Innovation and enterprise blog

08 March 2021

International Women's Day 2021: Meet the wonderful women of the BIPC

This International Women's Day we are celebrating the talented women working in our BIPC. Learn more about who they are and the important roles they play within the team… 

Isabel Oswell, Head of Business Marketing

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Isabel worked in the private sector for over 20 years before joining the British Library in 2002. Her background was in market research, strategic planning, business development and marketing in the tech and professional services sector and she worked for both start-ups and major corporates. Isabel enjoyed working in start-ups more than in major corporates and also did a stint of freelancing when she relished being her own boss! Isabel joined the British Library as Head of Business Marketing with a blank sheet of paper to write a strategy to develop services for businesses.

“As part of my role, I had to attend an information services exhibition in New York and one of the British Library directors recommended that I visit the New York Public Library (NYPL) while I was there. They had set up a separate Science, Industry & Business Library, situated in a former department store to support entrepreneurs and small business owners in the New York area and I was literally blown away by what they did.  They had made their information resources and expertise freely available to SMEs and brought in consultants and retired executives to deliver workshops and 1:1 advice on how to set up and run a successful business.  My immediate thought was ‘How can we take this back to London?’. To cut a very long story short, we got some funding from the Mellon Foundation to support a collaboration between NYPL and the British Library and then developed a plan and pilot which attracted London Development Agency funding.

I’m not a librarian but I realise the value of access to information and expertise. My first real job after graduating in International Marketing, was at a market research agency where I spent a lot of time doing desk research in libraries, when everything was in hard copy or on microfiche. When I arrived at the Library, I realised we were sitting on a goldmine of information - some £5 million of information including market research reports and company and financial information - usually accessible only to major corporates.  In addition, we were (and still are) the library of the Intellectual Property Office, so had a huge collection of patents, trade marks and designs and many years of expertise in how to protect one’s ideas and avoid infringement of other people’s. My areas of expertise are in marketing and strategy but I’ve learned a number of other skills at the Library, such as bid-writing and fundraising. 

One of the most exciting days in my career at the British Library was when we heard that we had been granted £13 million in the Spring budget last March to expand our service to 20 cities by 2023 and deploy a hub and spoke model to reach high streets, as well as rural and coastal areas. A week later we went into lockdown and suddenly had to pivot and take our services online! Thankfully, the funding enabled us to launch Reset. Restart to help small businesses weather the storm, as well as continuing with our start-up services. What’s really heart-warming is that we have continued to reach people who are under-represented in business ownership demonstrating that libraries can reach parts of the community that other organisations cannot reach.  Of the 18,000 people we have supported 65% of them have been women and 38% from a black and Asian minority-ethnic background, compared with only 20% and 5% of business owners respectively.  We’re all about democratising entrepreneurship and giving people the greatest chance of starting up and running a successful business. In the background, the lockdowns have provided the opportunity for the new library partners to refurbish and prepare dedicated spaces for start-ups and SMEs to come together to learn and network when the UK opens up again. We really look forward to welcoming people back but from hereon we will run a hybrid service of face-to-face and digital services to reach as many people as we can.

A fun fact about me is that I am quite creative and enjoy painting and writing. I also write a lot of silly poems for the team to celebrate successes and it seems to have caught on.  Now we all write poems – or even raps – for one another at Christmas, as part of our Secret Santa! It’s so important to celebrate successes and acknowledge everyone’s contribution.

Working with such an amazing team, including our delivery partners, who are all passionate about supporting people from all walks of life to start up and run successful businesses.  They have gone above and beyond over the past year, helping people to weather the Covid-19 crisis and look to the future.  It’s also great to meet so many inspiring people at different stages of their entrepreneurial journey and knowing that we’ve managed to make a difference, however small.  Last, but not least, I have really enjoyed travelling across the country by train and visiting our public library partners, all of whom have amazing civic buildings in the heart of their cities – and am hoping to resume this soon.”

Seema Rampersad, Senior Business Researcher and Service Manager

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Seema has worked as an information professional for over 25 years. Most of this time has been as a business librarian in the corporate sector, and now at the British Library. Seema also has experience as a trustee for a local charity for 12 years and that has given her some practical business insight. She has developed and refined quite a few new skills since starting, such as delivering webinars, one-to-one advice clinics, workshops, reference and in-depth research for customers. 

