13 October 2021
Our annual flagship event, Start-up Day is back again. Our free day of online panel discussions, talks and training is back on Thursday 11 November and will feature more than 50 speakers all helping aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners to not only start-up, but start-up sustainably.
Over the years, we’ve had thousands of people attend our events both online and in person around the UK. We’re catching up with some to hear what they’ve done since joining us.
Sara-Jayne Slocombe attended BIPC Manchester’s Start-up Day in 2019 and was self-employed supporting other businesses with their annual reports and admin. This then developed into project work and Amethyst Raccoon was born. Hearing from other people who had been in her shoes, who were now the ones giving the talks was one element of the day Sara-Jayne connected with.
‘The biggest takeaway from Start-up Day was appreciating how much and what is involved in starting up a service-based business, and learning that it is completely do-able and can be dealt with in bite-sized chunks.’
Since October 2019, Sara-Jayne’s business has gone from strength to strength, despite the pandemic. ‘If anything, I’ve had more business. For me, the main effect was being flexible with payments to support clients who had been impacted by Covid. Looking ahead, I hope to pick up more clients, finish my booking keeping qualification and connect with industry leaders.’
Speaking to those who are thinking about starting their own business, Sara-Jayne says, "Get really clear on what you want to do, why you want to do it, and who you want to do it for."
Norwich-based magician, David Fung, started his business with the help of BIPC Norfolk in 2018. ‘I first attended Start-up Day and gained many tools and much knowledge near the beginning of my journey. I later signed up for an accounting one-to-one session, which answered many of my questions and put my mind at rest.’
Start-up Day helped David get more knowledge and understanding of the ‘business fundamentals – there’s so much to learn if you’ve never done this before. In addition, the BIPC has given support in local networking and increasing publicity, and are really accessible if I have questions or need other support.’
David’s advice for others looking to start their own business, “Plan first, then just do it. You can learn by doing. I remember attending Start-up Day and asking a business mentor “What’s the next step after this workshop? Is there a part two?” and she replied “The next step is to do it. Start your business.” Take small steps; before you know it, you’ll be running a business.’
Start-up Day can also provide networking opportunities and allow people to share their skills to support other entrepreneurs. Northamptonshire-based business, Clock and Compass Coaching, founder by Daniel O’Connor, made many connections during BIPC Northamptonshire’s Start-up Day in 2019. ‘One of the people I met went on to design my logo and website, I met the person who runs local networking events and from a workshop on copywriting, I then used that copywriter for my website. There was one other person there I met through networking on the day who became my mentor for a year. Lots of great workshops and lots of great connections which have led on to helping me really boost my business.’
Jessica Runyard, founder of Runyard Editorial Services, studied English Literature at university as she knew she wanted to go into the editorial world. However, living in Devon meant the opportunities were few and far between. She set up freelance and is helping self-publishing authors. Jessica also worked with businesses, helping with their websites. She offers a wide range of services around editing for the local area as well as being a freelancer where she has also worked with people overseas.
Jessica attended BIPC Devon's Start-up Day and found the discussions about networking very helpful, the importance of networking but not over networking. Jessica feels like if she could’ve networked more this year than she could’ve been making a bigger profit by now.
"The most memorable thing about Start-up Day 2019 was the talk on accountancy and business banking – things that I knew very little about but were very interesting. After the talk I knew where to look and who to contact, which was very helpful."
She also took away from the Start-up Day some key things for starting a business that she never knew, for example, when she needed someone to do her accountancy. She learnt how long she could stay a sole trader, when to be registering for VAT – all very important things for when starting a business which she didn’t know about before attending Start-up Day.
Jessica’s advice for others starting a business; “Be confident. Imposter syndrome isn’t a thing, you may feel like an imposter but, everyone feels like an imposter, just do it. The more you sit there and say you can’t do it, you will never start if you come up with an excuse."
Start-up Day is in partnership with Santander
29 September 2021
As businesses across the country closed their doors in March of 2020, it was unclear just how long these doors would remain closed. Small businesses found themselves facing a frightening and confusing time, having to pivot and adjust to the continually changing landscape. In many cases, however, this pause in time allowed some to reflect on their career goals and even prompted them to launch their own businesses. We spoke to four such businesses, who either pivoted or started up during the pandemic and explored how they were able to grow despite unpredictable circumstances.
For Carolynn Bain, the pandemic and the civil rights uprising that started to unfold in the summer of 2020 highlighted the importance and need for her to start up her Brighton based business, Afrori Books. Afrori Books is an online bookshop that specialises in books by black authors, their mission statement is simple; to support black authors, create diverse bookshelves and be a voice for justice.
As a National Network business, we were able to assist Carolynn by providing local information and resources to help her grow during this time, specifically ways to source funding to expand the business into a physical shop via our Business & IP Centre Brighton & Hove.
"Starting a business during the pandemic is an unusual thing to do. However, I think what had a bigger impact on us was starting a business during a pandemic and during a civil rights uprising in terms of Black Lives Matter – they can’t be separated for us. Many people were at home, reading books and for the first time ever really the world was sitting still, watching these things unfold before them. That had a massive impact on us and, in a positive sense, bought customers to us who previously maybe would not have considered looking at books by black authors. As we go forward, we are in the middle of crowd funding as we are looking to open a physical shop – working in partnership with a charity in Brighton who have given us a shop space. That has also come off the back of the civil rights movement, as they want to see Brighton change and become a safe space for black authors and black people living in the city. It’s all interconnected."
Another National Network business, who recently took part in our Innovating for Growth programme, that has seen growth during the pandemic is The Woodlife Project. The Norfolk based business, founded by Hazel Russell manufactures beautiful, innovative, eco-friendly wooden products for the family home with a focus on meal times. The Woodlife Project, who got support from BIPC Norfolk, mostly sell online on their own website and wholesale through a variety of different retailers, most notably during the pandemic they are now available on John Lewis and, like Afrori Books, will be looking to have in store product space soon too. "Our proudest moment in business so far has been getting into John Lewis, as they were one of our ideal retailers from the offset. We are online at the moment - in the nursery section with our bear, fox and rabbit plates. If all goes well we will be in store soon."
Jennifer Lam also took part in our Innovating for Growth programme, she is the co-founder and CEO of Stitch and Story based in London, which is an online crafting company on a mission to make crafting simple and easy to learn. During the numerous lock-downs, confined to their homes, people were getting back in touch with their creative side which bode well for this crafting business and allowed them to grow despite the uncertain circumstances.
