Innovation and enterprise blog

The British Library Business & IP Centre can help you start, run and grow your business

3 posts from March 2022

16 March 2022

The Women Breaking Barriers in Business

Female founded start-ups represent a growing share of investment activity – in the UK in 2011, only 11% of start-ups were women founded and by 2020, this number had risen to 32%. In the male dominated space of entrepreneurship, women founders are often underestimated and overlooked; while we have made progress, there’s still more to be done. To mark Women’s History Month, we’re delving into the experiences of two entrepreneurs we’ve supported to learn how they overcame discrimination in business.

First up is Innovating for Growth alumna Eleanore Richardson, who alongside her mother, Teresa, owns Fulham Scalp and Hair Clinic.

Eleanore on the left with mum, Teresa on right in their clinic in Fulham

“My mum certainly has some stories of working as a black female entrepreneur and as I have entered the business with her in the last five years there are a few things that have brought me back down to reality in terms of the challenges that women face in business.

My mum has worked in the hair industry for the past 45 years. She moved from working in a salon to working from home as a hairdresser when she started her family; part-time availability for hair stylists wasn't a realistic career and banks wouldn't lend her the capital to open her own salon. She worked out of our utility room and bathroom for 30 years and with that income, sustained two children (and our many after school activities), a mortgage and bought a flat in Portugal.

Over those years, the banks slowly offered my mum an overdraft for her sole trader account but she never used it because she had always associated debt with poor financial management.”

When Eleanore was studying for her A-Levels, Teresa also stepped back into her own studies and re-qualified as a Trichologist. Soon after qualifying, she found a retail space that she could run her clinical practice from. However, even though she was a successful business owner for the past 35 years, she was asked for a guarantor to support her retail lease application. Financially independent and in her fifties, she didn't find this appropriate, but was forced to compromise by signing an eight-year lease with no break clause instead.

Upon realising that their business was making enough money to register as a limited company instead of a sole trader, Eleanore and Teresa went to several banks and opened a business bank account. Whilst one bank was happy to offer them a sole trader account with a £12,000 overdraft, the only business account they were keen to offer was with a £2,000 overdraft. They eventually went with another bank that offered a measly £6,000 overdraft and meant that their cash flow was still too tight to invest in growth.

Several years later, Teresa was ready to move clinics and they were in a position to develop their clinic hair care range into a product range ready to be sold to retailers. Despite presenting a business plan in an effort to increase their £6,000 overdraft, the bank turned them down. This made no sense to Eleanore, “I had been offered bigger overdrafts as a student earning nothing, yet here was a successful business that made money every year and had never had to dip into an overdraft, had grown organically year after year, and yet credit options were non-existent.” They postponed development of their range for three years out of fear that the investment would deplete their cash flow, and there were no obvious alternatives to financing that weren't fraught with high interest rates.

Fulham Scalp and Hair has also been operating in Luanda, Angola, which is Teresa’s birthplace. There she has a loyal customer base who have grown with her over the years but many customers and onlookers still don't understand how a business like theirs can generate enough interest and enough revenue to fund a satellite clinic in Luanda. “Rumours of my mother having a wealthy benefactor are always amusing, but depressingly remind me that the expectation for women to run a successful, international business is still questioned.

Last year an investor in Angola who was keen to buy a stake in our Angolan business propositioned us. When negotiations began, it emerged that he was only going to accept a majority stake in all of our business holdings internationally and was going to establish his own solicitor as a business consultant with a 5% stake. The mind boggles at how foolish they must have assumed an older black woman and her younger daughter must be.

This I find is the most common theme being a woman in business, and it hasn't really changed from the time of my mum starting her own business through to me joining and leading it. Women continue to be underestimated in their own businesses, and this seems to be particularly brutal for women of colour or for very young (looking) women. For mum she had been underestimated by so many of the services and employees previously hired, that it was a relief to work with her daughter who she could completely trust and not be on her guard with. Personally, I have had to correct solicitors, landlords and accountants on their own work and have even had one rep from an organisation ask if I need to chat with my "mummy" before signing off on membership.”