“I do like all types of information in various formats and subjects. My background is very broad, therefore I am familiar with most business topics.  However, there is always some trend, database or new technology to learn about, so you never really get bored. Business information is ever changing and the role in the Business & IP Centre is interesting. I am still learning aspects of Intellectual Property everyday and rely on my colleagues for their insights and experience.

A BIPC resource I love to recommend to people is Mintel. We get several queries from persons wanting to use it and they are always happy to know that we have access to the consumer goods series on Mintel. It is useful for both planning your businesses and for growing companies. It has been around for a long time and is a very reliable source of information. The most under-utilised database I would say is the EIU’s CountryData database but it is great for key economic indicators, which are essential in this business climate. 

A fun fact about me is I am a proud Trinidadian, although I have lived in London most of my life.  Most customers say they can detect my Trinidadian accent.

My favourite bit about working in the BIPC is the variety in the role, access to great information, our fabulous team, general day-to-day activities and the amazing collection held in the whole of the British Library.”

Julie Boadilla, Reference Specialist at the Business and IP Centre

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Julie is one of our exceptional team who are on hand to help you navigate the databases and resources we have at the BIPC. She is also an ace at delivering workshops on intellectual property and protecting your business, which she does both at the British Library and in our Start-ups in London Libraries boroughs. She has been with the BIPC since it opened in 2007, having previously spent more than 11 years in the British Library’s separate departments of Business and Intellectual Property. She has Level 4 Business Advisor Training and Masterclass training with the central IPO.

The first thing I recommend to people on my workshop and to my clients on the one-to-one advice clinic is COBRA database. This is the database that I think customers need to use to help them understand regulations, IP rights, insurance, cash flow and everything they need to know on how to start their business.

The One to One advice clinic is now my main interest. It is a nice feeling when a client recognised your help on organising their thinking on their business idea/s.

A fun fact about me is I love bowling. I was The British Library Champion of Bowling in 1993 and since I won the trophy they never done another BL Bowling competition.

My favourite thing about working at the BIPC is meeting different people when delivering workshops or one to one advice sessions. People are interesting, especially what they write on their feedback forms about the workshops whether within my control or not. Also working with my team in BIPC gives me joy.”

Meron Kassa, Business and IP Reference Specialist.

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Meron joined the team in 2019, sharing her expertise from the Reference Desk and showcasing her market research knowledge with a blog drawing on the available information on the vegetarian/flexitarian sector. Before landing a role within the Business and IP Centre as Reference Specialist, Meron had worked in a few reading rooms beforehand as a Library Assistant, which includes the Sciences, Rare books and Music, Manuscripts and Asia and African Studies.

“I particularly enjoy the market research side of starting a business. The databases we have are brilliant and invaluable. I enjoy watching readers make the most of what’s available and in so doing they are minimising their risk for failure. 

I love recommending the Inspiring Entrepreneurs event. I believe networking is such a valuable tool for anyone looking to do well in business, and the Inspiring Entrepreneurs event not only allows you to hear from successful Entrepreneurs but it also provides you with the opportunity afterwards during the networking part of the evening to go up to them and ask them questions directly. This is a wonderful opportunity to grow in confidence and develop the necessary skills for business. I myself have grown in my networking skills from attending this event and always walk away feeling inspired. The best piece of business advice you’ve heard is, ‘Go for it- what’s the worst that can happen’ Jamal Edwards founder of SBTV.

My favourite thing about working at the BIPC is the individuals that you meet and being able to help them in their journeys with the wonderful resources that we have and also being inspired by their stories.”

Uto Patrick, Project Manager of Start-ups in London Libraries

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Uto joined the British Library in 2018, to lead on Start-ups in London Libraries based on her extensive experience in partnership working on multi-stakeholder projects. Uto previously used the British Library as a reader during her postgraduate degree and has always valued the wealth of knowledge held in the collections.

“My parents own several businesses which I have had the privilege to gain some experience in supporting them. I fully understand the entrepreneurial drive that made both of them step away from professional careers to forge a path that would ensure long-term financial security for our family. There is something very liberating in working for yourself and seeing something that you’ve birthed grow and become a pillar that creates jobs in the community.

