Innovation and enterprise blog

16 June 2020

A week in the life of… Rachel Jones, founder of SnapDragon Monitoring

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Rachel Jones is founder and Head Dragon at SnapDragon Monitoring in Edinburgh. SnapDragon delivers online brand protection, seller insights and market intelligence to brands around the world. Rachel founded SnapDragon based on her experiences of defending her first creation the Totseat – a washable squashable highchair for babies who lunch – from counterfeits. The British Library's Business & IP Centre played a significant role in the market research undertaken for both businesses. Most recently Rachel was the first Entrepreneur in Residence at BIPC Glasgow, based at the Mitchell Library. SnapDragon is the recent recipient of a Queen’s Award for Innovation 2020.

SnapDragon team

Groundhog Week... It’s the first week of May. My favourite month. Usually. Awoken by insistent birdsong at 4am after yet another sporadic night of what could only be defined as a snoozing. Might as well get up. Husband is dressing, in preparation for 5am call to Singapore. Dog peed, fed enough to tide her over til 6am, mug of welcome tea and a couple of hours work before breakfast and a rigorous walk. My makeshift ‘office’ is a corner of our sitting room, sandwiched between well-thumbed texts and an ancient sofa of memories. My desk, an extended (vertically) dressing table inherited from my late mother, which previously housed small geological specimens, now with ergonomic investment to help 100+ hour weeks.

We’re in lockdown. The middle? Still the beginning? Either way the hell persists. One day we were in the office, the next was a work from home trial. Not one technical hiccup. So we didn’t go back. We’re incredibly lucky. We are healthy, there’s food in the fridge and there is work to do.

But I’m a lousy mother currently and this bothers me. Greatly.

Edinburgh's blossom

A recent catch up call with a close friend, thankfully not on Zoom, has wrenched my jealous heart. Furloughed happily on a lovely salary, painting the house, gardening furiously, enjoying having University-aged offspring at home and imagining retirement. Other friends struggle valiantly on: juggling working and childcare, home schooling and life as single parents, life in a flat, responsibilities for the vulnerable, loathing their living companion/s, not enough money or patience to go round. And those in the middle, silently weeping with responsibility weighing heavily on hearts and mind. At the front line of caring, mending, selling, delivering, collecting, working to keep the economy going. Mouths to feed, and not just their own.

Livelihoods of many many families lying firmly in their laps.

I’m one of the latter. Not brave enough to be a front-line carer, but working day and night to keep a business afloat (and ignoring my family, I’m sorry to say, while I do so). I am horrible to live with. My team of 26, of whom I am inordinately proud, need their salaries, motivation, and sanity and our clients’ businesses need us to keep them profitable. I will not let the virus get the better of me.

SnapDragon Monitoring fights fakes online. We identify and remove infringing products from online marketplaces, social media sites, and websites. We use intellectual property (IP) to remove the fakes and fakers. Copyright – words and images – trade marks, design rights and patents. It’s cheap and efficient. Four minutes to remove a link from, say, Amazon, with the correct IP to prove originality. Why bother? At best, fake products cause disappointment. Less brilliantly, serious harm. Take brakes or beauty products and you can be scarred for life. Meanwhile those profiting from the sale, fund drugs rings, prostitution, drug trafficking and worse. And the brands being ripped off? All too often suffer in silence. As can their customers.

Fakes are no longer the domain of luxury goods. And with COVID-19, according to Europol, sales of online fakes are already up 400%. The uninitiated, forced into remote shopping, are being too easily scammed and need help. Week two of lockdown saw 50% of our much-loved client base, most of which are SMEs, pause their subscriptions. We couldn’t blame them. Supply chains were stuck in China. Shops were closed. Staff furloughed. Income non-existent. But sales of fakes proliferate, so there’s the moral dilemma of knowing our technology is much needed versus the financial dilemma that we all need to eat. It turns out, there’s really no choice. Half the team is furloughed to stretch the budget. Those part-time, juggling childcare and home schooling, the first to appreciate the option of being so. I vow (silently) to ensure a working from home allowance rewards the committed for future adventures (and paying the bills of course).

