Innovation and enterprise blog

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

2 posts from March 2024

11 March 2024

She means business: start-up tips from women entrepreneurs

We're extremely proud of all the businesses we support, but did you know that 66% of them are owned by women? Two of them recently caught up with The Gender Index to discuss their business journeys and give tips to fellow women who are on the same path.

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Kate McKenzie is the founder of Word Window, a device for parents and teachers to use when reading to children. Kate was one of the BIPC Northamptonshire SME Grant winners and has used the BIPC's resources to propel her business forward. From invaluable one-to-one sessions to comprehensive market research reports, she’s gained crucial insights to fuel her growth. With our expert intellectual property support, Kate has safeguarded her innovative ideas and met with a vibrant community of like-minded small business owners.

Kate's tips for start-ups include:

Head to your local library

"I’d gone from working full time in a college to setting up my own business. I didn’t know anything about the world out there for entrepreneurs or the help available. For me, the library was a place to get a book, it wasn’t a place where I could be signposted towards business specialists or IP experts. Most local libraries will be connected to a central library so speak to yours to find out more."

See what you can get for free

"Lots of companies will offer an hour’s advice for free. And if you need market research data, don’t just assume you have to pay for it. BIPC holds all sorts of data and resources that are free to access so have a good look through to see if they’ve got what you need. It’s surprising what information and help you can get for nothing."

Accept it won’t be perfect at first

"You can’t think too much and you can’t make it too perfect before you go for it. You have to just believe in yourself, even when it seems things aren’t working, and keep the faith."

Most importantly…

Keep quiet

"If you’re launching a new product, don’t tell anyone about it! To register your own Intellectual Property (IP), you have to declare you’ve not shared your concept with other people. Luckily I’d heard about that, so kept my idea to myself."

If you need any intellectual property support, head to your nearest BIPC.

You can read Kate's full interview with The Gender Index here.



Susan Widlake was an IT Auditor with a passion for hats, who travelled the world with a sewing kit and a collection of treasures in her suitcase. After spending years learning and honing her craft, Susan hung her corporate hat and turned her passion into a business when she founded Mill House Millinery.
Susan's journey:
"Early on I went to a Start your Creative business Day at the British Library in London. That was really helpful, and if you go up the stairs at the library you’ll find the Business & IP Centre. I didn’t even know it existed! They run a whole range of courses and workshops and the majority are free or very low cost. It was an excellent introduction to starting your own business."

Use your skills

"It was a real bonus when I realised I had the knowledge, I just needed to scale it down. My background really helped me when doing things like drawing up the business plan and targeting customers and messaging. That’s exactly the sort of thing I had been auditing."

Everyone makes mistakes, and that's ok!

"I’ve also learnt that you shouldn’t be scared of making mistakes. That’s been a big mind change for me coming from an audit background where everything has to be perfect."

Find your business family

"One thing that was completely different though was networking. I was used to being in a very male orientated, and dominated, field. In hat making, suddenly I was having to network with a totally different set of people. And actually, I felt much more comfortable."


You can read Susan's full interview with The Gender Index here.

08 March 2024

Write your own success story. Meet Martha Keith, our new BIPC business ambassador

Everyone's journey to entrepreneurship is different. Looking back, I realise mine began with a stubborn determination to prove that there's nothing wrong with a creative business idea and has been shaped by being a woman at every step along the way.

I've always been obsessed with stationery. The first blank page of a new notebook holds as much magic to me as the first page of a great novel: the excitement and possibility about where it will take you. I tried to start my first stationery business at age ten. It was a greeting card company with a little self-designed logo and range that I was rather proud of. As a teenager, my dream was to start a proper creative business, but my parents and teachers insisted there were better career options.

I studied hard and was lucky enough to be the first person in my small convent school to get an offer from Oxbridge in many years, which threw any chances of pursuing something creative out of the window. I read Natural Sciences at Cambridge and entered a graduate job at GlaxoSmithKline, combining my love of marketing and science. I hoped to make a difference to people, but I found that the more senior I got, the more removed I felt from being able to do so. After eight years, I was appointed a Director within the UK business. I loved the people I worked with, but hitting 30, I knew it was now or never.

I took a week off work and wrote a business plan for a personalised stationery brand, nervously walking in on the Monday with my resignation letter clutched between sweaty palms. People said I was crazy. My mum was dismayed: "you'll never make a living from selling cards", she reminded me, but that only made me more determined.

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I'm proud that my business, Martha Brook, has grown from those small beginnings into a much-loved lifestyle brand with offices in London and Melbourne and a thriving worldwide community of stationery lovers. The early days involved bootstrapping and long hours. Many times, I've found, as a woman running a creative business, that people tend to underestimate your ambition and capability. This was at its most stark when I set out to raise our first round of investment in 2020. It's a sad fact that only 1% of investment capital goes to female-founded businesses in the UK, and spending time in this male-dominated environment really showed me why. One angel investor quipped during my pitch, "At your age, I don't understand why..." Can you imagine them saying that to a man?

It was then that I first discovered the British Library's Business & IP Centre, a fantastic free support for small business owners and entrepreneurs. Using their resources, I turned to crowdfunding and was blown away when we hit our target in 24 hours, which was a real turning point for our business.

Martha Brook Founder - Martha Keith headshot 3

Also, as a woman, you have to juggle so much other 'life stuff'. A year into starting Martha Brook, I was diagnosed with endometriosis and told I couldn't have children naturally. While growing the business, I have quietly had seven rounds of IVF and four miscarriages. When my miracle daughter was born last year, I had to work out how to manage some time off and then balance childcare and CEO responsibilities.

My experiences have made me a passionate ambassador for the creative industries and women in business. I mentor other business owners, regularly speak at and run events for female founders, and was proud to be awarded Consumer Goods Businesswomen of the Year at the Great British Businesswomen Awards last year.

Since 2022, I have sat on the British Library's Advisory Council, and I am thrilled to be appointed as an Ambassador for the British Library's Business & IP Centre. I have seen first-hand the impact the Centre makes to drive economic growth and help the aspiring SMEs that need it most. 72% of the aspiring entrepreneurs that the Business & IP Centre has helped are women, 26% are from a minority ethnic group, and 10% have a disability. This is a significant impact in disadvantaged and underrepresented groups, delivering a notable return on investment of £6.63 for every £1 of public money spent.

It feels fitting that it is International Women's Day. There's nothing wrong with a 'girly' or creative business idea. Women are not less serious about their goals or dreams and are every bit as capable of achieving them. I am delighted to help widen the Business & IP Centre's reach to new audiences and champion its entrepreneurial goals.


Ready to kickstart your business journey, just like Martha did? Connect with BIPC for expert support and advice!