Innovation and enterprise blog

26 April 2021

IP and SMEs: taking your ideas to market

Guy Robinson, Divisional Director for Innovation at The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) reflects on the support available to SMEs to help them – and ultimately the UK - build back better after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Today marks the celebration of World Intellectual Property day. This year’s theme is intellectual property (IP) and how small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) take their ideas to market. 

IPDay2021

We are now emerging from the global Covid-19 pandemic with caution, but throughout, companies of all sizes have been focused on adapting for survival. As those firms begin to look towards recovery, it is an excellent opportunity to reflect on the important role IP plays in setting solid foundations for future growth within SMEs.

SMEs account for 99% of all UK businesses and they contribute 21% of turnover in the UK, so they are vital to the UK and the global economy.

The UK has always been a nation of innovation and entrepreneurialism, with investment in IP rights and intangible assets reaching almost £64 billion in 2016. Those businesses that rely on IP have accounted for over a quarter of UK employment and almost half of GDP.

All firms own or use some form of intellectual property. Within that I include intellectual property rights such as patents and trade marks and intangible assets such as trade secrets and knowhow. World IP Day 2021 seeks to cast a light on how SMEs can use their IP assets to build stronger, more competitive and resilient businesses in order to generate growth.

For a business to benefit from the IP they own they will first need to identify or recognise the IP assets they hold. To emphasise my earlier point, your IP might not only be formal intellectual property rights (IPR) but some other intellectual asset that forms a vital part of your business; you might consider an IP audit to reveal what IP you hold.

Scott-graham-5fNmWej4tAA-unsplash

Once identified, a business will need to weigh up how best to protect the intellectual assets that have been identified. This might mean putting in place formal IPR’s providing they ‘qualify’ or it might mean ensuring the confidentiality of the information held by the business. The form of protection will depend on the nature of the IP.

This step will lead to exploitation of the IP to make money from it. Perhaps the biggest challenge can be in understanding the value of the IP and the business opportunities it can create. These opportunities could include franchising, licensing, collaborating and securing investment.

It is also necessary to review the IP identified and to ensure that any new IP created is properly considered.  Discussion about your intellectual assets should form a part of the strategic narrative in your business plan.

SMEs that can identify, protect and manage their IP go on to generate value and monetise their efforts. This creates employment and enriches the market, offering consumers a broader choice of new and better products and services. We recognise that SMEs need the right support to navigate this journey. The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) in the UK provides a catalogue of IP information, guidance and support to SMEs for when they most need it.

We have developed our range of free to access resources on our IP for Business website, IP Audits scheme and in addition, our package of webinars, events and practical guides. These tools are aimed at supporting businesses to recognise their IP assets, their value and how to protect them appropriately. Importantly, the tools will help businesses identify the opportunities to commercialise their IP, leading to the best possible chances for business growth.

Help is available to keep business advisors up to speed with IP, too. The IPO has developed its flagship IP Masterclass, which is now being delivered virtually in response to the pandemic, to provide business advisors with the competence and confidence to engage their clients routinely on IP and IP rights. In the last 3 years, the IPO has supported advisors to reach over 60,000 businesses, helping them to set solid foundations.

Markus-winkler-9XfSFjcwGh0-unsplash

Additionally, the IPO has established relationships with a range of business intermediaries. We have a proud and longstanding partnership with the British Library and the Business and IP Centres, who offer invaluable practical guidance and signpost information and resources. Their network supports businesses across the UK to take practical steps in recognising their IP assets, getting their products to market and reaping the financial rewards.

Our aim across all our support is to ensure that SMEs make informed decisions in respect of their IP assets and to ensure that IP is included as an integral part of business planning. IP makes life better for everyone. Making the most of IP helps SMEs to thrive and, ultimately, make a valuable contribution to helping the UK Build Back Better.

For more information on our free business tools and activities at our Intellectual Property for Business site on GOV.UK  go to http://bit.ly/IPOBusinessTools

25 April 2021

How has IP played its part in finding a Covid-19 vaccine?

