition all the way through to operations, market engagement and underlying financial models.

We use a variety of example case studies, checklists and discussion points to explore this from a practical perspective. Also covered is hypothesis testing, pivots and business decision-making.

This practically focused session can serve as an introduction for aspiring entrepreneurs, as a refresher for more established entrepreneurs or as a masterclass for more experienced business owners looking to move their enterprise to the next level.”

Stefan Knox

Reset. Restart: your products and services

Stefan Knox

Stefan is an award-winning designer, specialising in invention, product design and manufacture. Before establishing Bang Creations in 1999, he was responsible for boys’ toys at Hasbro EU, working on brands including Action Man, Star Wars and Nerf. Through Bang Creations, he has worked with global teams to generate innovative, yet commercial products and get them to market. Stefan is a named inventor on over 25 granted patents and has licenced dozens of ideas across a variety of industries.

In this webinar I introduce ‘design thinking’ as a methodology to generate new ideas, turn them in to concepts and prototype and test them. There are four ways of thinking. 1) analytical 2) judgmental 3) routine and 4) creative. Creative thinking’s been ‘schooled out’ of many of us, yet is critical to solving the problems facing us.

Creative thinking’s often thought of that flash of inspiration. That Eureka moment. Or a combination of facts when your mind is at rest. However, there’s a systematic approach, a methodology of finding new ways to do and think of things. Design thinking is this systematic cognitive approach to create new concepts.

At Bang Creations we have to use this approach to be innovative and deliver workable solutions for our clients. It’s hard and people who aren’t used to practicing it can find it frustrating. In these early stages the team and the thought processes diverge and to many logical, straight line thinkers, this can look and feel disorganised and unstructured. But that is exactly the aim. It is in the cracks, the pulling of ideas that other new ideas give birth that suddenly breathe new life into what was once a discarded thought. Now it works.

In our webinar we address how important it is to solve the right problem. We focus on how to identify what the problem is. There are many analogies used in the design press, ‘why do they need to buy a drill? They want a hole in the wall’. Design thinking would go one stage back, ‘why do they need a hole in the wall? What is the problem?’ Many products come to market that don’t really solve a user’s problem. Once the problem’s identified we run through how to turn that into a design challenge. Then you have something you can grasp, as opposed to just a problem which has many open ended questions.”

Pete Schönbeck

Reset. Restart: your market opportunities

Pete Schonbeck

Productschön Business Advice is run by founder Pete Schönbeck. With a strong family history in the clothing industry, right back to his great, great grandfather, Johannes (a tailor to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert).

I started out at the age of 18 as a trainee buyer for a European clothing wholesaler, Campari International Plc, where I was mentored by the managing director and my father John, in all aspects of design, product development, sampling, sourcing, buying, brand franchises and major account selling. I have gone on to work in retail and wholesale for internationally recognised brands such as Levi Strauss, Timberland, Tommy Hilfiger, Barbour and Ellesse.

My Reset. Restart webinar can help business owners get a greater understanding of how things are evolving in the world of business and how to hit the ground running in a post-COVID-19 world, not forgetting the pending Brexit scenario.

After the COVID-19 pandemic, how is business and the world in general evolving? In this two hour webinar presentation, I take attendees through some insightful statistics that will help businesses refresh and re-engage with consumers, the marketplace, and the new and accelerated evolution of where we are now and will be in the future.

Reset. Restart

For more information on the Reset. Restart programme, or to book your space at an upcoming webinar, visit our Reset. Restart webpage.

19 February 2021

Meet Yasmine Thomson, founder of YCM Events

YCM Events is a forward-thinking event styling business, specialising in balloon and floral displays. Providing creative theming and venue décor for social and corporate events. The innovative styling aims to meet every brief and budget, whilst reflecting the clients’ personalities and maximising the aesthetic qualities of a venue. Yasmine’s vision is for YCM Events to become the go-to event stylists for our style conscious generation.

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The catalyst for how YCM Events came to be was through the untimely death of Yasmine’s friend in 2020. As an Executive Assistant, Yasmine regularly organised corporate events, however her friend’s funeral allowed her to showcase her creativity and encapsulate his personality through bespoke venue decor and floral wreaths on a very limited budget. Everyone who attended the funeral was so impressed with what she was able to produce that this spurred her on to look into doing this professionally, especially as it was something that she enjoyed. Yasmine was also motivated to start her business after doing some research recognising that there was a gap in the market for her innovative ideas and designs.