SiLL is an ERDF project that takes the blueprint of business support provided in the BL’s BIPC – onto our highstreet libraries. It is working collaboratively with 10 London boroughs to democratise entrepreneurship and ensure that people from all walks of life can access the right information and support locally. The support includes workshops, 121s with our SME Champions, inspiring events, networking etc. to provide fertile ground for seeds of ideas to form roots, and the on-going support during the project to help these ideas to grow. The project is truly special as we have proven the value of situating this project in libraries as they act as community hubs where people come to get information about all topics. This project has already addressed some barriers people face in starting a business and we are proud that the project is reaching underserved communities with over 65% of our clients identifying as women, 60% from the BAME community and 9% identifying as having a disability. It has become a pan-London project since lockdown as we are delivering services online so more people are better able to access the free support.

As a Sustainability professional, my areas of expertise stem from my interest in Low Carbon transport alternatives, Travel demand management, Active Travel, Placemaking (creating healthy streets), Public Health promotion, Air Quality, delivering community focussed projects and schemes. 

I’m always eager to see aspiring entrepreneurs that SiLL support embedding sustainability into their plans. I think the business information and support through the BIPC prepares our clients for the jobs of the future and provides a base of innovation to drive that future sustainability.

I would say the best resource at the BIPC is our people, the staff. The Business Information Specialist and Reference Librarians within the BIPC and the SME Champions in the SiLL boroughs. They have the knowledge and access to vital databases and tools such as COBRA, etc. that can ensure aspiring entrepreneurs don’t waste time or money in their start-up journey. The British Library’s ‘Democratising Entrepreneurship’ report demonstrated that those who receive start-up support from the BIPC are 4 times more likely to succeed in sustaining their business. I would recommend that SMEs tap into this freely available resource.

A fun fact about me is that lockdown has ramped up my houseplant habit and my living room looks like a tropical oasis with 38 plants at present.

My favourite thing about the BIPC/working at the British Library is the wealth of knowledge held by the people who work and use the space. It really brings to life the concept that libraries are not just full of books, but full of ideas and stories.”

Anna Savory, Relationship Manager for Innovating For Growth

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Anna is one of our Innovating for Growth Relationship Managers, keeping in touch with all alumni (540 and counting) in our Growth Club network. Here’s more from Anna.

“Every three months I guide ten businesses through our programme of tailored one to one sessions designed to help them find new ways of adapting and growing (even in our current challenging circumstances). I’m the human face of the project, a first port of call for support, and the bridge between our businesses and our wonderful team of external business advisors. It’s really wonderful to see SMEs enter the programme at the start of those three months and leave it energised and full of new plans. I basically get paid to be around inspiring people and help them take their businesses to the next level! It’s brilliant.

One of the BIPC’s resources I love to recommend, although obviously I’m biased, is the Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme, but I genuinely think it’s one of our gems. I can never quite get over the fact that it's three months of completely free business consultancy (worth £10,000)! I really like that you become part of a little family too. I’m still in touch with businesses that went through the programme two or three years ago, and will often get emails from people out of the blue giving me an update on all their latest exciting developments. But overall, I just think so much of what is on offer at the BIPC is brilliant. It’s all gold!

My favourite fact about the British Library is that it’s a ship! The interior is designed to look like a cruise ship, and if you view the building from the outside, it has a prow and chimneys like an ocean liner. My favourite thing about working at the British Library (and where I’m most likely to be found when not at my desk) however is a type of donut they sell in the Origin coffee shops, and the fact that I have a staff discount so I can really go mad on them.”

 

Gloria Bertussi, Innovating for Growth Project Coordinator

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Gloria’s role looks after our start-up group; anyone who wants to start a new business or who just has a business idea buzzing through their mind. Gloria guides & advises them on what can be offered to get the most out of our programme. It’s a great way for them to take their first steps into the business world with our delivery partner & reference team experts.

“Obviously I’m biased, but my favourite resource is by far our Get Started workshop. It runs monthly & is divided into two parts. It’s very detailed (six hours in total!) & you get a good grasp of what you need to do to start your own business, as well as networking, which is always useful. Our delivery partner is a very knowledgeable entrepreneur, who is able to tailor the workshop flow, depending on who is taking part. This is a great service, packed with useful tips and advice; we always get great feedback. The next workshops are on Tuesday 8 & Wednesday 9 December.

My best piece of business advice is: “Don’t wait to be ready, just take a chance and go for it.”

My favourite thing about working at the BIPC is I love discovering so many different businesses & entrepreneurs, it’s really inspiring to hear the stories. Another thing I enjoy about working at the @britishlibrary is the peace & quiet of the Reading Rooms. I’m an avid reader, so to be in a library it’s already special. I love the sense of peace I get whenever I enter the doors, even when it’s bustling with people, it still feels quiet and to think that we’re in the heart of London, that’s quite rare!