"We’re here to inspire a new generation of crafters with our DIY kits, yarns and materials. During the pandemic Stitch and Story grew enormously. I think we were one of the lucky companies who were able to grow because everybody was in lockdown, looking for a new skill or hobby to pick up at home. Stitch and Story provided many customers with a new skill in knitting and crocheting and so we expanded very quickly online predominantly, albeit it was very stressful!"
One of the biggest changes to Stitch and Story was the team; they more than doubled the team during the pandemic from seven to 22. "We had to recruit everyone virtually at the time and it was stressful as we had no experience in doing that before - the BIPC really helped in providing us resources for this."
Start-ups in London Libraries business, Delmora, founded by Judy Chicangana-Matthews, offers a variety of beautiful jewellery items and accessories for women. Judy launched her first product at the end of February, weeks before Covid hit. "The impact was huge. In the beginning, people were buying the essentials such as food and toilet paper, so jewellery was considered a luxury. Nowadays, many people are concerned about their jobs and how that is going to impact their finances.
Covid also affects my KPIs in terms of delivery. I use the service Royal Mail 24, and I have had severe delays on the delivery of the parcels. To compensate my customers, sometimes I offer discounts as a part of the customer service. This practice has seriously affected my margins, so surviving has been very difficult."
Thus, the need to pivot and test out new business models to grow her business came about. By adding a loyalty program to her business, she was able to ensure repeat purchases and a loyal customer base. "My response has been offering discounts to my customers and creating programs to increase the brand’s recognition. For example, I offer the Delmora Club discount to all my customers in which the members have exclusive access to special discounts and pre-launch of our collections. We also recently created the program named Delmora Brand Champion that aims to get more positive reviews around our online presence."
Despite the devastating effects of the pandemic, we are pleased to see small businesses surviving, thriving and growing through it - it has highlighted the importance of small businesses, which are innovative, provide jobs and support local communities. In turn, there has been an increase in public support for local small businesses, to help ensure they remained profitable - a trend we hope continues long after the pandemic has ended.
Although restrictions have been lifted across the UK and many of us are returning to normal life, the effects of the pandemic are still being felt around the world. Our Reset. Restart programme launched to help businesses pivot and adapt to the changing climate throughout the pandemic and will continue to support many beyond that. We have caught up with businesses who attended these free webinars to see how the programme influenced their business operations and what changes they have made since.
One start up that benefitted from the programme is INTARIS founded by Oliver Hickmet; a full-service video marketing agency combining the power of digital film with analytics led strategy. Starting a business can be very lonely, and even more so during a global pandemic. For many, our webinars provide an opportunity to build and connect with a network of entrepreneurs from various backgrounds and expertise. “Reset. Restart was an invaluable way to stay connected during lockdown and learn from others sharing experiences and the dynamic conversations that always arose in the sessions. The presentations always had something interesting you did not know before and it was a perfect way to start the day with a hot cuppa.”
For some business owners, as well as networking opportunities, the support and advice offered by Reset. Restart gave them the confidence and push to grow their business. This was the case for Keira Simpson, owner and founder of Daisy Days Virtual Assistant. She provides PA and administration support to small businesses, helping them to save time so they can focus on their core business operations. It was through one of the small businesses that she was assisting at the time, that she discovered the BIPC. “My client wanted me to research the BIPC and to find out what support and services they could offer to help with the set-up of her Community Interest Company (CIC). This is why I love what I do, I get an insight to so many networks, and I get to experience the fabulous support and services that they offer.”
Keira began by attending BIPC Sussex’s free Reset. Restart webinar – Tools for the Job. This gave her an insight into what digital platforms and software was available to grow her business. Like Oliver, it also provided an opportunity for her to connect with other start-ups and share her knowledge and tips, building her confidence in her business. “I gained an insight to other platforms and gained confidence in how I can support my business. The people that I have had the pleasure in talking to from the BIPC, whether that be from the webinars they offer or via email with a question that has arisen, have been so helpful and supportive. They also offer ideas and information - like speaking to a representative from the centre for advice on your business, to other topics which will steer you in the right direction.”
Julia Alcamo and Dan Hodgson founded documentary production company, Happenstance Films in February 2020, weeks before the world went into lockdown. Although this was a difficult time for the creative industries, it was also a time for Julia and Dan to rethink their goals and strategies.
“The last year has been tough because of the pandemic. Many of the initial plans we made fell through and our hopes of starting out strong were quickly squashed. But, it gave us crucial time to doubly rethink our approach to this new way of making branded content: how would we convince the marketing departments? How could we position ourselves to be ready? What did we really want to do differently?”
While their business idea has remained the same, Julia and Dan were able to tap into the wide range of databases and expert advice from our delivery partners that guided them to the clients their business should aim to target. “To hear others care about how we would get out there and find the right clients was amazing! Since, we have used the databases to create a potential client ‘hit list’, a roster of local small and medium-sized businesses who work in specific sectors who we then prepare pitches for. The services have helped us directly with our growth in so far as they identify potential clients and allow us to gain clarity. It’s been crucial in feeling like we have the necessary inside knowledge to be a player in the local economy. Just having that sense is very empowering for a small business. It's also been really great to feel the support from the team and a have a place to go should we have further questions on business development, local resources or tapping into the community most efficiently.”
Although Reset. Restart began as a way to support businesses, like Happenstance, through the pandemic; many entrepreneurs who have used the service started their business as conditions highlighted by the pandemic pushed them to.
This is the case for Roxy van der Post, a Dutch-born documentary filmmaker and lifestyle photographer who began Myosotis Film & Photography in the summer of 2020. For her, the ongoing pandemic emphasised the many social, racial, and climate injustices that were difficult to ignore. The corporate world was no longer a world in which Roxy felt her values and ambitions were shared, so she forged a new path and now works with purpose-led people, social enterprises and charities to amplify their voices through the collaborative practice of visual storytelling.