'The Start-ups in London Libraries project helped me tremendously, I attended all three sessions and completed the programme. The sessions helped me to pinpoint my target audience, identify how best to access them, aided with building a business model canvas and receive advice from experienced entrepreneurs. The sessions filled me with confidence that it was possible to start up my own business.

I loved that the individuals running the sessions were experienced entrepreneurs as their knowledge and insight was invaluable. During the session breaks, we had opportunities to ask questions specific to our businesses. Loretta is amazing, she’s passionate and a walking book of knowledge for all things business. I’ve had 1-2-1 sessions with Loretta where she has answered my queries and steered me towards relevant resources. Loretta’s advice has really helped as I was incredibly hesitant to start my business given the nature and the fact I would be launching during a global pandemic. Amazingly despite this my business has really taken off. 

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Advice I would give to anyone looking to start a business- do your research! It is so important to know the details e.g. what insurance or licenses you may need and really underpin your brand’s identity and who your target audience are. I’ve also learnt it’s important to build relationships with businesses within your field, as in my experience I have been passed clients, jobs, added to networks and received great advice from seasoned businesses as a result. Another gem I’ve learnt is how invaluable marketing is. Promote your business! This has been my focal point and having a clear marketing strategy has opened many doors. I have been approached and commissioned by music artists, social media influencers, presenters and producers to curate beautiful balloon installations, floral displays (otherwise known as ‘Instagramable’ backdrops) at amazing venues such as the BBC Television centre, ME London and the Shard (just to name a few) all during a global pandemic. My work has also received recognition as I was awarded ‘TEC Best Balloon Display 2020’.

The first year for any business is always difficult, however adding a global pandemic into the mix makes it that much harder. With COVID19 restrictions hopefully easing up soon, I’m excited to see where we can take YCM Events.'

For more on Start-ups in London Libraries and how to register for our upcoming workshop, visit www.bl.uk/SiLL.

SiLL logos

18 February 2021

Finding a gap in the market. Nicola Lespeare Greeting Cards

Business experts will tell you that to be successful in a crowded market you need to have a great idea, an idea that stands out from the competition. Many great ideas are born out of a personal aspiration to solve a problem, a problem that affects a group of consumers and represents a gap in the market waiting to be filled.

In 2016, Nicola Lespeare set out to do just that. She launched Nicola Lespeare Greeting Cards “to solve the problem regarding the lack of visible representation and availability of Black characters in greeting cards in the UK”.

Nicola Lespeare holding one of her greeting card deisgns

"The UK is a multicultural society, yet the vast majority of greeting card shelves fail to reflect this.”

Her vision was to “initiate change and increase diversity in the greeting cards industry”. Every year, Nicola would search retail stores, looking for the ideal birthday card for her sister. “I asked sales advisors which aisle the Black greetings cards were located and the response was always the same, ‘we don’t sell them’.”

Having rediscovered her passion for drawing, Nicola embarked on amplifying the prominence of Black character cards and creating lasting change in the greeting cards market.

Nicola Lespeare greeting card with a Black woman wearing an orange dress

“My sister deserved a card that she would resonate with – an illustration that looked like her, instead of a generic card with pictures of flowers, teddies and cupcakes, so I decided to create my own! I purchased a set of coloured pencils and sketched an illustration of a Black girl with radiant skin and a fabulous afro, surrounded by a bunch of vibrant balloons. My sister loved her surprise and was so excited to receive a birthday card that reflected her deep skin tone and afro hair. Seeing her eyes light up with joy made me want to recreate the same happy experience for others.”

Nicola had identified a gap in the UK greeting cards market and consumers in the Black community who shared her struggle to find relatable, stylish cards. Armed with pencils and a great idea, she was ready to launch her brand.

“Nicola Lespeare Greeting Cards is an aspirational brand specialising in distinctive, illustrated designs inspired by fabulous afros and deep skin tones. Representation is key to instilling self-worth, building confidence and creating a sense of belonging. Receiving a card that you identify with, whatever your age, is a special feeling, a Nicola Lespeare Greeting Card instantly makes you smile because the giver has considered a card that reflects you!