Our next business is The Fermentation Station, founded by Amy and Sam who received support from BIPC Liverpool in relation to their trademarking. We spoke to Amy to learn how her experience as an entrepreneur has been different to that of her partners’.

Amy (on left) and Sam on blue backdrop

“Being a female business owner has its advantages and disadvantages. In Liverpool, having access to support through The Women's Organisation provides many advantages to being a female business owner in the city, but I believe this is a privilege that many don't receive.

Whilst it wasn't impossible to be a female business owner 30 or 50 years ago, the challenge was much greater than what we see in 2022. Things have certainly come a long way but we still have a lot of progress to make in how we view women in business.  I often think my Nan would have achieved even more remarkable things during her working years had gender roles been different back then. She was an outstanding woman with a genetic eye condition that she never let stand in her way.”

It is also important to encourage young girls into entrepreneurship, when Amy was in high school the only future presented to her was one of academia. “We were told that it was a safe route into employment that meant that we didn't need to rely on a man - can you guess I went to a single sex school! Whilst I am eternally grateful for the solid upbringing they gave me, the option of becoming an entrepreneur was not one that I was encouraged to explore. I think often this causes 'impostor syndrome' as we feel we aren't skilled for the role, whilst men are more likely to take the leap without second guessing whether they’re qualified to do so."

Having been a Company Director for six years between The Fermentation Station & H2A, Amy has built up confidence to present herself as a business leader and leave the impostor syndrome at the door. When asked about whether she has noticed a difference in the way she is treated by investors, suppliers or clients in comparison to Sam she pointed out that unconscious bias is always at play.

“I believe that many think that Sam is the driving force behind our business – that's until I open my mouth, and he is often granted commendations for behaviours that I perform regularly. When we have been challenged with difficult customers or stockists, who are unprepared to acknowledge or accept my response, I have now resorted to responding to them by pretending to be Sam; you would be surprised how quickly their tone & response changes when they believe it's a man they’re speaking to.”

Overall though, the advantages of being a female founder outweigh the disadvantages, Amy has been the company director of a mother-daughter team and a male-female team which have both been incredible experiences for her. “I think it's completely dependent upon the personalities of your fellow directors or founders, and with both businesses I held close personal relationships. Sam and I work well together not because we are different genders or sexes but because our working styles complement each other.”

08 March 2022

International Women's Day 2022: women that mean business in the BIPC

Today is International Women's Day and we are celebrating the wonderful women who work at the Business & IP Centre. Get to know them and learn about the crucial roles they play within the team.

 

Noelle Duval, Events and Workshop Coordinator

Noelle Duval, Events and Workshop Coordinator

'I started work from the age of 17 for 20 + years in the retail and customer services industry before joining the British library in 2005 as a leading library assistant in the Humanities reading room, the 5 years I was spent working there, I loved interacting and meeting some amazing readers and the celebrities coming in to do their research for either a film/book or plays. I then joined the BIPC team in 2010 as the workshops & events coordinator for the past 12 years, I have met the most amazing inspiring speakers, and as a people person I love talking to our users and getting to know their needs and being able to take this info and creating events to help one way or another, 

What’s special about my role is every day is different, no two days are the same as an events coordinator in the BIPC, Being able to create new events and seeing them bloom with organisational, coordination and scheduling skills ensure that we offer a diverse, flexible programme that meets the needs of our many users. And I am proud to be part of a department that was able to think on its feet, especially in the past 2 years where we converted all of our events to an online service that has been able to help over 26,000 inspiring entrepreneurs.

Being able to see beyond the paper trail and looking and thinking outside the box, as a dyslexic and a creative mind I am very logical in my way of thinking.

The one best resource in BIPC is the human factor, the research & reference staff members plus the delivery partners we work with. They have the combined knowledge and expertise that can help entrepreneurs on a journey from start-ups to growing businesses.

I am very passionate about our environment and hate waste, my motto is 'if it can be fixed why throw it', as the saying goes (one man’s trash is another man’s treasure).  I enjoy upcycling unloved pieces of furniture in my spare time, and I have also re-discovered my love of crochet, during the pandemic. I am also an avid poet.

The one memorable piece of business advice I have received is to 'look back at your past mistakes as lessons learnt, and never give up on your goals and dreams.'