Rachel's dog at the bottom of Arthur's Seat

This morning, pre 6am, I meet yet another iteration of the weekly cash flow forecast. I hate Excel but thankfully our FC is amazing and he makes the spreadsheets sing. Today’s priorities are projections, our weekly leadership team meeting, one of the thrice weekly whole team updates (key points from which are circulated by email to everyone); understanding the new funding options being launched today and applying for whatever is appropriate, following up an enquiry about supplier validation for PPE (which has become a core competence suddenly); ensuring bright, sparking new inventors aiming for crowdfunding have considered what intellectual property they should register and recommending the British Library, the Intellectual Property Office and the European Intellectual Property Office as excellent resources.

An office visit is mandatory: to collect the mail and to run the taps (to avoid legionella and ensure compliance with our landlord’s edict). It’ll be nice to have an additional excuse to get out, other than the dog. Will check in with various mentees, not least those gathered as part of my Entrepreneur in Residence-ship at BIPC Glasgow last year. Life for some is not at all easy and it’s really important that entrepreneurs who live alone are not feeling even more isolated than usual. Then there are our Board papers to circulate, although I suspect the Board is rather tired of my updates, and others’ Board papers to digest for the voluntary boards of which I am part, for later in the week. Groundhog Day should still be only a film.

The highlight will be planning, at some point, deliveries to each and every one of the team to celebrate next week’s announcement that SnapDragon is to receive a Queen’s Award for Innovation. We plan a Zoom party with miniature bottles of fizz delivered to all. Tech businesses are very rarely awarded this accolade. The thought of being able to make this award public spurs me on.

The team celebrate a delighted email from an Australian client as to the efficient identification and removal of a frightening number of fakes professing to be his product. Someone has a birthday and is enjoying the cake I had dispatched from the local baker, who has pivoted from corporate to home deliveries. We discuss topics for the weekly Lunch and Learn, and issue covert instructions for an online gathering at 6pm the following week, eluding the rationale.

Somewhere there needs to be time to wave at the long-suffering family, eat, ignore eight feet of clean washing (I measure it vertically), drink tea, brush my teeth and send virtual hug texts to family and friends. I miss the hugs. Mustn’t forget the food run for isolating next door neighbour. Sanity, such that it is, is necessitated by the dog’s need for a vigorous stride up Arthur’s Seat (Edinburgh’s extinct volcano) after breakfast, or round the local golf course, thankfully currently free of calls of ‘fore’. The blossom, birdsong and oddly-coconut-smelling gorse provide all to brief opportunities for the odd deep breath. There isn’t an empty minute. At midnight, I stick a ‘thank you’ note on the dustbin for the refuse team, as no one felt up to drawing a rainbow. 

View from Arthur’s Seat

Postscript Second week of June
SnapDragon Monitoring, the proud recipient of the Queen’s Award for Innovation, is on track. Most of the Dragons are back from furlough working, at least from their kitchens, and planning holidays – which lightens my heart. 

The ergonomic investments in the sitting room have proved their weight in gold. The family has nearly forgiven me (the pile of washing has not).

The business is, almost, overwhelmed with work and positivity: those who paused their services came back much quicker than anticipated, so the counterfeiters are no longer winning; there is a stream of new clients to onboard; the team is happy and healthy; we are planning a socially distanced, super-safe and supportive working environment in the office; the tech sprint is ahead of target.

And my spreadsheet is singing. Onwards.

21 May 2020

Heart Street - the survival of a vegan street food business

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Evie-May Ellis, founder of vegan street food business, Heart Street, who used BIPC Norfolk to help start-up her business, gives an honest insight into her business during lockdown...

Evie-May
Evie-May, founder of Heart Street

I never enjoyed cooking. Ever.

As part of my home education development, my Mum would often encourage me to take interest in ‘hands on’ activities but I was having none of it. I was never happier than when I was curled up with a notebook, planning a million and one random projects that I believed would be "the next big thing." One of my favourite projects was organising and leading garden tours around Mum's flower beds and our fishpond. The guest list usually included the local vicar and a myriad of elderly ladies with names straight out of the murder mystery programmes my Mum enjoyed watching in the afternoons.

I loved planning, but I never liked cooking.