It has been just over a year since the WHO declared a global pandemic. Today, we have the widespread rollout of a number of vaccines to combat Covid-19. 

It’s worth pausing to reflect on the enormity of this. It’s unprecedented. 

While all countries are a way off from vanquishing this deadly disease, we have a window of opportunity and reason to be hopeful that one day we will have control over it. 

How have we made such progress, so far? 

Today is World IP day. A year ago, I wrote about how Intellectual Property will play a major part in vaccine development. This is its follow-up. 

And you won’t be surprised to discover that it has. Innovation protected by Intellectual Property has delivered results. 

I want to follow-up by going into some of the specific innovations deployed, looking at what IP has been covered and secondly, what policy makers may choose to do to maximise the uptake of vaccines in all regions around the world. 

Recent moves by around 100 countries, led by India and South Africa are asking WTO members to agree to a time-limited lifting of IP rights. IP has never been more prominent in the debate of how to vaccinate the world.

What IP is required for creating a vaccine? 

Covid vaccine hakan-nural-jNs8ZNLbdaU-unsplash

But first, to better understand how IP applies to vaccine development, it’s helpful to imagine making a vaccine by having a recipe. Within that ‘recipe’ are ingredients and some of those ingredients are created using patented bio-technology. Some are not. The unique combination of these 'ingredients' is a trade secret (another type of IP) and the method of manufacturing the vaccine is confidential know-how. 

It’s a common myth to assume a single patent covers one vaccine. A patent is one aspect, albeit an often essential one. 

But it’s the unique combination of all these elements, be they patents, trade secrets and know-how that create the final product and deliver the ultimate value, immune protection from Covid-19. 

We’ll look at each of these and see why it’s this combination of IP that’s at stake in allowing more countries access to the technology.

What patent technology has been used in Covid-19 vaccines? 

Patent 1

So when we’re talking about patents in vaccines, what exactly are we referring too? 

A patent protects inventions and or processes and are the primary form of IP protection that biopharmaceutical companies rely on to protect and commercialise their innovations and discoveries. Patents do not last forever and are limited to a standard twenty years (with some longer exceptions to cover R&D development time in the industry). 

There are also significant risks and costs associated with drug and vaccine development. Though arguably in the situation of a Covid-19 vaccine, these risks have been mitigated with large contracts from countries that guarantee a return on investment.  

So, are we able to have some idea of what patents have been recently used? In some of the current vaccines, yes. But there is often an 18-month delay between the filing of a patent and its publication, so we don’t have all the relevant patents associated with all the primary vaccines used. However, we do have some and we can make some educated guesses about others. 

Here's an IP overview of the vaccine technology in use, specifically for the Pfizer/Biotech, Oxford/Astrazeneca and Moderna vaccines approved for use in the UK.

Vaccine patents currently in use to fight Covid-19

Patent 2

Moderna has published all the patents used in their vaccine on their website. Furthermore, they have declared they will not enforce their patent rights against infringement. 

Of particular interest is the patent US10702600, Betacoronavirus MRNA Vaccine. Moderna have developed this using an artificial mRNA strand encoding a coronavirus gene. When injected the MRNAs are translated into virus proteins that stimulate an immune response. A key technique to build immunity against infection of Covid-19.

We can take a guess at the Astrazeneca’s Oxford collaboration by looking at previous patents filed by Oxford University, notably patent US9714435 Simian adenovirus and hybrid adenoviral vectors. This patent is based on a weakened version of a common cold (adenovirus) causing infection in chimpanzees. We know this was the area of research used in the development of the current vaccine, so a patent like this is an important step to more discoveries.

In regard to the Pzifer/BioNTech vaccine, less is known. Although we can see that BioNTech has a patent granted US10576146B2 Particles comprising a shell with RNA. This has likely contributed to some of the recent discoveries in their vaccine.