“The response has been brilliant, customers and card recipients leave feedback and respond to our newsletters with comments such as ‘This card looks like me!’, ‘Great to see positive images’ and ‘Representation matters!’

Nicola Lespeare greeting card with an illustration of a Black woman holding balloons

“Being new to starting a business, I found the British Library’s webinar, Introduction to Copyright for Business, valuable when registering my logo and the Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Cultural Changemakers was a highly insightful event. An informative one-to-one business session with an advisor at the Business & IP Centre Nottingham facilitated mentor support through a Nottingham business programme, this enabled me to align my priorities with my brand vision.

“The Metro, You Magazine and The Strategist have featured my cards in online articles which has increased our circle of brand supporters and social media presence. Nicola Lespeare Greeting Cards recently joined online greeting card retailer Moonpig as well.

“This is a really exciting milestone because it means enabling a wider audience to celebrate with Black greeting cards and choose touching sentiments that reflect the important people in their lives.’’

For more on Nicola Lespeare Greeting Cards, visit the website. You can also follow Nicola Lespeare Greeting Cards on Instagram.

10 February 2021

How entrepreneurs have Reset and Restarted their businesses

Around the Business & IP Centre National Network, Reset. Restart webinars have been supporting entrepreneurs to pivot and adapt to the ever-changing business climate. We’ve caught up with businesses from around the UK who have made changes to their businesses since attending the programme's webinars.

One business which is putting its best foot forward is Esentzia, who produce luxury men’s home slippers. The slippers are designed to be comfortable with added health technology in the insole. Brigitte, who founded the company, manufactures the product in the UK using only biodegradable and recyclable materials.

Brigitte with a prototype of her slipper

The Reset. Restart programme came at the right time for Brigitte, who is at the start of her business journey, who used the webinars to learn about business models, market research, marketing, finance and more. “It has also helped me to clear my mind and to focus on my business. I feel more confident in knowing where to find information and who I should address when I need help. Finally, I feel part of a group, part of a community that helps me to launch my dream, I feel to be in a positive environment to succeed.”

Alongside the main programme, Brigitte also attended the smaller group Q&As which helped cement all the elements from the main webinars to take into consideration and to keep in mind “what people value”. From these follow-up sessions Brigitte received additional practical support, with spreadsheets to help her create her financial forecast and the idea to use offcuts from mattress production as a recycled material in her product.

It’s not just Brigitte who is looking for ways to make her product more sustainable, BIPC Leeds’ entrepreneur, Omar Bahadur, founded Faraday after graduating from Bradford University. Faraday is natural raspberry rose flavoured water with similar caffeine to your typical energy drink without the artificial ingredients, high sugar content or carbonation. Sustainability is also at the fore of the business as it’s served in an aluminium bottle that’s resealable and reusable.

Omar Bahadur, founded Faraday

Whilst working on his business as a side hustle to his full-time job, Omar invested everything he earnt into his idea. “Since our limited first run of 2,000 bottles in July 2020, Faraday is now stocked in a total of 10 independent stores in Bradford and Leeds, as well as making sales on our website offering free UK delivery on our cases of 12.”

“Faraday’s first offering has been subjected to two years of R&D since inception in November 2018 prior to commercialisation. We are in a proof of concept phase collating feedback on our pricing, recipe and packaging. We landed a Bounce Back loan last year and this will be used to scale-up before seeking angel investment next year.”

Before the pandemic Omar used BIPC Leeds, in Leeds Central Library, for workshops, access the free market data and IP clinics. During the lockdown, Omar, with the help of BIPC staff has continued to access data remotely and attend Reset. Restart webinars on dealing with retailers along with one-to-ones with the delivery partner. “The webinar highlighted the importance of storytelling, and on a deeper level the DNA behind the brand as opposed to simply focusing on the product. This prompted me to work on developing this, for example, what are the three things I want Faraday to stand for in the minds of consumers? Natural, sustainable and inspiring. This then dictates everything we do from packaging design through to recipe and choice of words on the website as opposed to vice versa.”

Omar has also made sure his intellectual property for his product is protected and has taken out UK and US trademarks and a patent for the resealable bottle, which is a novelty with aluminium. This allows the product to be cheaper and more sustainable than using a traditional glass or plastic alternative.

