Innovation and enterprise blog

Introduction

This blog is written by members of the Business & IP Centre team and some of our expert partners and discusses business, innovation and enterprise. Read more

20 January 2021

Meet Annie Gibbs, Founder & Director of Amour Destiné CIC

We spoke to Annie Gibbs, Founder & Director of Amour Destiné CIC and asked her to tell us about her business and how it came into being…

Amour Destiné, French for "Love your Destiny", is a community interest company that aims to improve the socio-economic status of black women in the UK.

We aim to achieve this by helping women affected by, but not limited to bereavement, mental health issues, domestic abuse & sexual violence, immigration problems and care experiences, work towards building the lives they desire. By accessing advocacy support from Amour Destiné, women are able to address the various challenges they may be facing such as no recourse to public funds, family law access and mediation. We also provide a one-to-one and group educational mentoring workshops led by inspiring women and girls.  Amour Destiné helps women develop confidence and self-belief which will enable and encourage them to live out their ambitions to succeed in life.

Amour Destiné provides the platform which has united and inspired many to connect, collaborate, exchange resources and empowered some to test their business ideas through our partners’ events & workshops.

Amour Destiné began as a voluntary pilot program, borne out of my own passion and lived experience of overcoming the loss of my mother at the age of 8 years of age and being placed in care. This experience led me to want to get more involved and to give back to my community. I have, as a result of the pilot program and demands from women seeking my advice and counsel on various issues such as employment, career advice and immigration issues, organically formalised what I have been offering the ladies and therefore, launched a 12-month Destiny Creators Mentoring Programme & Advocacy service in Lambeth & Greenwich. I managed to gather information through digital surveys and feedbacks harvested from mentee workshops regarding how the service has benefited them.  I find the feedback information very important as it is my passion to provide a tailored service which meets the specific needs of my clients on the program.

The results from a survey conducted in 2019 reported that 78.4% of women preferred to have more one-to-one coaching/mentoring support.  72% reported that they really enjoyed the networking opportunities Amour Destiné offered with 36.4% wanting this to be more than once a year and the other 36.4% preferred three times a year.  As a result of this feedback, we have developed our Destiny Creators programme to provide a combination of monthly virtual group sessions as well as face-to-face group sessions.

As well as being the Director of Amour Destiné, I am a board member for a community forum in Greenwich and Director of Treasury for a black female-led frontline domestic abuse service provider in Croydon. These positions have enabled me to hear and to understand the needs of women affected by socio-economic problems in and around London. Information collected and collated from digital surveys and workshop participant feedback questionnaires has enabled me to further shape the programme. Acknowledging the voices of women in need of support has improved the services offered by Amour Destiné. In the past year and a half, over one hundred participants have been willing to contribute in providing feedback comments.

Furthermore, we have a good social media engagement with one thousand, two hundred and fifty five followers across a number of platforms where we have conducted polls and utilised questions to further develop our mission to meet the needs of our community.

We work collaboratively with local groups, organisations and individuals to address social economic issues affecting the quality of women’s lives.  This enables us to ascertain the needs of their beneficiaries through digital surveying.

Annie Gibbs, Founder & Director of Amour Destiné

Why did you want to start up a business? What was your motivation?

Amour Destiné was formed as a result of losing my mother at the age of 8 years to HIV as well as the experience of learning to push past my own challenges in life growing through the UK care system. I wanted to create a support service for black women to break through barriers and to build on my late mother’s legacy. I had been bothered throughout my life when I think about the struggles my mother faced during my childhood, being passed from service to service because of her Malian heritage, having encountered language barriers because she could not speak English.  My mother had no family in the UK. She was a survivor of domestic abuse and did not have a supportive network to fall on. I remember her struggles and having only one or two friends.  

My ambition and desire had always been to make a difference in the lives of black women surviving abuse. My current frustration now is to find that the difficulties my mother faced in the past are still existent in the 21st century. It is my mission therefore, to ensure that any woman who reaches out to our service does not feel isolated and unsupported like my mother did. In addition, it is my desire to make knowledge and information accessible to all women who reach out to Amour Destiné. The Amour Destiné platform provides services to equip and empower women succeed to overcome obstacles that life throws at them. To all black women, Amour Destiné says, “Your Chapter does not end there” and that “You own the rights to create your own destiny”.

How did the SiLL project help you in setting up your business?