After settling in Brighton in February 2021 and having no prior knowledge of Brighton or its business community, the Reset. Restart sessions run by BIPC Sussex were a fantastic introduction to the city and its ambitious entrepreneurs. The informal nature of the Reset. Restart workshops meant Roxy could easily engage with likeminded business-owners and quickly grow her network. “All sessions included interviews with entrepreneurs whose fascinating stories of business growth provided much inspiration and motivation, an informative presentation on topics ranging from finding your ideal customer to pricing models and how to establish valuable connections, and room for open, but facilitated discussions, all expertly woven together by Lucy Paine of alwayspossible.” It was through these events that Roxy was introduced to Business Model Canvas, which “was an absolute game-changer that provided more clarity and confidence than any other business plan.”
Following on from the Reset. Restart sessions, Roxy booked an online one-to-one information clinic with BIPC Information Specialist, Gemma Miller. “There is a wealth of information out there and it can be rather intimidating to explore these extensive databases and conduct benchmark research, but Gemma was very helpful and reassuring, she showed me some of the best options as a filmmaker and photographer. As a sole business owner, I valued the opportunity to talk this through with someone outside of my network. The next step is becoming a member of the library and visiting in person, which - as a bookworm and meticulous researcher – I am very much looking forward to!”
Another business that was born during the lockdown period of the pandemic is Nicola Austin’s Life of Libra. Life of Libra is a Professional Organising and Decluttering business, which began in January 2021.
“Before the pandemic, I was juggling school runs, a long work commute, after school clubs and the everyday pressures of life. I knew how full, cluttered and unbalanced our homes and lives can sometimes feel. The pandemic allowed me valuable time and space to think, read and reflect on my strengths, on what I enjoyed doing and what I wanted to do going forward. After attending a training course run by APDO, (the Associated of Professional Declutterers and Organisers), I decided this was the industry I wanted to work in and joined the organisation. I founded Life of Libra soon after.’
It was through a fellow Professional Organiser at APDO that Nicola became aware of the Reset. Restart programme and she signed up for several of our free webinars. “The sessions were practical, insightful and current. They really impacted my thoughts and actions, especially the sessions on Mindset, Digital Productivity Tools, Business Model, and Products and Services. I reviewed my business case using the Business Model Canvas, re-evaluated my customer segments using the Empathy Map Canvas and considered how best to validate my market research. I learnt about net profit, cash flow and operating costs. I was introduced to Brightbooks, Process Street and Airtable, all free software products that I am now using in the day-to-day running of my business.”
Like Roxy, Nicola then arranged a one-to-one information clinic at the BIPC Brighton & Hove, BIPC Sussex’s regional Centre, where she was given recommendations of networks and people to talk to, suggestions about information resources she could access and websites she could refer to through the library. “I had no idea what to expect, but again found myself impressed. I spent an hour talking to two excellent Information Specialists about my business, my ideas for growth and the challenges I was facing.”
One Dareham-based business, Crescent Research, used BIPC Norfolk and MENTA’s Reset. Restart programme to help generate new business ideas, look at digital marketing tools and strategies, as well as building customer relationships and re-adjusting and re-assessing their cost base.
Tracey, founder of the business, which helps locate missing heirs and reunites individuals with unclaimed assets, also attended networking sessions, which has allowed her to meet other entrepreneurs and hear about their business journeys. “Getting to know others who have also started the new business journey has been beneficial and it’s great to see how everyone is progressing at different stages of their journey, sharing tips, ideas and resources.”
The programme also allowed Tracey to look at the different areas of her business using the Business Model Canvas and focus on the areas which needed more time, resource and thought.
Another Norfolk-based business, bear, founded by Bryony Fayers, which sells sustainable and responsibly sourced products for the family used Reset. Restart for one-to-one sessions with MENTA just as she was starting her business. “The team has been ever so accommodating and understanding about how different people are approaching setting up a new business and for me, it’s been chaotic. The one-to-one sessions have been incredible. The session was warm and relaxed, and so, so useful.”
Lottie Katie Russell, founder of L K Designs, a graphic design and illustration studio, also used BIPC Norfolk’s Reset. Restart networking sessions, “They were so informative and filled with a diverse group of like-minded people in very different fields. They were monthly meetings with a guest speaker at each to discuss different topics that we hadn’t necessarily thought about before. This helped me to drive forward with my small business and put into practice a lot of the skills I had learnt to create my website, social media pages and Etsy shop.”
Another business which benefitted from discussing their ideas with like-minded people was BIPC Worcestershire’s Wise Owl Tuition Kidderminster founder, Danielle Hickey. “The small groups that we worked in enabled us to have more specific discussion that was relevant to our individual business. Feedback on our ideas from the trainers and other participants proved equally valuable. It was most beneficial to be taken seriously as small business owners, but to be supported and be amongst others who were at a similar stage in their young businesses too.”
“The support has enabled me to focus on the next steps for growth of my business, and how to achieve them. It also encouraged me to consider my valuable difference as a business, and what I specifically contribute to the market. I made a timeline business plan in pictorial format to hang on my office wall and have achieved the first three steps of it six months ahead of schedule. The opening of another office suite downstairs and taking on two associate tutors to cope with demand - before I have even started to advertise! I was afraid to look to expand, due to my lack of experience in business. Rob and Phil helped me during my one-to-one to develop the confidence to commit to my ideas.”
20 August 2021
What does your business do?
It’s a simple enough question. And one you presumably answer on a regular basis. Customers need to know, current and potential employees want to understand, and potential partners or investors are keen to get under the skin of your venture. Indeed, how you answer this simple question can therefore secure sales, inspire staff and ensure the very future of your operation. No pressure then...
Yet despite this importance, “What do you do?” is a question that too often inspires an inadequate answer. And that’s usually because we fail to recognise the intentions of the person asking; we fail to think about what people want and need to know.
It’s best illustrated with an example.
Let’s imagine a personal trainer, Jo. If she meets someone at a party, they might ask her “Jo, tell me, what do you do?” And after she predictably responds with ‘Oh, I’m a personal trainer’, there’s a space to fill. And a number of ways to fill it.
Jo could say, “So what do I do? Well it’s lots of gym sessions obviously. I feel like I’m always sweating! But my clients are lovely and it’s a really fun job. And it’s basically impossible not to stay in shape, so I think I will have another vol-au-vent”.
Or Jo could say, “So what do I do? Well I hope I help people feel better about themselves, normally when they’ve struggled to lose weight - which is where I was a few years ago. It’s mostly 1-2-1, but I do online classes too so I can be accessible for everyone whatever their situation which I think is important”.
Which of those is more compelling? Which tells you more about Jo? Which gets you on the hook to find out more? Which version of Jo would you be likely to recommend and hire?