My favourite thing about the British Library is Meeting all of the extraordinary people that come through our doors daily, be it a staff member or visitor. I love how we work in such an extraordinary building and the fact that we have the world’s knowledge at our feet.

I have a few fun facts about the British Library but my top two have to be, being able to read the first-ever publication of Pride and Prejudice (my favourite book) and we used to be part of the British Museum library, in what used to be called the round reading room and the famous people that used it like Virginia Woolf, Charles Darwin and Karl Marx.'

 

Elisabetta Pezzaioli, BIPC National Network Project Administrator

Elisabetta Pezzaioli, BIPC National Network Project Administrator

'I joined the British Library remotely in 2020, at the start of the second lockdown. My background was in translation and Project Management, working across  global marketing and advertising campaigns for major brands.

The pandemic gave me the kick I needed to venture out of the corporate sector and find a new rewarding and fulfilling role that supports local economic renewal across the country. During the pandemic, I was amazed by the innovation and resourcefulness of small businesses that moved their operations online and kept trading in such challenging circumstances. I also witnessed friends start their businesses with their inventive and creative ideas and I have become one of their loyal customers.

It feels like I have joined a big community spread across the country. In my role as Project Administrator for the BIPC National Network, I have supported the expansion of the BIPC the National Network across the country, reaching out to new and diverse audiences and learning about new business support programmes for entrepreneurs. I also got to meet some of the entrepreneurs supported by the BIPCs and hear their inspiring stories. 

One resource I love to recommend to people is our Reset. Restart programme of webinars! It is targeted, informative, comprehensive and accessible to anyone. The webinars are delivered by experts in their fields. You can find all you need to know and learn in one place. And most importantly, it is free!

It will be interesting to see what is in store for the new Reset. Restart programme starting in April.

I love the possibility of going to exhibitions and looking at the Treasures Collection during my lunch break! The Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women's Rights and the Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens, were my favourite exhibitions. Also, I can’t quite believe I work in the building where a section of Magna Carta and one of the earliest printed copies of the Divine Comedy are stored!

I’m most likely to be found in the British Library shop, the perfect source of birthday presents and books for myself and my children.'

 

Alex Graziano, MI & Project Coordinator

Alex Graziano, MI and Project Coordinator

'I joined the British Library in October 2020 as the Start ups in London Libraries Project Administrator and then joined the Innovating for Growth (I4G) team as Project Coordinator in January 2022. I cover the start-ups part of the I4G programme – basically anyone who wants to start a new business or even just has a business idea. I guide and advise our clients on what we offer and help them get the most out of our programme.

The thing I like most about the Innovating for Growth programme is that it gives aspiring entrepreneurs and start-ups the tools and advice they need to set up their businesses. Starting a business can be both exciting and scary, so if you have people that can help you get started and walk you through the process, it makes things a little easier. In addition, whilst the workshops are a great place to learn the basics and familiarise yourself with what you need to start/succeed with your business idea, we also offer mentoring opportunities to clients, and the scale-ups programme provides one to one support and advice to businesses thinking of expanding.

Before joining the Library, I spent quite a few years working for the EU and implementing international projects funded by the EU. As SiLL and I4G are funded by the ERDF, it is great to see the practical changes an EU funded project can have on people.

One of the great things about the BIPC is that it offers so much support to people and businesses - no matter where they are in their business journey. Whilst I4G is focused on helping aspiring entrepreneurs and early stage businesses, BIPC also provides support to businesses looking to scale up through I4G. And even if you’re not based in London, the National Network provides entrepreneurs and SMEs across the UK with free access to tools such as databases, market research and directories.

The best piece of business advice I’ve heard is that you should know your market and what you offer that no one else does. Understanding your target audience and your business’s unique selling point is essential and a necessary research you’d need to do beforehand. If you don’t know who your market is and you aren’t bringing anything new to the market, then you’re in competition with many others. If your business idea brings something new to the table, you’ve got a much better chance of succeeding.

The best thing about the BIPC is the support it offers to people and businesses. It’s great to be part of a team that supports people in turning their idea into an actual business, or their dream into reality. The added benefit is that it’s free.