From an IP point of view, it’s also interesting to see that Pfizer/BioNTech have a trademark granted for their vaccine, which is called Comirnaty This is filed just in Trademark Classification 5, which is ‘vaccines for human use’. The name is purportedly a mash up of community, immunity, mRNA & Covid. Though this brand is not a household name, everyone has heard of the ‘Pzifer vaccine’. In these times, standard branding for pharmaceutical companies has clearly changed!

The power of trade secrets and know-how 

Patent 3

We have seen how a patent can play an important role in protecting the IP of vaccine development but it is a piece in the puzzle. Despite recent discussion of IP waivers for patents (something possible within existing laws). Of far more significance are areas not often talked about in relation to IP, trade secrets and know-how.

The ‘ingredients’ to the recipe may be complicated but making the product can be even more so. To give you some idea of what’s involved, a commentator in the industry has provided us a fascinating best guess here in Exploring the Supply Chain of the Pzifer Moderna Covid 19 Vaccines.

The fact that such a complicated process is involved with specialists and supply chains does put a brake on any potential freeing of patent rights. It’s all very well to have all the ingredients we need, it’s ‘baking the cake’ that requires significant resourcing and sharing of valuable industry knowledge. In other words, proprietary know-how.

This form of IP may be what’s holding up a generic vaccine being distributed more widely around the world. Pharmaceutical companies would argue that if all the know-how could be released, it would take up to a year to implement. A simpler solution, they argue, would be to increase the number of licenses to other companies being able to manufacture. They would still retain IP rights and be paid (presumably at a reasonable rate) for their IP rights.

Some redress to the current imbalances in global vaccine distribution is helped by schemes like COVAX though its effectiveness is also under review. 

These are the IP choices that policymakers around the world face. It’s likely that some balance of interests will need to be struck. 

Firstly, a recognition that public money has funded the significant sum of capital and mitigated some of the risks of development by bio-pharmaceutical companies. But also acknowledging that we have a vaccine so quickly because of an effective, existing infrastructure of private and public research over many years. Their strength and skills have been enabled from the IP system in the first place! 

As is often stated, we live in unprecedented times, and I suspect an unprecedented public/private agreement over IP rights and redistribution will find a way through the challenges of global production and supply, one hopes quickly and effectively.

A cause for hope

In time, these questions and issues will become clearer. But my hope is that the development of these multiple vaccines against Covid-19 will be viewed as one of the great scientific achievements of the 21st Century.  

Comparable to the Apollo programme or the microchip in the 20th?

I think so. Like millions of others, I’ve never been more inspired by joining a queue to receive my dose. It’s IP and innovation that has got us this far and it’ll require more innovative ways to extend this incredible benefit to all.

24 April 2021

A week in the life of Edward Draper, founder of Ortheia

Edward Draper is an alumna of the Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme and a founder of Ortheia Ltd, a start-up company in the early stages of development of new medical technologies. He leads on commercialising novel products in collaboration with UK-based Universities and other technology-based SMEs, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises. The current flagship product they are developing is a new biomaterial that, when implanted into the body, does two things: helps bones to heal, and fights infection without the need for antibiotics. This is especially important at a time when there is a world-wide increase in resistance to antibiotics.

Edward leads the small but talented team of three that make up Ortheia, which has only been trading for three years. He has a lot of experience of R&D in the MedTech sector and has worked in Universities such as Imperial College and UCL, as well as leading innovation teams in industry. He has led on the technical aspects of product launches in the UK and across the globe and has his name on many patents. The whole Ortheia team share his passion for the challenges of getting new MedTech innovations into the clinics and onto the markets across the world.

Today the team are all working from their homes in different parts of the country because of the COVID19 Lockdown. We spoke to Edward to find out more about what a typical week looks like for him. 

Monday

Welcome to my Lockdown Lair. It’s an ex-bedroom that I have converted into an office/workshop (I am an inveterate maker). Most of my work is collaborative and is about making sure all the aspects of the work are progressing, despite the restrictions imposed by COVID19. Today I had three major tasks.

