Innovation and enterprise blog

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

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.

Martha Brook Founder - Martha Keith headshot 2

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!

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