Food dominated my upbringing, being a symbol of love and affection from both my Mum and my Grandparents. Sundays and special occasions were for incredible roasts laid on by my Nan, with the best cuts of meat and endless silver dishes filled with roasted spuds, Yorkshire puds and multi-coloured veg. When Mum went to work, and my sister and I would work on our studies (and multiple viewings of Sister Act), she would always fret about there being enough food in the house, despite the fact she had stock piled enough to survive a zombie apocalypse.

Skip forward 10 years and you will find me handing out dishfuls of homemade chilli, feeding the array of lovely customers that visit my street food stand, Heart Street, and spreading the message that food is one of the greatest joys in life. This is just one of the amazing privileges that have come my way since I launched the business in April 2019.

I always knew I wanted to run my own business. From the garden tours to my Open University Business Degree, I loved to organise and execute plans and to learn about the processes of ‘business’. Even during my, much misplaced, desire to be a performer I always knew what I really wanted was a cabaret club or a dance troupe. Something I created and that embodied my passions.

Working my way through a number of jobs (recently revealed during a Zoom quiz, that number is 25), I fell in love with hospitality and worked my way to management. During this time I became vegan and started triathlon training. This combination fuelled my love for food as I saw how it could make me stronger and fitter. Plus, vegan cooking is amazing!
With my passion for planning, my restlessness in employment, my love for and connection to food and my ability to cook pretty decent vegan fare, it was inevitable. The natural development was to quit my very well paying job, take all my savings and get into debt to launch a very niche street food business in rural Norfolk.

Heart Street menu

Although I run Heart Street by myself, I never would have been able to get this far without the amazing support of my friends and family and the resources available to me through organisations including NWES and BIPC. I had frequently attended NWES workshops with various business ideas, none of which were viable. But in 2018 I attended a one to one meeting and pitched the idea of Heart Street.

You know, this could work.”

Those words stayed with me, through putting together a wildly optimistic business plan and receiving my start up loan, and I knew I would finally achieve running my own business.

NWES helped support the entire start-up process and provided me with information on the BIPC and the amazing services they offered. There was a wealth of support and contacts to offer advice, and many courses available — I specifically participated in any social media focused training. The most beneficial interaction came from a one-on-one with an accountant during my first year of trading — without that meeting, which was completely free through BIPC, I would never have financially survived my first year, let alone ended with some sort of profit!

I was lucky enough to speak at the BIPC Kings Lynn Hub about my experience as a budding entrepreneur, a truly lovely experience and just one of the many amazing opportunities I have had over this last year. I cannot express enough the importance of organisations like this for hopeful entrepreneurs, especially in such rural areas!

All of that seems years ago now, the energy and excitement of setting up my business sits in stark contrast with the daily worry and feeling of loss that COVID-19 has brought looming over 2020.

This year was due to be big for Heart Street. I had doubled my bookings, reinvested profits to grow the stall and cemented several private events. My reputation was growing and there wasn’t a single weekend in the year I wasn’t due to be out on the stall.

Heart Street food stall

But like many other people across the country, and indeed the world, the pandemic brought everything to a smashing halt. Cancellations started dripping in and then flooded my inbox. Phone calls had to be made, accounts had to be looked at, ambitions and dreams had to be put to one side.

This was about survival.

Considering the horrendous occurrences that are appearing every day on our TVs, newsfeeds and radio stations it feels selfish to focus on what could seem such a minor inconvenience. But my business, as with many small business owners, has been a lifetime of dreaming, planning and hard work. It is the epitome of everything I care about, a culmination of love, kindness, childhood memories and my life experience rolled into something I am so incredibly proud of and I adore.

To have all of that teetering on the brink of collapse is incredibly hard.

But that is one of the risks of running your own business. And that’s when you have to dig really deep and remember why you wanted to do this in the first place. It won’t be the first time you have to do it, and it won’t be the last.

Heart Street food

Starting your own business is not something to be taken lightly, freak global pandemics aside there are so many hard times involved, far more than I ever imagined. Financial concerns seem more prominent, you will work harder than you ever have, and surveys show 58% of small business owners suffer with mental health issues caused by isolation.