It’s the second one, obviously. But why does it work? Simply, because it recognises the core elements that make a good brand story. It understands a problem, presents a solution, contains a motivation and touches on elements of differentiation. It even shows a good understanding of the audience and why they would be interested in her services in the first place. It comes from empathy, and it understands the value that she adds to her clients.
And when anyone asks what your business does, you need to do exactly the same.
To make it easier for businesses to do that, we created Story Cube. It’s a simple framework that helps every business understand the story they need to tell by answering six simple questions: What problem do you solve? What solution do you provide? Why does your organisation exist? What sets it apart? How do you reach your customers? And, what obstacles could trip you up on the way? The combination of your answers are the basis for a compelling brand story you can use to sell to clients, inspire staff and encourage partners to work with you.
On the last Friday of every month we run a webinar that goes into more detail about Story Cube in order to help your business tell a compelling story and, ultimately, grow. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, what experience you have or what you want to achieve, the Story Cube framework can help you get to grips with what you need to communicate.
Blog by Robbie Dale, creative director at The House London
08 June 2021
Fast forward, and just over a year later and we’re bringing business inspiration and support to more people than ever before by growing the Network from 14 to over 100 libraries. Offering insights and access to free resources, training and events – both online and in-person – BIPCs in regional and local libraries around the UK, can help you imagine, start or develop your business.
Business & IP Centres can open up the path to entrepreneurship for anyone with an idea. While each Centre is equipped with a core set of resources, such as up-to-date market research and business databases, they are brought to life by a tailored and highly individual programme of events, workshops and one-to-ones, delivered in collaboration with local business leaders, role model entrepreneurs and community partners.
This support has been invaluable for over 26,000 business owners supported by the BIPC during the COVID-19 pandemic. In our recent annual survey, almost a quarter of users agreed that the service had helped them gain confidence and resilience to steer their business through the challenges of the past year. Over 3,600 business owners attended events as part of Reset. Restart, an emergency online programme launched last year to provide new skills and resilience to all SMEs affected.
Whether you’re just setting out, need advice on protecting your intellectual property, or simply have a brilliant idea you want to discuss, we’re here to guide you. To find out more about how you can join a thriving business community in your local library, visit our National Network page and find your closest BIPC.
01 June 2021
Sustainability is at the core of Tracey’s handmade beauty business. Beautiful Ethical is a company that offers natural and luxurious wellbeing gift boxes as a way for people to treat themselves or someone they love to positive self-care.
After losing her job during the pandemic, Tracey launched Beautiful Ethical to promote self-care, positivity, and mindfulness with an ethical focus. Read on to find out how she ensures sustainability remains at the centre of her business…
“I love animals and nature, so choosing cruelty free beauty products and making eco-friendly choices are a part of my everyday life and central to the Beautiful Ethical ethos.
Since people like David Attenborough have highlighted the environmental impact we are having on our planet, I think that protecting the environment and living a more sustainable life has become something we’re all more aware of and people are now considering how they can make a difference. For me, starting a business that puts sustainability at its core was always a no-brainer.
All our products are cruelty free, vegan and handmade by small brands in the UK – helping us to keep our carbon footprint down and support the local economy. Our products contain natural ingredients and are made by hand, plus everything is made in small batches to ensure that waste is kept to a minimum. In addition to this, we also:
- Look for products that use sustainable ingredients, such as soy or rapeseed in our candles and wax melts
- Use eco-friendly packaging so that everything can be recycled, or is biodegradable or compostable
- Use an environmentally friendly printing company
- Offset our carbon footprint through Ecologi – an organisation that funds climate-positive projects around the world, including tree planting.”
Tracey has used Business & IP Centre Leeds' services to access free resources and attend webinars and one-to-one sessions which have helped with "friendly, straightforward and practical advice in areas such as designing a website, social media and marketing”.
Find out more about Beautiful Ethical over on their website.
19 March 2021
Not everyone can afford a professional photographer, especially when you are starting a new business and having to spin a number of plates including and not limited to marketing, research and finance... But these days almost everyone has a great camera in their pocket or bag. Today’s smartphones are all pretty good with a good quality lens (or maybe multiple lenses) and software that makes some great photography decisions for you.
I’m Sam Lane and I have been taking photos since I was around 10 years old. I have over 30 years of experience in Marketing Communications working for some amazing brands including Microsoft and I set up a Limited company in 2013 covering both Commercial and Social photography projects. Commercial clients include the British Library, Network Rail and High Speed 1 (that owns and operates St Pancras International station); I have had the pleasure of photographing the Queen, Sir Elton John and John Legend as well as over 85 weddings including two in Australia and one in the US!
So I know what it is like to work in a business and not finding enough time to work on the business. A few years ago the Business & IP Centre ran a(nother) fantastic Start Up Day and invited me to do a session on smartphone photography. This evolved into two-hour workshop – face to face when we are allowed, but now perfectly manageable via Zoom – which gives some practical tips and tricks about how to take better photos using your smartphone, whatever make or model; whatever your skill level; and whatever your business needs.
This workshop is aimed at start-ups, small business owners and entrepreneurs who have brilliant ideas but maybe not the money to pay for professional, outsourced help.
We start by looking at ways of optimising your camera phone settings and identifying some features that are going to be helpful as you take more photos – switching on the camera grid being one great example.
We touch on how to actually take a photo, and moving you from taking a snap to taking a more considered photo.
And really getting to grips with storytelling as “a picture speaks a 1000 words”.
We also look at the importance of planning to make sure that you don’t waste your valuable time. Imagine you are paying someone else to take pictures for you – they’d need to know where, when and what you want the photo of, but also why and how they are going to be used…
We focus (you see what I did there?) on what makes a good photo with the key photographic principles of Lighting and Composition. Ever heard of the Rule of thirds for example?
Even as a professional I know that life is too short to spend time editing so I will give you some tips on making simple edits, mainly using the in-camera editing tools, that help take your images from good to great.
We touch on saving, sharing and storing the images and then focus back on YOU.
My favourite part of the workshop (apart from seeing and hearing your “lightbulb moments” – AE/AF Lock to mention just one) is then finding out about your businesses, looking at your website images and social channels and getting peer group insight from other attendees about what looks good and / or could be improved.