My favourite fact about the British Library is that its collection of items amounts to over 700km of shelving, which is equivalent to the distance from London to Aberdeen. It’s hard to believe that the Library can house that many items.'

 

Clare Harris, Strategic Partnerships Manager

Clare Harris, Strategic Partnerships Manager

'I joined the team soon after the Centre first launched, initially to help run our programme of workshops and one-to-ones; until then having been in charge of literature festivals, reading groups and cultural events for public libraries in Hillingdon. The do’s and don’ts around starting a business were new to me at the time and it was fantastic learning all about the amazing initiatives so many of the entrepreneurs were doing.

I’m very lucky that I get to meet and work with many teams beyond our own. I feel like I’m an honorary member of so many other organisations and libraries!

My current role is the Strategic Partnerships Manager for the BIPC Network and it really does pull out my favourite areas of work, which are all about identifying exciting opportunities with our Partners and peers who share the same ethics, energy and ambition as us. I really enjoy building up the relationships over time and having that mutual understanding help me to design new services.

I joined the team just before Global Entrepreneurship Week 2007, and with GEW 2021 just wrapped up, that brings me to 14 years now working for the Centre.

A resource I love to recommend has to be the people! The databases are worth millions of pounds but, for me, the biggest value is how our Reference Specialists and team can bring all that information to life and so into practice.

One piece of business advice which I return to is to ‘think like a toddler’ as recommended by our Ambassador, Paul Lindley OBE, in his book ‘Little Wins’. It’s all about regaining the self-belief, creativity, imagination and determination we all once had, and then celebrating more of our successes along the way.

I’m really proud of how everything we, at the BIPC, do is to promote the sharing of our resources for free. All funds that we raise, or support that we receive, is all funnelled back into growing and subsidising the services, so I see us as a social impact-driven company; the same as so many of our SMEs.'

 

Vanesa Perez-Sanchez, Project Manager for the Innovating for Growth Programme

Vanesa Perez-Sanchez, Project Manager for the Innovating for Growth Programme

'I have been working in business support for 16 years and I joined the Library over five years ago to manage the ‘Innovating for Growth: Start-Ups and Scale-Ups’ programmes. We help entrepreneurs on the journey from starting to growing a sustainable business. The programmes offer workshops, one-to-one sessions with advisors, networking events and mentoring. 

I am very lucky to work with colleagues who are really passionate about helping entrepreneurs to grow their businesses. We are always trying to innovate and bring new activities. Since I joined, we’ve started a mentoring programme to connect start-ups with more experienced entrepreneurs, the “start-up star” series and “meet the buyer” events with our scale-ups. I personally spend a lot of time working ‘behind the scenes’ doing planning and reporting, budgets, and things like that. The best thing is when we get positive feedback from the businesses that we have supported about our impact on their growth. It feels very gratifying to see how much they value and appreciate what we do. 

One resource I love to recommend to people? Get all the support available about Intellectual Property! We have monthly workshops and a very knowledgeable team of business research specialists. Getting your IP right is key when setting up your business; you can save yourself a lot of problems later on and sometimes even make some money with it! We also offer free access to market research resources like Mintel market trends reports.

A fun fact about myself… I come from an entrepreneurial family and I grew up hearing about business before studying economics. Four years ago, I started my own business, a sustainable fashion brand, which has allowed me to experience first-hand what it’s like starting a business and to put into practice everything I’ve learnt over the years. This week I am donating 100% of every sale to the Save the Children Ukrainian appeal.

The best piece of business advice I’ve heard is ‘the power of networking’. Speak to everyone. Don’t be afraid even to approach people that you may feel intimidated by for their success; they are just people, and most people like to help if they can. Also, this is from my parents, do things, always go for it. This frame of mind has encouraged me to have a lot of different enriching experiences like coming to study in the UK, moving for work to NYC, volunteering in Guatemala and lately starting my business.  

I had a daughter just over a year ago, so lately I have been spending a lot of time walking her around the park while I listen to podcasts. I listen to all sorts of them, but talking about business I am a big fan of ‘How I built this’ with Guy Raz.'