I attended the side hustle to business workshop at Woolwich library on International Women's Day, delivered by Loretta Awuah, who I am grateful has now become my mentor! She provided me with the details of the SiLL programme virtual workshops: ‘What next for my business idea?’, ‘Get ready for business’ and ‘Marketing Masterclass’. I felt I had nothing to lose so I decided to register and to attend the sessions with the view of developing my understanding and knowledge surrounding intellectual property and marketing. To launch a product that I could use as part of my workshops and to improve the sustainability of my project ideas that I had been testing in the community.

After attending the workshops mentioned above, I have since had several 1:1 sessions with my mentor, Loretta. She helped me see how valuable my work is and to overcome the fear of the unknown.  By breaking down the various elements of the services I was offering and what my project needs were, I was able to develop and progress it further. She also encouraged me to take the next step to register my project as a community interest company and encouraged me to pursue funding opportunities. The SiLL programme has also helped me to connect with various individuals/organisations.

What was the most helpful part of the SiLL project for you?

I found all of the projects incredibly helpful. Loretta’s 1:1 mentoring support, as well as the workshops, have helped me to enhance my knowledge of business. It is difficult to pinpoint one element because all the sessions were helpful and they equipped me to move my ideas forward. If I have to, I would say, launching my product and services. For me, the most helpful part of the SiLL programme was the workshop on intellectual property. As a result of this I was able to gain a better understanding of how to protect my ideas. The sessions facilitator even followed up with me afterwards with answers to a few of my questions that helped me make my decisions to launch my hand-painted African print wellbeing boxes on Etsy.

Hand-painted African print wellbeing boxes

Can you tell us a bit about Loretta and the Greenwich Business Community that is coming as a part of SiLL?

Loretta’s support has been invaluable. From the first time I met her on International Women’s Day to present, she has been so encouraging and very open to book 1:1 sessions with her. Her knowledge, patience and genuine interest in my business has been invaluable. She has connected me to various individuals in the Borough and helped me to identify my opportunities. Just knowing that I have someone who cares, that I can email with any questions no matter how silly I may feel about asking and sharing good news makes me super grateful. It makes the process of growing my community interest company and navigating things easier. She has also referred an individual to my service in need of support which reassures me further that she believes in my work.

What advice would you give anyone looking to start up a business?

If you are reading this and you are at a place in life where you are considering using your passions, talents and purpose to start a business, I would say the best part is already done. The fact that you have the idea is the beginning of great things. Explore your idea by gaining support from a programme like the SiLL programme to discover what is possible for you and your ideas. Know that all great things have to start somewhere.  It is useful to know that there is no right or wrong way to achieve your dreams.  Your business ideas are deeply personal to you.  They are not supposed to be perfect so allow yourself to grow from what you experience and that it is YOUR journey. Don't allow anything to stop you!

What are the key things you have learnt while starting up your business?

Since launching my business I have learnt many things along the way. The key things I am grateful for learning are that it's so important to ask others for help. Especially in the very early stages you will need others. There is always someone who will know the answer to your questions. But you will not know unless you ask. The least that will happen is that they will say no, or they don't know how they can help.

Find people who you can collaborate with and whose purpose is aligned with yours. You do not have to say yes to everything. As not all things are going to be for you and your business.

Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Life is for growing and it is alright to try something or a few ideas as this is the only way that you are truly going to know what works best for your business.

Prioritise time for yourself to do the things that offer you happiness and joy. This could be spending time with people that you care about, or time out to read or go for a swim. Whatever this looks like for you, please ensure you develop the habit of practicing self-care.

Above all don't forget why you started and who you stand for. So that you maintain a healthy, loving, balance between yourself and your business.

What would you say to anyone looking to go to a SiLL workshop/talk to their local SME Champion?

If you are considering joining a SiLL workshop/talk go for it. You have nothing to lose. You will find others on the programme that are on various stages of their business journeys to yourself as well as those at a similar stage. You will learn so much from each other. The facilitators are very welcoming and every session is open to asking plenty of questions. So be intentional with your time when you attend to gain maximum support from the sessions. You won't regret it!

15 January 2021

Meet Alison Cork, Ambassador for the British Library’s Business & IP Centre

Amidst all the uncertainty of 2020, becoming an Ambassador for the British Library's Business & IP Centre has been a definite highlight, and it caused me to reflect upon my lifetime journey with books and learning.

I remember libraries vividly as a child. The distinctive smell of beeswax polished wood and slightly musty odour of much borrowed books – I particularly liked the way the pages seemed to soften the more they were thumbed and read. I wasn’t so keen on the plastic protective covers that used to crack with age and scratch my fingers. I also remember the pleasing silence of the library and the squeak of the wooden floor boards as I explored new categories, each one a new world to me. My favourites were history, biology and fiction. At one point I was reading up to nine books a week. Sitting on the purple boucle sofa at home with a pile of them by my side, I would devour each title until the pile had disappeared and I had an excuse to go back and get more. I loved having my dad read to me, and the way he carefully turned the pages as he narrated each story. Without realising it, books became my path to a world of imagination and possibility, and a love of learning.