I’ve been amazed - and humbled - at the talent I have seen. People who are thinking about it or just starting out; and those already running small businesses and even growing them - from belly dancers and fitness instructors to tango shoes and pet accessory manufacturers – all with unique challenges but the one common factor – the desire for great photos.
From my experience of running the workshops, we all learn something, especially me!
I look forward to seeing new and inspiring people and hope to meet people face to face at the BIPC later in 2021!
You can find Sam's workshops listed on our Events page: https://www.bl.uk/business-and-ip-centre/workshops-and-events
09 March 2021
This Women's History Month we, at the Business & IP Centre, are shining the light on female inventors. Let's hear more from the curator from our historical patent collection, Steven Campion, on just some of his favourite inventions patented by women.
'Although women have always found solutions to the problems around them, social and historical factors mean little of this was recorded. Women inventors would have had fewer resources and faced discriminatory barriers at every step of their journey – often having their contributions downplayed or overlooked entirely.
Therefore just 62 out of the 14,359 patents granted in England between 1617 and 1852 were awarded to women. In fact before 1965, the proportion of women in the UK patent system was generally between 2% and 3%. The proportion has since risen at an accelerating pace, having reached 6.8% in 1998, and then almost doubling to reach 12.7% in 2017. As the number of women working within the STEM sector increases, we can hopefully look forward to this number rising further.
But as for those patents that have already been filed, I have collated some of the most notable and fascinating examples of problem-solving women who were at the forefront of innovation.
Before we begin, a quick caveat. Earlier patents may exist for some of the inventions given in this list but the following women are widely considered the inventor of their ‘thing’ because it worked (earlier versions didn't in some cases), or it was popular, or it is recognisable to the form as it exists today, and so on. It is also worth saying that there are many other female innovators and inventors we could have mentioned. Not all acquired patents, some weren’t given credit, many were trapped by the conditions of their time. However this is a selection of some notable examples
Mary Anderson – windscreen wiper
A copy of the U.S. patent can be seen here.
Mary Anderson visited New York City in the winter of 1903. This was the year before the subway opened and the streetcar was a popular way to get around town. During her trip it snowed heavily, forcing the streetcar drivers to frequently stop to clear the snow and ice from their windscreens. When this became unmanageable, they would instead drive with their head sticking out of an open window.
Delays and open windows of course meant discomfort for the passengers, especially someone like Anderson who was not used to the chill of a New York winter.
Knowing there had to be a solution, Anderson began work as soon as she returned to Alabama. Her finished prototype was a radially swinging rubber blade which would wipe the windscreen clear of obstruction. Fairly similar to the modern-day windscreen wiper, except Anderson’s invention was manually operated by a handle inside by the driver (in 1917 another female inventor, Charlotte Bridgwood, was granted a patent for the first electrically powered windscreen wiper).
On the 10th November 1903, U.S. patent no. 743,801 was granted to Anderson for her ‘window-cleaning device’. Unfortunately not many people saw the worth in her invention, saying it would be a dangerous distraction to the driver. Cars were also not particularly common and Ford’s Model T was still 5 years away. Anderson therefore made no money from her patent and it eventually lapsed.
As driving became more commonplace, the windscreen wiper was eventually adapted for automotive use, today being an important safety device that is a legal requirement in most countries.
Mary Walton – pollution reducing devices
A copy of U.S. patent no. 221,880 can be seen here; the historic IP collection at the library contains a paper copy of the GB version of the patent (GB 3,512 of 1879).
A copy of U.S. patent no. 237,422 can be seen here.
Elevated trains were installed throughout the larger U.S. cities in the second half of the 19th century, unfortunately bringing a large amount of air and noise pollution for those living nearby. Mary Walton, who lived beside the tracks in Brooklyn, worked to solve both problems, earning herself a place in history as a STEM female pioneer.
In 1879 she was granted U.S. patent no. 221,880 for ‘Improvement in locomotive and other chimneys’. Her invention reduced air pollution by diverting chimney smoke through water tanks. This process dissolved and trapped the pollutants in the water, which would later be flushed into the sewer system.
Next, she realised that wooden elements of the track were amplifying the noise of the trains. Using a model railway she built in her basement, she came up with a working solution – encasing specific sections of the track in weatherproof wooden boxes filled with sand. This successfully absorbed the majority of the vibrations; greatly reducing the noise levels. Before Anderson, many noted engineers and inventors tried and failed to find a solution, including Thomas Edison.
After successful trials, Walton was granted U.S. patent no. 237,422 in 1881. She sold the patent rights to New York City’s Metropolitan Railroad, and before long the system was in place throughout America.
Josephine Cochrane - first commercially successful dishwashing machine
A copy of the U.S. patent can be seen here; the historic IP collection at the library contains a paper copy of the GB version of the patent (GB 9,895 of 1887).
Josephine Cochrane, a 19th century socialite, often hosted grand dinner parties at her mansion in Illinois. She was fortunate enough to have servants to wash up afterwards, but Cochrane was unhappy to discover the occasional chip in her heirloom china. She therefore decided to wash the dishes herself, though soon became bored of the task.
So bored in fact, that Cochrane designed a machine to take over. Her machine used water pressure to clean dishes held in place by wire racks – a system recognisable to anyone with a modern dishwasher.
The first few male engineers she hired predictably insisted on changing her design. They were convinced they knew better than an untrained woman, but their changes never worked. Eventually her design was built and U.S. patent no. 335,139 was granted for her ‘Dish washing machine’ in 1886.
At the time the machine was too expensive for most homeowners and required more hot water than the typical home could generate. But after winning a top prize at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, orders poured in from hotels, restaurants, and hospitals.
In 1898 Cochrane started her own company which she managed until her death in 1913. In 1926 the company was acquired by Hobart, which went on to produce the first successful home dishwashers under the KitchenAid brand in the 1940s.
Today half of all UK households have a dishwasher thanks to the pioneering work of Josephine Cochrane – presumably the other half wishes they had room for one.
Margaret Knight - machine for making flat-bottomed paper bags
A copy of the U.S. patent can be seen here.
In 1867 Margaret Knight started work at a paper bag factory. At the time, mass produced paper bags had envelope style bottoms, which were both weak and narrow. Flat-bottomed bags were stronger and made packing easier, but there was no machine that could make these. Instead a production line of 30 women were employed to cut, fold, and glue these together. Flat-bottomed bags were therefore expensive and uncommon.