First, I am working with my three fellow directors on our Business Risk Register, which may sound a little boring, but in fact it makes us can go through all aspects of the business in quite a lot of detail. This is so important right now because we know from the statistics that Companies at the stage we are in now are most likely to fail. Going through the Business Risks will not guarantee us success, but it is more likely we can spot things early before they go wrong. The meeting was done by the inevitable video call sharing documents over three hours. It was tiring but productive. We are about a quarter of the way through the Register.

Second was the final tasks needed before filing our next patent. This involves chasing up our collaborators for the necessary paperwork and finalising the Figures we need to add.

Third and final, there was some consultancy work I am doing with an exciting Oxford-based company who want to launch new 3D-printed metal implants and I am helping them get regulatory approval here the UK and in the USA. The current work was deciding how best to explain the quite complicated case to the Regulatory Authorities.

Edward holding Ortheia's biomaterial-min

Tuesday

We are leading a large project with University of Cambridge and two other SMEs on a grant funded by Innovate UK. Today was the monthly meeting so it was yet another videoconference. The product we are developing looks a bit like granulated sugar (you can see it in the image above), but it is technically quite advanced. This is our flagship product design to speed up bone healing and damping down infection. Today’s meeting was to go through where we were with the manufacture and the lab testing. This needed some preparation time before the meeting and then quite some time in the meeting picking the best option to go forward. I also did some more work on the patent.

Wednesday

I have been elbow deep in Excel. I had two quite critical tasks that I needed to progress quite urgently. The lab results from Cambridge looked as if we’d had a ‘bad cell’ day and I was looking at how the data compare with previous work. It is quite common that data need to be scrutinised in detail like this. We exchanged a lot of emails and we did come to an agreement as to what to do next (wait for the next lot of data that should arrive in a week or so). Once that was settled, I was back in Excel looking at the biomaterials formulations to make sure we have the specifications right. Last part of the day was spent trying to find slots in peoples’ diaries before the end of the week so I can help resolve any issues before they become problems.

Edward reviewing laboratory data

Thursday

We have several months left in the current Innovate UK grant. This has been fabulous and has allowed us to really test out the early formulations of the biomaterials. However, at the end of the grant we will still have a long way to go before we will be investment ready. This means we must plan the next grant in detail. Today we were mapping the technology development out to clinical launch and beyond. To attract the next round of grant funding we have to package up the next few years work in a way that will be attractive to the viewers. So it was another long video call with the three of us sharing big virtual whiteboards. It was very productive, but we still have much further to go before we have an application that is strong enough. Fortunately for us we have some time. The next suitable grant call from Innovate UK will be announced in a few months.

I also had a call with an Academic in the University of Sheffield about an academic project we are planning together to help us understand the underlying phenomena associated with some work we have done in the past on early joint disease and healing cartilage. It is good to keep it progressing. Today also saw my take 30 minutes off to dash to my GP’s surgery for the first of my COVID19 vaccinations; a miraculous technology that hopefully sees the world getting out of this ongoing craziness.

Friday

This was a day in which I was being pulled into different directions. We had a call with our Patent Attorney about the final stages of preparing the new patent; we were very nearly there. I just needed to chase up comments from our Collaborators on the patent wording and sort out some Figures. It is not unreasonable to think that we will file in the next month or so. Then a sharp pivot in attention. The consultancy work I am doing needs for me to define what is known to the Regulators as a ‘predicate device’. It needs a detailed search through the FDA’s database, which are all online, and find a product that is currently being sold that is like my client’s. I have come up with a choice of three, which I will work on next week.

I finished the day preparing for next week’s business planning. We have adopted a graphical approach to the five years, and I need to prepare to facilitate the big meeting next week, Yet another video call with a complex ‘Orbit’ on a virtual whiteboard. This afternoon’s efforts were handwritten notes on an A3 copy. I am looking forward to working through this with the team next week.

23 April 2021

IP in the BIPC community

In the run up to World IP Day (26 April 2021), we are highlighting just how crucial intellectual property is when starting a business. Whether it’s a brilliant and unique product creation, or a name that’s just got a ring to it, IP is there to help you keep your ideas safe. Keep reading to find out about the fantastic businesses that we’ve helped with patents, trademarks, copyright and registered designs, here at the BIPC, and in our Network of centres across the country.