It is incredibly hard, but one of the best things you will ever decide to do.

So, my advice to anyone wanting to set up their own business? Be realistic. Think long and hard about if you are willing to risk financial security and free time for a potential pipe dream that may not even work? What would you feel if you don’t go ahead? Disappointed? Relieved?

Talk to as many people as you can. Get advice from organisations such as BIPC and make the most of any classes, webinars or online information they can provide. Knowledge is power! Talk to those who run their own businesses, whether they are in your field or not. Business advice books only get you so far and they won’t be as brutally honest with you as an owner who is down to their last penny!

Most importantly, remember why you are doing this. To be your own boss isn’t enough. What really makes this part of who you are? What message do you care about spreading? Who do you want to be in this world? Because that is what will keep you focused and hopeful through the roughest of times.

As for me and Heart Street, well; COVID-19 has definitely done a good job of derailing us but we are getting back on track. Researching grants and schemes and doing a little bit at a time to try to survive this storm. Survival is the key term here! Many of my street food pals have launched into delivery services, and they are proving rather successful, but this hasn’t been an option for me at this stage.

As such a fledgling business, with less than a years’ trading under my belt, I need to focus on survival and that means being conscious of cash flow. At this moment in time even buying stock would be too much of a financial risk.

Heart Street food

So for now, I am just here, at my desk, in my little office, surrounded by newspaper cuttings, congratulation cards, recipe notes and a calendar full of black crosses.

And I’m doing what I’ve always done — planning.

04 May 2020

Book and podcast recommendations from the BIPC team

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Missing our collections and the lovely members of the team who can help you navigate your way through them? Following on from the book recommendations from our BIPC entrepreneurs for World Book Night last week, we also asked our BIPC team for any suggestions of books, podcasts or online content which you may want to explore during this period. Here are their suggestions of what to get stuck into:

Meron, Business and IP Reference Specialist

In terms of books, She Means Business by Carrie Green is great – it’s insightful, gets you into a 'success' mindset and has amazing 'actions' at the end of every chapter. 

For podcasts, I really like Start-up Stories by Andrew Warner. You get to hear the stories of many amazing entrepreneurs, through all the ups and downs. It’s very useful for visualising how you can overcome struggles yourself. 

The Influencer Podcast is also very good. It is shorter, which I like, and Julie Solomon covers some great topics that would help any entrepreneur at any stage. 

Lola, Subject Librarian in the Business & IP Centre

Testing business ideas: a field guide for rapid experimentation by David J. Bland/Alex Osterwalder. This book explains how systematically testing business ideas dramatically reduces the risk and increases the likelihood of success for any new venture or business project. The visuals/designs make the book fun to read and easy to understand.

Plus, you can find more information on business ideas at https://startups.co.uk/business-ideas/.

Crafts have surged during this period and as a result Crafts Magazine has selected a range of craft-related podcasts to inspire and inform you.

And then if you discover an undiscovered talent that could be the basis of a business, the winner of the Best Start-Up Inspiration Book Award at the 2019 Business Book Awards, The Creative’s Guide to Starting a Business: How to Turn Your Talent into a Career by Harriet Kelsall takes you through the very first steps of defining creative and financial success to ultimately establishing a rewarding start-up.

Neil, Manager of Business & IP Centre

A couple of oldies but goodies that I recommend are:

Loretta, Start-ups in London Libraries Champion, Greenwich

In terms of business podcasts that I recommend for people to listen to I would suggest:

  • Hustle – I have to admit to a vested interest here, as I host this myself with my co-host Farah, but we aim to focus on exploring the business journeys, trials and wins of underrepresented entrepreneurs.
  • Championing Women’s Voices hosted by June Sarpong
  • Nick Bradley’s Scale Up Your Business
  • Lead to win with Michael Hyatt & Megan Hyatt Miller

I also think Andyshvc (a startup investment coach) is great to follow on Instagram.