Customer feedback is key to Omar’s plan, “we’re keen to implement the feedback from our customers across all areas. This also includes packing less into a case, strengthening our online presence via our website and Amazon, as well as tweaking the flavouring. Increasing our retail presence is likewise on the agenda. The pandemic has been beneficial for us in the sense that we landed the loan last year, without this I don’t think Faraday would exist today.”

It’s not just Omar who has been thinking about how his brand is seen by consumers. Susan Widlake, founder of Mill House Millinery, used BIPC Cambridgeshire & Peterborough’s Reset. Restart webinars to revisit the messaging to her customers in order to address her appreciation to her local community, which she’ll reflect on her website.

Susan wearing one of her designs in front of an NHS wreath made from sewing thread

Susan had always had a passion for hats and after travelling the world as an IT auditor, decided to leave the corporate world behind her, return to the UK and turn her passion into a business.

“I now make hats at my home studio, a windmill, just outside Saffron Walden on the Cambridgeshire/Essex border. My hats are named after places and locations that have captured my imagination. I love to incorporate local silk, woven in Sudbury in Suffolk in my designs, and my millinery wire comes from twenty miles away in Essex. A case of inspired globally, created locally.

“Everything I make is unique, from wedding hats to show stopping creations made for racegoers and millinery competitions. I’m particularly proud that one of my pieces was selected from hundreds of entries to be exhibited at London Hat Week in 2020.”

Barcelona hat design and matching mask

2020 was a challenging year for Susan, with no weddings or events, it could have easily forced her business to stop, however Susan quickly pivoted to online fairs to showcase her designs and started sewing face masks. The thought of her local community was at the forefront of her designs with her Etsy shop stocking prints relating to the local area with crocuses and windmills. These struck a chord with the local tourist information office who saw her designs on Twitter and now stock Susan’s face masks and have put in multiple repeat orders.

She didn’t stop there. “Some ladies in a business network I belong to, Thrive Collective, asked if I’d consider making some sequin face masks for Christmas. I was a little dubious, as wanted them to be both comfortable and washable, so made some samples and got them to market test them. When they were road testing them, people were asking them where they came from, and I was referred to a local boutique, Blue in Saffron Walden. They asked if I could make some for them, and they were then featured on ITV’s Lorraine. These sales totally turned my business around, and have given me a huge amount of local and national exposure.”

Before Reset. Restart, Susan used BIPC’s webinars to help with her online presence. In the space of a few weeks after attending a Getting your business online webinar, “I’d stopped procrastinating, and purchased a domain name, and set up social media accounts”.

“Alongside Reset. Restart, I’ve been attending a millinery business course, and all of the topics have really reinforced the learnings I’ve been getting on the course.” Susan’s best piece of business advice is ‘done is better than perfect’, “I had to accept that in the real world getting your font choice and size doesn’t have to be perfect, and doing something is far better than nothing. My Etsy shop went live with just six product listings.”

Another business owner who attended our Reset. Restart programme is Lea Fletcher. In February 2020, Lea started a small business as a sole trader, offering business support services. “This started as a friend who had a business needed support and asked me to help out. I used the opportunity to set up Girl Friday Business Support Services. As my friend was an essential service business with key workers, I was required to work during the first COVID-19 lockdown period. My contract came to an end and I was offered other contracts by other businesses. I also applied to Anglia Ruskin University to complete a Master's in Project Management in order to provide additional services from my Girl Friday business and expand the range of services too.

Lea Fletcher

“Unfortunately, I was in an abusive relationship and I had to leave home for my safety and go and stay in a Refuge. Whilst I have been living in the Refuge I have not been able to work, however, my current situation and the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown gave me the idea to focus on undertaking a project to help domestic abuse victims and survivors.”

Lea wanted to create a safety application that could be located discretely within existing commercial websites and an online community platform, in collaboration with other service providers, agencies and businesses etc. “The aim is to provide essential information, access to resources, and necessary products and services to help assist current victims and survivors with their ongoing recovery journey. I am very passionate about this having gone through my own experience and now have a back story I can utilize to help others. I am currently researching this project and entering the first stages of establishing the concept.”