Knight was an inventor at heart. At the age of just 12 she had invented a loom safety device that was used extensively by the cotton industry (but unfortunately not patented). She therefore soon developed a machine that could manufacture flat-bottomed bags from start to finish – something male inventors had been trying and failing to do for years. In 1871 Knight applied for a patent, but was rejected as a similar machine was recently patented by Charles Annan.
Before her application, Knight had visited several machine shops in order to create an iron prototype. At one of these, Annan saw the plans and decided to steal the invention. Knight filed a patent interference lawsuit, with a mass of documentation and witness testimony on her side. Annan could only really state that no woman could design such a machine. Knight of course won, and U.S. patent no. 116,842 was granted for her ‘Improvement in paper-bag machines’ in 1871.
Knight would continue to innovate, being awarded many more patents over the course of her lifetime.
Melitta Bentz – the coffee filter
The industrial property right was granted with registration on page 1145 of the 8th July 1908 edition of the patent gazette of the Imperial Patent Office in Berlin – see image.
Like many of us, Melitta Bentz enjoyed starting her morning with a cup of coffee. What she didn’t enjoy was the bitter tasting coffee grounds still left floating in her cup.
At the time, coffee was usually brewed by pouring ground coffee into hot water and then waiting for the grounds to settle to the bottom. Sieves and cloth bags would help, but they either let too many coffee grounds through, or would be so narrow that the coffee would be cold by the time it was filtered.
One day Bentz had a flash of inspiration. She drilled holes into the bottom of a brass pot, which she then sat on top of a cup. Next, she placed a piece of blotting paper from her son’s school exercise book into the bottom of the pot, adding freshly ground coffee on top. Bentz then poured hot water into the pot and watched as clean, filtered coffee dripped into the cup below – she had invented pour-over coffee and the coffee filter.
In 1908 Bentz was granted utility model 343,556 for her ‘Coffee filter with a domed underside, recessed bottom and inclined flow holes’ from the patent office in Berlin. The same year she founded the company ‘Melitta’ and began to sell her pot and filter paper. In the 1930s Melitta would go on to create the cone shaped filter and today, the still family owned business, produces over 50 million filters a day.
Despite the ease of modern coffee brewing methods, pour over coffee has remained popular amongst coffee lovers, who appreciate the high level of control it provides.
Elizabeth Magie – the landlord’s game
A copy of the U.S. patent can be seen here.
For the longest time it was an accepted fact that Monopoly was invented by Charles Darrow in 1933. It wasn’t until the 1970s that a decade long trademark infringement lawsuit revealed the actual truth – Monopoly was heavily based on another board game patented decades earlier by a progressive woman called Elizabeth Magie.
Magie was granted U.S. patent no. 748,626 in 1904 for her board game ‘The Landlord's Game’. It was designed to illustrate the anti-monopolist theories of 19th century economist Henry George, and as such it came with two rule sets – one monopolist, the other anti-monopolist. The idea being players would see the latter was the morally correct choice.
Failing to find a publisher, Magie self-published the game in 1906. It sold poorly, but a local economics professor picked up a copy and played it with his students. At the time it was not uncommon to create handmade versions of published games, and that’s exactly what several of these students did, and it’s exactly what several friends of these students did, and so on.
As the homemade versions spread, the game would change a little here and there. New house rules would be added and the street names would be updated to reflect local towns. Ironically, people thought it was more fun to own land, charge rent, and bankrupt friends and family, and so the anti-monopolist rules were left permanently to one-side.
Fast forward to 1932, and Charles Darrow is introduced to a home-made version of the game. He immediately creates his own copy and starts to sell it under the name ‘Monopoly’. It does well and he sells the board game rights, becoming the first millionaire game designer in history. By contrast, Magie is said to have earned only $500 from her board game.
Hedy Lamarr – frequency-hopping
A copy of the U.S. patent can be seen here.
Hedy Lamarr was a Hollywood icon who was promoted as ‘the most beautiful woman in film’. She was so startlingly beautiful in fact, that her brilliant mind was largely overlooked her entire life. It wasn’t until her later years, and sadly really only after her death that the world would learn of her part in the development of the wireless technologies we take for granted today.
It was World War Two, and Lamarr had heard that German U-boats were easily jamming the signals that guided the radio-controlled Allied torpedoes. She hit on a brilliant solution – if the signal hopped from frequency to frequency rapidly, then it would be near impossible to detect and jam.
She asked a composer called George Antheil to help realise her invention, and together they created a system that used paper piano rolls, perforated with a complex and random pattern, to make a signal hop rapidly between 88 frequencies – the same number of keys on a piano.
U.S. patent no. 2,292,387 was granted for their ‘Secret communication system’ in 1942, however the Navy declined taking their idea forward. It is thought the invention was not taken seriously as it was created by an actor who was world famous for her beauty.
However during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, about three years after the patent had expired, the technology was adapted and in use. Fast forward many more years and frequency-hopping would be foundational to modern wireless technologies, such as GPS, Bluetooth, and secure Wi-Fi.'
For more on intellectual property and female founders, you can visit at the Business & IP Centre resources at bl.uk/bipc.
18 February 2021
Business experts will tell you that to be successful in a crowded market you need to have a great idea, an idea that stands out from the competition. Many great ideas are born out of a personal aspiration to solve a problem, a problem that affects a group of consumers and represents a gap in the market waiting to be filled.
In 2016, Nicola Lespeare set out to do just that. She launched Nicola Lespeare Greeting Cards “to solve the problem regarding the lack of visible representation and availability of Black characters in greeting cards in the UK”.
"The UK is a multicultural society, yet the vast majority of greeting card shelves fail to reflect this.”
Her vision was to “initiate change and increase diversity in the greeting cards industry”. Every year, Nicola would search retail stores, looking for the ideal birthday card for her sister. “I asked sales advisors which aisle the Black greetings cards were located and the response was always the same, ‘we don’t sell them’.”
Having rediscovered her passion for drawing, Nicola embarked on amplifying the prominence of Black character cards and creating lasting change in the greeting cards market.
“My sister deserved a card that she would resonate with – an illustration that looked like her, instead of a generic card with pictures of flowers, teddies and cupcakes, so I decided to create my own! I purchased a set of coloured pencils and sketched an illustration of a Black girl with radiant skin and a fabulous afro, surrounded by a bunch of vibrant balloons. My sister loved her surprise and was so excited to receive a birthday card that reflected her deep skin tone and afro hair. Seeing her eyes light up with joy made me want to recreate the same happy experience for others.”