Alison Cork sitting in armchair

My next clear memory of books was at school, in my case a convent in south east London. There, courtesy of an inspirational Latin teacher, I discovered the great love of my life – the Classics - despite the fact that the nuns had neatly ruled through any text they felt to be unsuitable for young ladies, which, let’s face it, meant most of Catullus. Sadly for the well-meaning nuns, this had quite the opposite effect on me and piqued my curiosity further. Latin led to Greek and a change of school, as there weren’t enough students who wanted to study Greek to merit a state school teacher’s salary. Happily for me, the teachers in my next school were just as dedicated and I was surprised but thrilled to win a place to study Classics at Cambridge - not bad for the great granddaughter of a hackney carriage driver from Brixton. But that’s the thing about books, they are totally democratic. They will take you where you want to go.

At Cambridge the doors of life opened for me and I learned to become an independent thinker. That in turn led me to realise that I didn’t want to follow any well-trodden career path of accountant or lawyer. I wanted to drive my own destiny. It was no more than an instinctive feeling, but I followed my gut and after graduation, started a little publishing business. Again, books were in the mix. All of a sudden I realised that I was an entrepreneur, albeit an accidental one. I was running my own show. The challenge for me at the time was that I lacked any role models or mentors. No-one in my family ran a business and there were very few women blazing a trail that I could point to, with the exception of Anita Roddick of Body Shop, Debbie Moore of Pineapple Studios and Margaret Thatcher, if you count running the country as a form of business.

Fast forward almost thirty years and I was surprised to find that still, only one in four businesses was owned or run by a woman. So I started a not for profit called Make it Your Business, to support and encourage other women to start their own business. Then I heard about the Business & IP Centre and in particular their success with female and BAME led businesses, and once again curiosity got the better of me. I wanted to know who they were, what they did, and why more people didn’t know about their brilliant Business & IP service. I was amazed by what I found – a truly results driven business advisory service that was dynamic, authentic and successful, helping businesses to start up and scale up in equal measure, delivering a fantastic return on investment. Best of all, a service open to all and almost entirely free.

Alison Cork working at desk

Which brings us to the current moment. Whilst Covid has been an enormous challenge, I can’t think of a better time to be a part of the team at the BIPC. This uniquely valuable service has become even more important in the current climate. Our goal now is to ensure that this service is made available to every community in the land, as we rebuild the economy and create much needed jobs post Covid. I’m looking forward greatly to the challenge.

08 December 2020

Meet Caron Pollard, founder of Teal and Start-ups in London Libraries participant

Teal is a digital platform with a mission to demystify food allergies and empower the estimated 2 million food allergy sufferers in the UK. It provides practical support for allergy-sufferers (and carers) in the event of a reaction with key emergency features including translations, e-commerce access to free-from products, education, and community to bridge the gap between individuals, the medical fraternity; brands and businesses to name a few. The name itself comes from the international colour for food allergies and stands for clarity and communication.

We spoke to Caron, co-founder of Teal, about the very personal story behind the multi-digital support platform including website, web based and native apps and how it came into being, with the support of Start-ups in London Libraries.

‘My three year old daughter suffers from life threatening food allergies and experienced her first anaphylaxis a year ago while abroad - this was a poignant moment in our life as to how we need to protect her future. Suddenly being transported into this world within the last three years, it became apparent how common it is to a have fragmented & long winded journey to diagnosis and management; with reliance on limited offline touch-points for support. Like many others we have spent a lot of time on “Dr Google” and Social Media which may not necessarily provide qualified or correct information. We spotted a gap as it seems there is not many apps in the food allergy space, and none that provide holistic support.

The UK has 2 million allergy sufferers of which 8% of UK children are allergic reactors. The rise in allergic reactions in the last 20 years has cost the NHS £900m in admissions and primary care with reactions peaking at 16-25 year olds and outside the home. Additionally, the Free-From industry has doubled in five years to an estimated £934m in 2019 as reported by Mintel, combined factors of a growing space and market. There is currently limited online and offline support for the UK allergy community; a mobile first; internet driven, tech savvy country as reported by OfCom in 2020.