Outside of work, you’re most likely to find me behind my sewing machine! I taught myself how to sew a few years ago & have never let go of it. I have a (very) small business called Tiny Studio London, I make accessories with the most beautiful fabrics, so every bit of free time I have is spent sewing & designing new products.”

 

Jen Scott, founder of Hustle and Heels

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Jen founded Hustle and Heels (H&H) a social enterprise set up to support underrepresented entrepreneurs to start, improve or grow their business. This is done through events, workshops and programs that provide the tools and resources needed to make better business decisions and increase their own chances of success. Jen has also been delivering our Start-ups in London Libraries Marketing Masterclass across our ten partner boroughs.

“I have personally started and stopped running several businesses of my own over the last 15 years which has helped me to learn a lot about what not to do and how to grow from your mistakes. Hustle & Heels is the product of all those experiences and the foundation on which we now help others to start and grow their businesses.

H&H was set up 5 years ago with my business partner Jamie Tavares to create a space for ambitious professionals to learn, connect and socialise their way to success with other ambitious start-ups in a more laid back, relaxed way.

Entrepreneurship as a whole is my thing! Helping people turn their ideas into a viable business and see their growth as they overcome their challenges is a definite passion and interest of mine. There is so much information available online and for many business owners it is a task in itself to sift through what’s relevant. I take pride in simplifying seemingly difficult areas of business and making them relatable to those just starting out. We focus on helping start-ups to understand what steps to take and which strategies, processes and systems are right for them. 

After 5 years of running our lunch and learns for early-stage start-ups, guest numbers started to decline as the needs of our community began to change. As a small business ourselves we quickly realised the need to adapt or die essentially, so I began to seek out new ways to diversify our income streams. I was told about the public sector supply chain and how we could provide our business support services to local authorities who wanted to outsource certain projects. The very first opportunity I came across and applied for was the British Library’s Start-ups in London Libraries 2-Day Workshop, but not having had any prior local authority experience our proposal was unsuccessful. Undeterred, we continued the search and was able to secure a few opportunities to provide business support with Independent retailers in Waltham Forest shortly after. Several months later, we were invited to apply for the British Library Marketing Masterclass contract which I confidently applied for as we had the experience needed by then to be considered. One creative proposal and an interview later, the rest as they say is history… 

One resource I think any budding entrepreneur should know about is the marketing funnel, also known as the sales/purchasing funnel is a great tool that every start-up should use as it helps business owners to map out their customer journey from initially finding out about the business to them converting into a customer. So many start-ups struggle with understanding how to attract customers and how to keep them engaged enough to buy so we find that the funnel is the most effective and simple way to map out the marketing activity required at each stage. We break this down further in the Marketing Masterclass, showing business owners where to find people that would be interested in buying and how to convert them into customers. 

Something thought-provoking that I often share with start-ups is… 

“The only thing between you and success is what you don’t do, and who you don’t know” 

As business owners we often make excuses about not being able to progress because we don’t know what to do or who to connect with, but these are the very reasons that stop us from progressing in business and in life. We created Hustle & Heels to overcome this and intentionally design our programs and workshops to allow people to learn what they need to while connecting with who they want to. 

A big highlight has to be all the different people you get to meet at the Marketing Masterclass. We make a point of starting each session by asking everyone what they do and to talk about their journey in business so far to ensure everyone has an idea of who else is in the room. 

My favourite part is watching the attendees connect with one another during and after the session, exchanging details, contributing valuable suggestions and resources they have found useful to help others overcome their current challenges. There is always such a buzz in the room, people are so passionate about learning and the odd character in some sessions can make things very entertaining at times.

Our Hustle & Heels Monthly start-up Meet-ups at the Microsoft Store in Oxford Circus is my favourite place to be. You’ll find me there every month squeezing as much knowledge as possible out of the industry experts that join us as guest speakers at each event. We have also included a pitch competition that gives three entrepreneurs two minutes to share their start-up story for a chance to be crowned the Hustle & Heels ‘Entrepreneur of the month’.

A fun fact about me is that I am addicted to the salt popcorn from Tescos!

 

If you are interested in learning more about the BIPC and the resources available to you, visit our website: https://www.bl.uk/business-and-ip-centre