Marette Hickford, Business Support Officer

Marette Hickford, Business Support Officer

'I have been the Business Support Officer for the Business Audiences Team since May 2020, which was a good time to start bearing in mind the pandemic was at its peak with a mass lockdown across the UK. I like to think the pandemic helped to transform my experience in the job because I don’t think I would have achieved the equivalent experience if life had been what it was like before. For a start, 50% of my job was to provide support for the Business Audiences Team but obviously, I wasn’t able to book meeting rooms or process visitor passes for guests. My duties for this part of the job focussed on managing the diary for the Head of Business Audiences which bearing in mind she had to focus on managing the team’s move from physical events to online webinars and workshops, her diary was full of meetings. Her diary didn’t really clear until October 2022 and then, there are often only a few gaps week by week. I like to think I have become quite expert at this task! A challenge for me has been to get to know the wider team – nothing beats a chat at a desk in-person but through team meetings, taking minutes and actions, I have got to know them and what their mini-team has been doing.  

The remainder of the job was incredibly insightful as to how a project can pivot unexpectedly. Closing down in March this year, I have been involved in the Start-ups in London Libraries Project which is a collaborative business information project with ten London Boroughs. From delivering in-person workshops, the BIPC at London delivered online webinars where our librarians provided guidance on how to use the business resources available at the British Library and explaining why Intellectual Property is so important to making their business and product ideas successful. The unique aspect to this project was that each participating borough was represented by a local SME Champion who provided the 1:1 mentoring support for people who took part in the project. I had never envisaged getting involved in the delivery of online webinars’ but the experience has proved invaluable for whatever happens next in my life.

Thinking of BIPC resources, though you can’t beat the guidance given by the BIPC’s experienced librarians, I would recommend making use of the Business Management Portal. There, you will find plenty of reports to download, which can give entrepreneurs and start-ups useful information and statistics. Reports are concise and explanatory. It shouldn’t take a person too much time in understanding a report’s key points and recommendations. Try it!

One piece of advice? Other than researching your market, I would say…Test! Test! Test! From what I had learnt through the Start-ups in London Libraries Project, there is no point going ahead with making a product or providing a service if people either don’t understand what you are trying to do or, if there isn’t any demand. Use your friends and family but do get impartial advice and feedback from others, especially from those who you think are your target audience. Really plan how you want to test your product or service and be as objective as you can when looking at the results.  I am sure the British Library will have the resources you need to determine the best method of finding what works and what doesn’t work about your product or service.

Finally, since working for the Business Library, I have discovered that there is a meditation area which forms part of the piazza. It is amazing how quiet it can be with just a small chatter in the background. And…the best place to find me outside the British Library? Probably in a café having a cappuccino and a cake with lashing of cream or buttercream!'

 

Alyssa Ali, BIPC Network Project Coordinator

'I am the BIPC Network Project Coordinator. It’s a role that I started in October 2020 and it has been a learning journey ever since! My role is to support with the expansion of the National Network, which is a network of 15 Business & IP Centres across the country. Our centres provide business and IP information services that help entrepreneurs on their business journeys. Across the Network, we provide entrepreneurs and anyone with a business idea with workshops, webinars, one-to-one support and opportunities for mentoring and peer-to-peer networking.

One resource that we’re currently running (and I’d recommend) is our Reset. Restart programme, which was launched as a response to the impact COVID-19 was having on small and medium businesses. It was originally meant to run for six months, but the programme has been so successful that it has been extended. This means we can provide more people with the right information, skills and networks to rebuild and run their businesses.

The best piece of business advice that I have heard is that planning for failure is just as important as planning for success.

One of my favourite things about working at the BIPC is reading about the success stories and lessons learned from our users. I also love the fact that the British Library is home to the nation’s archive of sound recordings, a collection of almost 100,000 recordings of oral history, spoken words, music, wildlife and environmental sounds.

A fun fact about myself… I volunteered with the Prince's Trust to help paint the whole outside of a school. It was great to see the community have such a positive reaction to the ‘face lift’ we attempted to give to the local primary school.'