 

The Wood Life Project, Hazel Russell

The Woodlife Project

Hazel is the co-founder of The Wood Life Project, alongside her husband Jimmy. The Wood Life Project manufactures beautiful, innovative, eco-friendly, practical products for the family home, with a focus on mealtimes. The product range consists of children's tableware, pet bowls and a range of boards for grown-ups. All products are manufactured in the UK and use sustainably grown and harvested wood from the UK.
Hazel and Jimmy decided to register the design rights on all of their products prior to launching them to the world. The decision to register their designs was made after listening to a podcast with Julie Deane of The Cambridge Satchel Company, who gave the advice to seek support from the Business & IP Centre at the British Library. They booked themselves into a one-to-one IP session with the BIPC and sought advice on the process. Their first designs were registered in April 2019.


Faraday Drinks, Omar Bahadur

Faraday Drinks

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 but 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 made sure to protect his intellectual property, taking out UK and US trademarks and a patent for the resealable bottle. 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.”


Akila Dolls, Olivia Thompson

Akila Dolls

Olivia Thompson is the founder of Akila Dolls, which provides a range of diverse and disability baby dolls. After Olivia left her full-time job in a law firm to become a carer for her then seven year old daughter. It was on a shopping trip with her daughter, Amira, that they both noticed the lack of diversity and disability dolls in the high street shops.
With only a few savings Olivia began work on the doll illustration, packaging and concept book. During a global pandemic and home-schooling her daughter in June 2020 she successfully raised £6,000 through a crowdfunding platform to begin the manufacturing of the doll prototype. In the early stages of the business, Olivia used Business & IP Centre Leeds and one of their IP sessions to protect her idea.

 

Nimble Babies, Von Sy

Nimble Babies

Von Sy had always dreamed of being an entrepreneur and eventually decided to set up his own business using his skills as a chemist to help parents keep their babies bottles from smelling of stale milk. Unlike regular washing-up liquids that are made for heavy food grease, Nimble's patent-pending formula detaches milk fat and proteins from plastic surfaces.
Getting a granted patent is something that every inventor hopes for. Aside from protecting your invention from copycats and the honour of being a fully-fledged inventor, having a granted patent is a great intellectual property that can give your business economic benefits as well as better valuation later. After two years, Von Sy’s UK patent has been granted which gives us exclusive rights to the technology until 2035 and this has improved the chances of getting the patent applications approved in other countries too.

 

SnapDragon Monitoring, Rachel Jones

Snap Dragon team

Rachel Jones is founder and Head Dragon at SnapDragon Monitoring in Edinburgh. SnapDragon delivers online brand protection, seller insights and market intelligence to brands around the world. Rachel founded SnapDragon based on her experiences of defending her first creation the Totseat – a washable squashable highchair for babies who lunch – from counterfeits. The British Library's Business & IP Centre played a significant role in the market research undertaken for both businesses.
SnapDragon Monitoring fights fakes online. They identify and remove infringing products from online marketplaces, social media sites, and websites. Intellectual property (IP) means they can remove the fakes. With the correct IP to prove originality, they can remove a link from Amazon in as short as four minutes.

 

Petvictus, Peter Hill

Petvictus

Peter Hill appeared on BBC's Dragons' Den in 2018 and won an offer of investment for his inventions, Pedaldish: The Lunchbox for Pets and Katfone: The Ultrasonic Whistle for Cats. As well as the product side of his business, Peter developed a series of lectures, team games and skills workshops to guide people through the core skills needed to start a new business.
Peter previously used BIPC Birmingham to get advice on registering his trademark. Since then, he’s been asked if he’d be interested in doing some more business presentations with them.