Nicola had identified a gap in the UK greeting cards market and consumers in the Black community who shared her struggle to find relatable, stylish cards. Armed with pencils and a great idea, she was ready to launch her brand.
“Nicola Lespeare Greeting Cards is an aspirational brand specialising in distinctive, illustrated designs inspired by fabulous afros and deep skin tones. Representation is key to instilling self-worth, building confidence and creating a sense of belonging. Receiving a card that you identify with, whatever your age, is a special feeling, a Nicola Lespeare Greeting Card instantly makes you smile because the giver has considered a card that reflects you!
“The response has been brilliant, customers and card recipients leave feedback and respond to our newsletters with comments such as ‘This card looks like me!’, ‘Great to see positive images’ and ‘Representation matters!’
“Being new to starting a business, I found the British Library’s webinar, Introduction to Copyright for Business, valuable when registering my logo and the Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Cultural Changemakers was a highly insightful event. An informative one-to-one business session with an advisor at the Business & IP Centre Nottingham facilitated mentor support through a Nottingham business programme, this enabled me to align my priorities with my brand vision.
“The Metro, You Magazine and The Strategist have featured my cards in online articles which has increased our circle of brand supporters and social media presence. Nicola Lespeare Greeting Cards recently joined online greeting card retailer Moonpig as well.
“This is a really exciting milestone because it means enabling a wider audience to celebrate with Black greeting cards and choose touching sentiments that reflect the important people in their lives.’’
10 February 2021
Around the Business & IP Centre National Network, Reset. Restart webinars have been supporting entrepreneurs to pivot and adapt to the ever-changing business climate. We’ve caught up with businesses from around the UK who have made changes to their businesses since attending the programme's webinars.
Some business owners struggle with various aspects of running a business, planning, forecasting, research. Mario Spiridonov, founder of Santa Sofia coffee took part in our Reset. Restart programme to help with just those things.
Mario incorporated Santa Sofia in December 2019, with a B2B business plan. When COVID-19 struck and disrupted his plans, he turned to the BIPC’s Reset. Restart webinars to help learn about and research different markets.
“When the hospitality industry was in lockdown, I was in shock, as I had stock worth of £5,000 which had a shelf-life of less than a year and I wasn’t eligible for any of the government support grants. After browsing Eventbrite, I signed up for the BIPC Leeds’ webinars to learn more about marketing, forecasting finances and networking. One webinar in particular, with Helen from Collective Stories on getting your products in the retail market was an amazing experience. I learnt so much and Helen was so passionate. I had a follow up one-to-one session with her, which really inspired me.
I then signed up to a finance webinar with Gareth Allen coaching and really learnt the importance of forecasting, again, I immediately signed up for a one-to-one session and he helped me navigate my finances in a better way. He helped me understand the importance of expecting expenditure and money coming into my business finances. As a follow-up, I’ve also been supported with great market research, which is unbelievable. I just can’t explain in words how grateful I am for all the support I have had from BIPC.
The three main takeaways from the programme have been: Planning is important, networking is key, do your research and never stop learning about your market and finances. Since attending the webinars, I have started doing my forecast on a weekly basis, preparing presentations ahead of approaching clients and learning more about different aspects of my market.
At the start of lockdown, I wasn’t eligible for any grant money and having invested with my own capital money, three months before, was such a stressful time. However, I have since managed to secure a bounce back loan, which is great. Now I can start again from scratch."
For The Shortlisted founder, Silvia Pingitore, the pandemic opened up some opportunities both for her entertainment and music magazine, but also in terms of business support.
“It’s difficult to see and celebrate opportunities for you when this means somebody else losing their job. As a journalist, I have been able to interview many more people than usual in the music industry during 2020 because tours were cancelled and artists were suddenly available. Was I happy to interview all these big stars? Of course I was. But I won’t forget at what cost this was made possible.
I had previously taken part in so many amazing BIPC webinars, one-to-ones, panels and events prior to joining Reset. Restart that I was 100% sure this programme was going to be great too. Fluff and pointlessness are the worst things when it comes to online business events. It’s very easy to emerge from webinars extremely annoyed and confused, but this will never happen with BIPC programmes. They have structure, quality, plenty of practical examples and sense of purpose, in addition to bring together a great community of like-minded entrepreneurs.
Since attending the webinars, I learned to let things go. When you’re doing everything by yourself in business, it’s easy to get lost into three million different things, and if you absolutely want to do perfectly in every of the 50 jobs you’re performing, you’re going to burn out very soon. There are things that can be learned, other can be outsourced after you’ve learned how and what to outsource, but certain things just need to be scrapped. Less is more, and putting this principle into practice is the biggest change I’ve made to my business since attending the webinars… it sounds weird, but I basically learned to procrastinate!”
One business which is putting its best foot forward is Esentzia, who produce luxury men’s home slippers. The slippers are designed to be comfortable with added health technology in the insole. Brigitte, who founded the company, manufactures the product in the UK using only biodegradable and recyclable materials.
The Reset. Restart programme came at the right time for Brigitte, who is at the start of her business journey, who used the webinars to learn about business models, market research, marketing, finance and more. “It has also helped me to clear my mind and to focus on my business. I feel more confident in knowing where to find information and who I should address when I need help. Finally, I feel part of a group, part of a community that helps me to launch my dream, I feel to be in a positive environment to succeed.”
Alongside the main programme, Brigitte also attended the smaller group Q&As which helped cement all the elements from the main webinars to take into consideration and to keep in mind “what people value”. From these follow-up sessions Brigitte received additional practical support, with spreadsheets to help her create her financial forecast and the idea to use offcuts from mattress production as a recycled material in her product.
It’s not just Brigitte who is looking for ways to make her product more sustainable, BIPC Leeds’ entrepreneur, Omar Bahadur, founded Faraday after graduating from Bradford University. Faraday is natural raspberry rose flavoured water with similar caffeine to your typical energy drink without the artificial ingredients, high sugar content or carbonation. Sustainability is also at the fore of the business as it’s served in an aluminium bottle that’s resealable and reusable.
Whilst working on his business as a side hustle to his full-time job, Omar invested everything he earnt into his idea. “Since our limited first run of 2,000 bottles in July 2020, Faraday is now stocked in a total of 10 independent stores in Bradford and Leeds, as well as making sales on our website offering free UK delivery on our cases of 12.”