07 March 2022

Meet Nicole Tay, founder of Indomitable Beauty

Are you looking to improve your skincare routine? Nicole Tay, founder of Indomitable Beauty, a premium science-based skincare brand, is here to help. With the modern lifestyle in mind, Nicole worked with a chemist to develop products that deliver results you can see and feel without a complicated skincare routine. Now let’s hear more from Nicole…

Indomitable Beauty Skin Enhancing Duo

‘Did you know: 66% of us felt products did not deliver results as promised, 42% felt routine takes too much time?

Frustrated by a time-consuming routine and overwhelming active ingredients, I was determined to create high-performance and effective skincare products to streamline the skincare routine. Our Renewal Elixir, for example, contains 1% encapsulated retinol, 5% niacinamide plus 5 super antioxidants to replace the need of multiple essences, serums and moisturiser.’

When Nicole started her research on skincare, setting up a business did not cross her mind, there was a more personal reason behind it.

‘In 2018, I broke out in rashes all over my face and neck from overuse of active ingredients and not knowing how these ingredients interacted with one another. I was at the British Library to research skincare/ingredients, I just wanted to know the cause of rashes on my skin. It was through research, I realised there is a lot of misinformation and fear-mongering within the beauty industry.

  1. We have been conditioned to believe that “perfect” skin exists.
  2. We need to buy more products to achieve that “perfect”, “poreless” skin.
  3. Endless marketing-led trends to further entice us, myself included, to buy more products.

At one point, my skincare routine consisted of 12 products and much more just sits on the bathroom shelves. Imagine the products, we used once or twice and left standing on the dressing table that eventually ends up in landfills. It was through my journey in researching my skin that I spotted a gap in the market. Using fewer products but more clinically-proven active ingredients that truly makes a difference to the skin. Less is more.’

Nicole’s motivation is as clear as her ethos for Indomitable Beauty:

‘Our Goal: Reduce environmental impact and be a more considered consumer (create less, buy less, use less and waste less).

Our USP: Less is more. Fewer products, more actives.

Our Value: Driven by science & research, we are guided by data from ingredient choices, concentration and formulation to packaging. Powered by science, supercharged by nature

Indomitable Beauty Renewal Elixir

It was a big step to take from having an idea to fully launching a business. What SiLL project has helped me with was providing invaluable information from market research, legal advice to business planning. I don’t think I would have the confidence to launch my business had it not for SiLL project.

Apart from the practical workshops and advice, meeting other like-minded entrepreneurs was amazing.

Sophie (SME Champion for Croydon) was amazing and was always able to point me in the right direction with her knowledge. Being an entrepreneur, can sometimes feel overwhelming. Having one-to-ones with Sophie whether as a sounding board or getting contacts, Sophie was always engaged and supportive.

My advice to anyone looking to start up a business would be just do it. I was holding myself back for quite a long time because I was scared and nervous and everything you feel when you try something for the first time. That fear of failing is taking away that opportunity of us possibly succeeding. Once I was able to look at it from a different angle, it became exciting.

The key things I have learnt while starting up my business are:

  1. Research, research, research. Everything starts with research. I would not have started Indomitable Beauty if I wasn’t researching about my skin.
  2. Do what you are good at. If you can, find someone to help with what you are not so good at.

To anyone thinking about starting up their own business, I would say…

Be prepared:

  1. To work hard and go out of your comfort zone.
  2. Hear no’s many times over.

Believe in yourself.’

Indomitable Beauty Renewal Elixir

Nicole was asked many times to change the brand name ‘Indomitable Beauty’ to something easier to say/remember. She refused to, and here is why…

‘The word ‘indomitable’ is fundamental to our brand ethos and informs everything we do. This is based on the belief that we all have the ability to be indomitable within us. We pride ourselves with creating the most effective formulation and delivering results. This does not happen with the first formulation, or second, or third. It took us over 2 years and 30 iterations to perfect our formulations. It’s the indomitable spirit that kept us going and staying positive.  

We are living in a society that celebrates success, and failures are often considered embarrassing. As an ancient Chinese proverb goes: “Failure is the mother of success.” Don’t take failure as the end but as a learning curve to do better next time.’

Click here to explore the Indomitable Beauty website and discover their products.