 

Cyclehoop, Tony Lau

Cyclehoop

Cyclehoop is an award-winning design that converts existing street furniture into secure bicycle parking. This innovative product won the Reinventing the Bike Shed international design competition and has been installed by local authorities across the United Kingdom.
It is a quick and cost effective solution helping local councils solve the problems of bicycle theft and the lack of on-street cycle parking. Their award-winning solutions rely very heavily on well-protected intellectual property. Tony received support on registered designs and patents from the Innovating for Growth programme and this free support helped elevate his business.

 

Click here to learn more about intellectual property and how you can use it to protect your business.

19 April 2021

Meet Chuong Van Dang, founder of Yum Seng

Yum Seng is a successful Dim Sum and Cocktail meal kit business founded by husband and wife, Chuong and Stephanie Van Dang, during lockdown. They have always had a passion for great Dim Sum restaurants and decided to start their own. Let’s hear more from Chuong...

‘When we moved here from west London to be closer to our friendship group, we really missed our local dim sum restaurants! We couldn't find anywhere in south east London that could compare. During lock down, with time on our hands we started delivering some dumplings and home-made cocktails to local friends before Zoom dinner parties, and the response was always great. That's when we thought we might be onto something – if our friends loved it so much then maybe we could deliver this to a wider audience? Dim Sum and Cocktails had a ring to it, and we couldn't let it go. We spent the next few weeks sampling different dim sums and cocktails and then launched the website. We found a great shared workspace nearby called “It’s the Flash Pack” in West Dulwich that we could operate from.

From announcing on our neighbourhood WhatsApp and Facebook group chat, we had over a thousand people visit our website and 80 orders in the first two days alone.

Yum Seng family

My wife and I have both set up separate businesses over the last seven years, but we had never done something together. To be honest, it was something that we both avoided as we were worried that working together might affect our happy marriage! The monotony of Lockdown 3 was affecting our mental health, so we needed a project to distract us. We’ve so far only had one disagreement, and that was about who was putting on our son’s socks! We’ve never had a business that has done so well, so quickly.

SiLL was instrumental in giving us the confidence to flesh out an idea, develop it into a viable business plan and then launch as a commercial business. We’ve learnt a lot from their workshops and were inspired by other entrepreneurs that we had met along the way.

Our local SiLL Champion Rachel Samuels was incredible. She took time to help me with my previous venture, by identifying and introducing me to other council departments that could help. She also helped me successfully apply for grant funding. She gave me the confidence in myself and my idea, which was a massive morale boost.

We still keep in touch with some SiLL alumni, and we keep abreast about how we are progressing. There is a camaraderie amongst local entrepreneurs, who know very well the highs and lows of business! Sadly, COVID-19 has restricted how often we keep in touch at the moment. It’s great to collaborate with local businesses, and we have recently started working with “Letterbox Cocktails'', a cocktail delivery business started by the people behind Bar Three Eight Four on Coldharbour Lane. We will also be collaborating with local breweries in the future, which is very exciting!

We had always toyed with the idea of setting up a dim sum restaurant in our area but were always unsure if there was enough demand to sustain the business. With lockdown, many restaurants successfully pivoted to meal kits and we saw the opportunity for a dim sum version. The huge response we had with no marketing validated our hunch. We have people from as far as Edinburgh wanting us to deliver!

Yum Seng

The advice I would give anyone looking to start up a business is to go for it! The first step is always the scariest. There is the fear of failure and the fear of being financially unstable. There is never the right time, but do your research. Develop your idea into a robust business plan and make a simple financial forecast. Work out how much capital you need to start, and how long can you run the business without taking out any profits. If you are currently on furlough, then now is the best time, as you won’t need to worry about living costs until furlough ends. If your business shows potential, then you can decide to quit that day job and go full steam ahead with your business.

The key things I’ve learnt from starting up the business are don’t give up and don’t be afraid to fail. You learn so much from each experience. Keep humble and listen to others. Keep speaking to your customers in order to refine and better your product. And try not to do it for the money, it clouds your judgement. 

To anyone looking to go to a SiLL workshop or talk to their local SME Champion, be prepared to listen, network and take advantage of all the tools that they are offering you. Starting your own business can be very lonely, and SiLL is offering you a community of support. You never know, you may even meet your future business partner there!’