“Faraday’s first offering has been subjected to two years of R&D since inception in November 2018 prior to commercialisation. We are in a proof of concept phase collating feedback on our pricing, recipe and packaging. We landed a Bounce Back loan last year and this will be used to scale-up before seeking angel investment next year.”
Before the pandemic Omar used BIPC Leeds, in Leeds Central Library, for workshops, access the free market data and IP clinics. During the lockdown, Omar, with the help of BIPC staff has continued to access data remotely and attend Reset. Restart webinars on dealing with retailers along with one-to-ones with the delivery partner. “The webinar highlighted the importance of storytelling, and on a deeper level the DNA behind the brand as opposed to simply focusing on the product. This prompted me to work on developing this, for example, what are the three things I want Faraday to stand for in the minds of consumers? Natural, sustainable and inspiring. This then dictates everything we do from packaging design through to recipe and choice of words on the website as opposed to vice versa.”
Omar has also made sure his intellectual property for his product is protected and has taken out UK and US trademarks and a patent for the resealable bottle, which is a novelty with aluminium. This allows the product to be cheaper and more sustainable than using a traditional glass or plastic alternative.
Customer feedback is key to Omar’s plan, “we’re keen to implement the feedback from our customers across all areas. This also includes packing less into a case, strengthening our online presence via our website and Amazon, as well as tweaking the flavouring. Increasing our retail presence is likewise on the agenda. The pandemic has been beneficial for us in the sense that we landed the loan last year, without this I don’t think Faraday would exist today.”
It’s not just Omar who has been thinking about how his brand is seen by consumers. Susan Widlake, founder of Mill House Millinery, used BIPC Cambridgeshire & Peterborough’s Reset. Restart webinars to revisit the messaging to her customers in order to address her appreciation to her local community, which she’ll reflect on her website.
Susan had always had a passion for hats and after travelling the world as an IT auditor, decided to leave the corporate world behind her, return to the UK and turn her passion into a business.
“I now make hats at my home studio, a windmill, just outside Saffron Walden on the Cambridgeshire/Essex border. My hats are named after places and locations that have captured my imagination. I love to incorporate local silk, woven in Sudbury in Suffolk in my designs, and my millinery wire comes from twenty miles away in Essex. A case of inspired globally, created locally.
“Everything I make is unique, from wedding hats to show stopping creations made for racegoers and millinery competitions. I’m particularly proud that one of my pieces was selected from hundreds of entries to be exhibited at London Hat Week in 2020.”
2020 was a challenging year for Susan, with no weddings or events, it could have easily forced her business to stop, however Susan quickly pivoted to online fairs to showcase her designs and started sewing face masks. The thought of her local community was at the forefront of her designs with her Etsy shop stocking prints relating to the local area with crocuses and windmills. These struck a chord with the local tourist information office who saw her designs on Twitter and now stock Susan’s face masks and have put in multiple repeat orders.
She didn’t stop there. “Some ladies in a business network I belong to, Thrive Collective, asked if I’d consider making some sequin face masks for Christmas. I was a little dubious, as wanted them to be both comfortable and washable, so made some samples and got them to market test them. When they were road testing them, people were asking them where they came from, and I was referred to a local boutique, Blue in Saffron Walden. They asked if I could make some for them, and they were then featured on ITV’s Lorraine. These sales totally turned my business around, and have given me a huge amount of local and national exposure.”
Before Reset. Restart, Susan used BIPC’s webinars to help with her online presence. In the space of a few weeks after attending a Getting your business online webinar, “I’d stopped procrastinating, and purchased a domain name, and set up social media accounts”.
“Alongside Reset. Restart, I’ve been attending a millinery business course, and all of the topics have really reinforced the learnings I’ve been getting on the course.” Susan’s best piece of business advice is ‘done is better than perfect’, “I had to accept that in the real world getting your font choice and size doesn’t have to be perfect, and doing something is far better than nothing. My Etsy shop went live with just six product listings.”
Another business owner who attended our Reset. Restart programme is Lea Fletcher. In February 2020, Lea started a small business as a sole trader, offering business support services. “This started as a friend who had a business needed support and asked me to help out. I used the opportunity to set up Girl Friday Business Support Services. As my friend was an essential service business with key workers, I was required to work during the first COVID-19 lockdown period. My contract came to an end and I was offered other contracts by other businesses. I also applied to Anglia Ruskin University to complete a Master's in Project Management in order to provide additional services from my Girl Friday business and expand the range of services too.
“Unfortunately, I was in an abusive relationship and I had to leave home for my safety and go and stay in a Refuge. Whilst I have been living in the Refuge I have not been able to work, however, my current situation and the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown gave me the idea to focus on undertaking a project to help domestic abuse victims and survivors.”
Lea wanted to create a safety application that could be located discretely within existing commercial websites and an online community platform, in collaboration with other service providers, agencies and businesses etc. “The aim is to provide essential information, access to resources, and necessary products and services to help assist current victims and survivors with their ongoing recovery journey. I am very passionate about this having gone through my own experience and now have a back story I can utilize to help others. I am currently researching this project and entering the first stages of establishing the concept.”
The Reset. Restart programme has supported Lea since it started in November 2020. “I have been attending lots of workshops and one-to-one sessions. They have proved to be very helpful and informative. I have attended all the workshops so far, but the one I enjoyed the most was my one-to-one session with a business advisor who helped to give me clarity with my ideas. The workshops came at a crucial time for me and have assisted to give structure to my business and also explore possible pitfalls that I could avoid, amongst other things.”
Lea’s new business to support her first project is called Adhoc Project Management. “I am currently going through the process of setting up and applying for funding in order to undertake my project to help victims and survivors of domestic abuse.”
If you'd like to see what webinars are taking place with your local BIPC, or from London, visit our Reset. Restart webpage.
Innovation and enterprise blog recent posts
- Turn your brilliant idea into a business
- The Pandemic Business Boom
- Revisiting our Reset. Restarters
- The Story Cube: What you do matters
- Nurture your ambitions with the Business & IP Centre National Network
- Beautiful Ethical's top tips for making your business sustainable
- Meet our delivery partner: Sam Lane
- Seven female patent pioneers you should know
- Finding a gap in the market. Nicola Lespeare Greeting Cards
- How entrepreneurs have Reset and Restarted their businesses