The Reset. Restart programme has supported Lea since it started in November 2020. “I have been attending lots of workshops and one-to-one sessions. They have proved to be very helpful and informative. I have attended all the workshops so far, but the one I enjoyed the most was my one-to-one session with a business advisor who helped to give me clarity with my ideas. The workshops came at a crucial time for me and have assisted to give structure to my business and also explore possible pitfalls that I could avoid, amongst other things.”

Lea’s new business to support her first project is called Adhoc Project Management. “I am currently going through the process of setting up and applying for funding in order to undertake my project to help victims and survivors of domestic abuse.”

If you'd like to see what webinars are taking place with your local BIPC, or from London, visit our Reset. Restart webpage.

09 February 2021

Meet our delivery partner: Rasheed Ogunlaru

Rasheed Ogunlaru is the life and business coach at the Business & IP Centre, joining as a partner 14 years ago. Rasheed runs several of our popular workshops, particularly those with a focus on networking and building a values-led business that speaks to your customer. Currently working as a life coach, leadership and business coach and a motivational speaker, Rasheed has worked with clients including entrepreneurs, entertainers and organisations such as the NHS and is also the author of the book Soul Trader – Putting the Heart Back into Your Business.

Rash desk crop

About Rasheed

I have worked with the Business & IP Centre for around 14 years helping aspiring and entrepreneurs boost their skills, confidence, network, impact and life balance. I’m known for my ‘Become who you are’ approach to coaching and development which helps people find greater peace and progress from within. Prior to coaching, my career began in media & public relations and as a singer songwriter. 

 About Rasheed’s workshops

Networking for Success - Express

This is an inspiring and practical online event to help you network strategically, effectively, authentically and nerve-free in person and online.

It covers the fundamentals of networking, looking at why it’s essential and the psychology of it including:

  • Working a room, including being authentic, body language and the do’s and don’ts
  • Being clear, crisp and concise in what you say
  • Tips of networking remotely and online in new changing world
  • Networking practice, questions and answers and discussion.

It’s aimed anyone who finds networking daunting or overwhelming but knows its importance in terms of advancing their career or improving their communication skills.

The session blends a ‘how to network’ seminar with an online networking event so you learn to network effectively and make new connections at the same time. It will help you build your clarity, confidence and to develop a networking strategy online and in person.

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Soul Trader – Your Life, Your Business

My second core workshop for the BIPC is aimed at aspiring, start-up or emerging sole traders, freelancers and small business owners, and focuses on helping you start/grow a business that you and your customers will love. This event will help reduce the financial and emotional costs of starting and growing a business and will help you follow your heart, skills, mission and passion and build a business in balance with your life by forging rich relationships. It’s also a great opportunity to network with other like-minded people.

It covers this in 7 steps:

  1. Clarity: Know your mission, talent, values & brand; let this passion propel you.
  2. Customers: See life through customers’ eyes to win custom, profit and loyalty.
  3. Courage: Unleash your inspiration / wisdom and adopt an athlete’s attitude.
  4. Co-operation: Punch over your weight; collaborate. Use / build your network.
  5. Conversations: Learn to connect, create and c
  6. Creativity: Know when to work, rest, be at your best and (re)gain life balance.
  7. Compassion: Live by heart; be transformational not transactional                 

 +Change: anticipate, embrace and shape change.

You can expect to go on a journey to really get to the core of who you are, what you’re about and how to build your business in a way that’s authentic to you and your customers

You will leave the session inspired, organised, with greater customer insight and with a clear simple plan of your next actions. This session will also boost your confidence and give you tips on staying energised, centred, authentic, creative and stress free.

Plus… there’s more

I also currently run the BIPC’s  Reset. Restart your Connections Coffee Hour.  This is part of the Reset. Restart programme which is designed to help businesses bounce back from COVID-19. The Coffee Hour gives you the space to pause, reflect, make new connections, gain some ideas and inspiration and think ahead.

I also support on the Innovating for Growth programme for the Business & IP Centre, running the Getting Ready for Growth welcome workshop on the Innovating for Growth Scale Up Programme – so if you’re on the journey of building your business and apply for and are successful in joining the programme, I will be one of the first touchpoints.

I also chair the Innovating for Growth Start Up Stars events where growing business owners share their stories. They are great events to get inspired, get valuable business tips and network with other aspiring and emerging entrepreneurs.  

For more about Rasheed visit his website www.rasaru.com and his www.soul-trader.biz  resource for sole traders and small business owners.