 

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

SiLL_logo_lockups_RGB_large

09 April 2021

Jennifer Earle, with her enticingly named Chocolate Ecstasy Tours, founded her business back in 2005 by doing the things she loved best; learning, London, meeting new people and tasting delicious food, especially chocolate! We caught up with Jennifer, a recent graduate of the Innovating for Growth programme, to find out how her business came about and an exciting new opportunity underway.

Image of Jennifer-Earle-Taste-Tripper-Founder-London

What was your background before starting Chocolate Ecstasy Tours?

I ran the tour's business alongside full-time work, including a role as a Food Buyer at M&S and a Food Developer at McDonald’s.  I was already writing about food part-time and from 2006 I started getting invited to speak on the radio, to be on TV, to judge food awards and to speak at events.

I finally began working full-time on Chocolate Ecstasy Tours in 2013 and added more tours, more dates and more workshops and events – including teaching chocolate workshops in schools and running food innovation days for companies.  The tours gradually became premium as the experience and knowledge of my guiding team increased and we reduced the maximum number of guests on a tour reduced to eight.

This commitment to quality was always going to restrict how large I could grow the tour's business. I really wanted to make something that could reach more people and promote more of the amazing food businesses we have in London, but in a way that still hit the core values of quality, discovery, effortlessness and fun.  I’d been mulling over the options for years but the idea for Taste Tripper didn’t all click into place until one evening in 2015. I shared the idea with my husband who was so enthusiastic about it he wanted to get involved.

What makes Taste Tripper unique?

Taste Tripper is – as far as I know – the world’s first self-guided tasting tour business.  Our Explorer Packs are a really effortless and flexible way to discover part of London’s amazing food scene.  The partner locations in the Taste Tripper Explorer Packs all offer something delicious for you, just for turning up! And, like a VIP, you get a special deal on any extra purchases, too. 

What we hope will keep us unique is our commitment to quality.  We will only ever send people to places that we believe are fabulous.

What challenges has the business faced along the way?

Being a new concept meant that we had to convince businesses to work with us.  Mostly in principle, this has been easy but, as we mostly work with small businesses that have a lot on their plate, it can take time to get them to send us the information we need and approve things.

We had some dire printing errors which were quite expensive and I don’t think we could have done anything differently to have avoided them.  We also had our trademark challenged by a big company which meant thousands on lawyer fees before we’d even made a hundred sales.  There were tough decisions to make but we are proud that we stood our ground and won!

Through the British Library Innovating for Growth programme we had fantastic, honest feedback and we called our first customers for more of the same.  It’s been so enlightening and inspiring and made us go back to the drawing board on quite a few significant things.  It’s been quite frustrating that it has taken us some months to get the changes ready, but we hope to be bringing these big improvements to market in September and finally start promoting the business again!

Image of Chocolate-brownie-notting-hill

What advice would you give to any small business owners thinking of developing a new product?

The most valuable thing for us was contacting customers and asking them to speak with us and give us feedback.  The sooner you can do this, the better.   Trying to sell as soon as possible will show you there’s a market.  But then you need to ask those people who parted with money if they are happy and how they could be happier.

We probably would have benefited from discussing our ideas with more people and listening harder for their suggestions.  But people will tell you different things so try to focus only on the things that keep being mentioned.  It’s important to have the courage of your convictions over the smaller stuff, especially if you think you know your market well. 

I would also advise anyone that good products don’t happen quickly.  Whatever time span you had planned for launch or growth: double it.  And maybe double it again. 

You grew the business with the help of our Innovating for Growth programme. What specifically did the programme help you achieve?

 The honest feedback from experienced people was invaluable. It forced us to really look at what was working, what wasn’t and what was important.  We got clearer on what we wanted the business to stand for, how we could communicate that and what changes we needed to make.  The technical advice for ensuring we have a watertight business was also brilliant and so useful.

