Innovation and enterprise blog

1 posts from October 2023

25 October 2023

Sonal Keay: A Silk Road to Business Growth

Every quarter, the Get Ready for Business Growth programme carefully selects 25 high-growth creative businesses to embark on an exciting journey. This initiative, funded by the Arts Council England, is specifically designed to empower entrepreneurs to re-evaluate critical aspects of their business, from marketing strategies, innovating products/services to the entire business model.

We had the pleasure of chatting with Sonal Keay, the brilliant mind behind This Is Silk, who has recently completed this transformative program. Sonal graciously took us on a compelling journey, sharing the inspiring story behind her business's inception and her ambitious vision for its future.

"I’m Sonal, Founder of This Is Silk, a company that harnesses the healing and renewal properties of Silk for our skin and hair. I started the business with silk pillowcases in 2018 after experiencing these healing powers for my own rare skin condition and in 2022 we launched silk skincare and haircare after working with a leading cosmetic scientist.

A headshot of Sonal, the entrepreneur in front of a brightly coloured painting

It represented a personal and professional highlight for me to be back at the British Library for their Get Ready for Business Growth programme, because I had spent many happy hours researching there when I first started the business.

Our youngest daughter had just been born and every spare hour was dedicated to research and reading about Silk. It was at the British Library that I first poured over dermatological and scientific literature detailing the use of Silk as a wound-healer and it was through a mentor there that I’d obtained a start-up loan to start the business.

Five years after that time, This Is Silk was now the UK’s most awarded silk company, winning prestigious beauty industry awards for ‘Best New Luxury Skincare Product’ for our Silk Overnight Oil, coveted Beauty Bible awards and more. When the application for the programme caught my eye, we had just finished working with a leading university to develop a proprietary silk protein. As a sole, largely self-funded founder with no prior business or corporate experience, it is critical that the decisions I make to deploy our precious resources are well thought through and researched, especially on the cusp of scaling the business.

a hand dipping into a pot of moisturiser

So when I found out I had been accepted onto the Get Ready for Business Growth programme I was overjoyed - it felt like I was coming back home. It was a tough deep dive into both the business and into my own strengths and weaknesses and I took something very valuable and very personal to the business away from all the sessions with the experts. I will implement at least one headline recommendation from each of the experts.

Some of those sessions opened my mind up to possibilities, some emphasised the urgency of making changes and others gently corrected conventional thinking and challenged the status quo.

One of the best things I learned was about myself. There is a lot said about authenticity in the industry, and I had always assumed that as I had come to the power of Silk through my own, painful skin condition that that was the end of the matter. But Mike Waller, Professor of Design & Innovation at Goldsmiths University, helped me to realise that what I had done, and what I feel most comfortable doing is innovating. I am obsessed with the science of Silk and what it can do for our skin and hair, and that is my ‘happy space.’ Mike made me realise that the ability to innovate is a rare thing and that I should comfortably inhabit this space and that the multiple awards the silk skincare has won is a sign I am good at it. So I should make the most of it! To that end, I am hiring to free up more of my time to focus on this.

Mike also encouraged me to use lateral thinking when approaching issues in the business. We are in the middle of applying for B Corp certification and Mike had some incredible ideas about how to weave social good into the company’s foundations.

Another wonderful expert, Uday Thakker, urged me to focus on export and PR as significant levers for growth and I am treating his advice as a business plan to be actioned. Silk has traditionally always been an internationally desired product (the ancient trading routes known as the Old Silk Roads are so called because Silk was desired so much it crossed continents to reach its devotees) so looking abroad, especially in countries that already have an understanding and appreciation of Silk, whilst I build that education here in the UK.

This Is Silk serum

Suzie Campbell urged me to keep a very close eye on my numbers, especially during a growth period, and to keep an open mind for the right investor, who would suit both the business and me and I received excellent advice from Andy who reminded me to communicate everything I know and love about Silk not only to my customers but also to retail buyers at trade shows.

This is an amazing programme I would recommend to anyone looking to scale their business. The roster of experts there take their time to research and analyse your business and their 121’s are stuffed full with incredible advice and the support from Rosie and the team is wonderful.

It is now for me to implement all of this advice and I will report back from the next stage of business growth. I hope to do the programme and the experts proud."

 

Applications for the next intake of our Get Ready for Business Growth programme are now open, if you'd like to get involved email us at [email protected]