The motivation to start Teal was to ensure that my daughter and millions others like her are not held back from living their best life as a result of their allergies; and that their parents don’t struggle for information like we did. I wanted to be in control of doing all I can to improve her future and instrumental in driving change. So often they are isolated and excluded as a result of not having the right information or support. As this next generation has been born with technology, it made sense to develop a digital solution so that families like ours and children in their independence have immediate access to the key tools that will help reduce allergic reactions and provide support through emergencies.

Teal logo

Following my daughter’s birth I gave up working to concentrate and care for her various medical conditions and complicated paediatric pathway. My previous professional experience was developing customer strategies so I am passionate about the world from the individual’s point of view. I also spent the last two years up-skilling as a qualified digital marketer through the CIM, as digitisation is driving the future for the next generations and there is a need to be relevant to support them and integrate online and offline experiences.

Pandemic or not, allergies are on the rise. COVID-19 was a massive factor for launching now, as Teal has become more relevant for families - the reliance on digitisation, anxiety around food shortages, external factors as the economy reopens and education resumes. All these highlighted that we need to provide more support in a post-pandemic environment as allergies are increasing and a growing concern. It makes business sense to support the individuals themselves and also the enterprises that serve them; which is packaged within our platform.

I knew I wanted to do something to empower and support others, but was not able to conceptualise or verbalise these ambitions until I started attending the Start-ups in London Libraries workshops. I initially had a few ideas I wanted to develop, but needed to clarify and validate which direction to follow.

Learning about the different ways to start a business and speaking with the facilitators at the SILL workshops gave me confidence to develop and research the validity of TEAL, as it was clear I was passionate about supporting the food allergy community from my discussions.

The timing of my personal experiences and support from the SILL team have been invaluable in setting up my business. The practical considerations and advice in the initial steps on how to get started from an idea to then developing it spring-boarded the birth of Teal. The best first advice was to research, research, research. This is part of my daily mantra now and expanding my knowledge and opportunities for the business.

Sophie [our Start-ups in London Libraries Champion for Croydon] is an absolute gem - and a hidden secret! The value she continues to provide is in her ability to listen to your story and identify your needs. She is proactive about finding solutions and linking you to valid resources and connections that will progress your entrepreneurial journey.

Caron Pollard at workshop in Croydon

She has been accessible even through lockdown and COVID-19 restrictions and has a wealth of knowledge and a great sounding board. Sophie clearly has an entrepreneurial mindset and has an inbuilt directory of valid contacts and practical sources of information. I have taken advantage of tapping into her 1-2-1 support and feel as if she is poised to help me succeed.

I fear that without starting the SILL project I may still be sitting on my business ideas and further behind where I am, and for that I am incredibly grateful and indebted.

I’ve learnt so much during starting up my business. Most notably that it’s not necessarily an overnight process, it will take time to develop and see the results. It is important to have stamina, so start with a plan and achievable objectives and goals along the way to measure your performance and success.

Testing is important - the idea, how it is communicated, your solutions. This will make the business stronger, because the feedback and data will provide invaluable insights for making informed decisions. Agility is important - with the ever changing socio-economic landscape, this will help leverage your opportunities and mitigate your risks.

Start and grow your network consistently - you never know who you meet and the influence they will have in the future direction and success of your business. Align yourself with people who share your ethos, values and integrity. My Co-Founder Joey; is a life long severe nut allergy sufferer and has been a rock through this year – even though he is based in the US and all our work has been remote.  We are also supported by our amazing Champion Ambassador Julianne Ponan, CEO of Creative Nature Superfoods; who through her multiple-allergies created a brand around superfoods and snacks that are top 14 allergen free, vegan and organic.

My final advice to future entrepreneurs who are at the stage of wanting to start a business is to start! Start the process - research - what is the need that you are satisfying, is there a demand? Is someone else doing it, if so what are you doing differently and what is going to make you stand out? Until you start the process it will only remain an idea, so have the courage to initiate - write it down and research it. It may be the best thing you ever do and ignite an exciting and sustainable mission.

As for the website, web and native app versions of Teal, it has just launched! We are really excited about what we are bringing to the market. Keep an eye out on our social channels or sign up to our mailing list so that we can keep you updated on this. Joey and I also host the weekly Teal podcast that sources the best resources so that the allergy community don’t miss out on life’s best moments; and showcase the best of what the international allergy and free-from community has to offer.

We are also passionate about supporting other enterprises in the allergy and free from community, so please do reach out to see how we can work together. We believe in strong collaborations and growing entrepreneurship to better serve individuals impacted by allergies.

For more on Teal, visit www.teal-app.com.

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

Start-ups in London Libraries funder logos (ERDF, Arts Council and J.P Morgan)