During the three months we decided to change the redemption from tear-off paper strips on the cards to online redemption, whilst still keeping the attractive giftable Explorer Pack (it all seems so obvious now!) and we also decided to add a map to the homepage so customers could create their own London Explorer Pack.  We’ll eventually offer neighbourhood Explorer Packs, too.  It really feels like we have a much more solid business with real potential for growth. I’m so excited!

The retail industry is changing at a very fast rate and so are the services linked to it.  

Approximately 87% of British consumers have made an online purchase in the last 12 months, and the United Kingdom only comes after Norway for buying online in Europe. 

With the increase of e-retailing, the photography needs of a brand or a retailer have changed.  Advertising campaigns for print media, point of sale displays, billboard advertising and TV commercials are now sharing their budgets with the increased needs for a stronger web presence both on the website of the business and on its social media network.  

At Kalory Photo & Video Studio, we have seen a marked change in our client’s requests since the beginning of the year across all the different industries we are working with: multi-brand e-retailers, jewellery, watch, cosmetics, chocolate, drinks, furniture, sports brands, etc.  The same trends seem to be valid for both start-ups and established businesses too.  This is an empirical analysis of our field experiences in the last 12 months. 

Image watch on type-writer

More qualitative packshots

The first trend which seems extremely strong is an increase in the quality of product photography. For many, a packshot is a packshot, but there are actually different levels of quality possible and the quality of lighting and retouching can vary tremendously for the same product, and so does the final image.  The camera used has an impact too.  Since the beginning of the year, we have noticed a real change in the way clients approach pack shots. Budget allocated to this important visual section of the website has been increased and even outside the luxury industry, brands are upgrading the attention to details for all their e-commerce photography: positioning, colour correction, control of the reflections, visibility of the branding, etc. 

Professional Instagram pictures 

The development of Instagram stories allows businesses to keep in touch in a more relaxed and spontaneous way with their followers, while they are paying more attention to the quality of photography posted on their main feed. Instagram stories are perfect for quick snapshots taken by the communication teams to keep their audience posted on what is going on.  The feed is increasingly becoming a visual platform showing what the brand’s values are. The colour tones (cold or warm), the type of images posted (lifestyle, architectural lines, etc.) are key elements to consider in order to create a consistent feed that attracts followers.  Posting again and again about your products is not enough. The trend we have observed since March is to organise short photo shoots of 1h to 4h with a selection of products and props and to shoot a series of creative images with a basic to medium level of professional retouching. This enables us to create a large number of images on a small budget. The images are controlled and professionally lit, but still natural and not overly airbrushed which is the perfect blend for Instagram. This is especially effective when a mood board and a shooting list and schedule have been carefully prepared: it can be interesting for example to create a series of images with a certain colour tone followed by another series with a slight change in colours to create waves on the feed. 

Image of 2 diamond rings embedded with 3 jewels

Videos & moving images

Videos have been growing fast in the past few years: product videos and event videos mostly, but we have recently seen a surge in social media videos (which are usually around 15 seconds), as well as cinemagraphs.  They are mostly visuals without interviews or any sound takes,  and with a simple story, but need to be efficiently edited to get the right social media interactions. 

An increased involvement and commitment from brands.

An increasing number of clients are more involved, prepared and put more thoughts in their photography brief.  This is a clear sign of the importance photography and video has gained in the marketing and communication mix.  A larger number of members of the PR and marketing team is involved and mood boards, stories and precise creative ideas and angles, as well as a good analysis of what the competition is doing, is definitely becoming the mainstream rather than the exception.

The usage of photography is definitely changing fast. Everyone is taking pictures.  The life of a picture is both very short, almost instant, and very long: the image itself has to be impactful immediately, but it is also part of an overall visual display (Instagram feed, Facebook page, etc.) that will remain online, so the thought process when creating it, is definitely key. 

Knowing how fast visual communication and social media are changing, there is no doubt, that new trends will emerge soon, and brands and retailers need to keep a close eye on what is happening in this field of communication if they want to stay on the top of their game.