Members of staff
Loretta, Neil and Mark

Nigel, Research and Business Dev Manager

Two that are worth mentioning, particularly at this moment in time are:

  • Value proposition design by Alexander Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur, Gregory Bernarda, Alan Smith - a very useful approach to assessing changing needs and priorities at a time of massive disruption and developing products and services that meet these needs.  Also an effective process for assessing and revising existing business developments. Feels very topical!
  • Lean customer development: building products your customers will buy by Cindy Alvarez – this showcases really practical approaches to engaging with customers to find out how their needs and experiences are changing.

Gloria, National Network Co-ordinator Apprentice

There's a book I recently read She's Back by Lisa Unwin and Deb Khan.  It's aimed at women who had taken a break in their career (mostly because of motherhood, but also for those who took a break later in life for any other reason). It’s very uplifting and has plenty of resources and practical tips.

Mark, Start-ups in London Libraries Champion, Lewisham

In terms of books – everyone should read Rich Dad, Poor Dad. I would also recommend following the Financial Times and Bloomberg on Instagram.

Alex, BIPC Sheffield

There are some good podcasts coming from Courier at the moment, especially in reaction to the current situation.

Remi, Business Programmes Manager

I have so many recommendations:

  • Profit First by Mike Michalowicz – I think this is a must read for any business. It will have you thinking about finance and operating your business with an exit plan from day dot.
  • Any book by by Seth Godin – he makes all businesses think a little further outside of the box.
  • The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick – a book on how to talk to customers and figure if your business is a good idea when everyone else is lying to you. For me, this is an absolute must-read before investing into your business.

In terms of podcasts, I like Founders Clinic by Andy Ayim and Nana Parry – a podcast where underrepresented entrepreneurs openly and honestly discuss their companies.

Vanesa, Innovating for Growth Project Manager

I recently watched a Netflix TV series called Self Made about Madam C. J. Walker, the first female self-made millionaire in America. She was an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and a political and social activist. She was also a black lady which back in the 1900s in the US adds even more merit to what she achieved. It's still so topical, it even covers the struggles for women to get funding! I found it very inspirational, so if you were looking for something to watch these days, I strongly recommend it. 

Clare, Strategic Partnerships Manager

Some of our BIPC Ambassadors have been involved in some great content. For example, Paul Lindley's book, Little Wins is very apt for current times. Plus, our Entrepreneur in Residence, Julie Deane was interviewed for the BBC podcast The Disruptors. Her discussion with Kamal Ahmed and Rohan Silva really was a great piece - she was on top brutally honest form!

30 April 2020

Inspiring stories from our community of entrepreneurs

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Since Covid-19 turned the way we do business, consume goods and live our lives on its head, a number of businesses from around the UK, who have used our National Network, been through our Innovating for Growth programme, or have taken part in Start-ups in London Libraries, have pivoted and diversified their offer to help those in need.

We’ve already told the story of Sabina Motasem founder, Sabina Ali and her team making scrubs for the NHS, but here are some more inspirational businesses who are supporting their local communities.

Former Innovating for Growth business, London-based Cyclehoop, who design cycle parking and infrastructure, along with Transport for London and Enfield Council, are giving space in their secure cyclehubs to NHS workers for free in Finsbury Park, Enfield Town and Edmonton Green. They are also providing temporary cycle parking for London boroughs who need it at their NHS sites.

Cyclehoop bike storage

A number of BIPCs from around our National Network and businesses we’ve supported are also putting their 3D printers to good use and making PPE for their local areas. The FabLab at BIPC Devon, BIPC Hull and BIPC Manchester and Innovating for Growth: Start-up business, Champion 3D have been using their equipment to make face shields and other PPE. Champion 3D have reserved 75% of their capacity for this purpose, whilst keeping 25% for other orders and relying on suppliers donating the material to help with their work.

Start-ups in London Libraries business, Happy Stance Yoga, has put together digital sessions for elderly people having to isolate which focuses on mobility and fall prevention.

Haven Coffee, a coffee-based social enterprise who also took part in Start-ups in London Libraries, have moved some of their events online, including their upcoming art exhibition and their community-building quiz. They have also introduced some offers for their coffee products allowing people to buy virtual coffees to be redeemed after lockdown and sending a free bag of coffee to anyone who purchases five of these.

And another Start-ups in London Libraries business, Firm Feet, have adapted their Dancing in the Dark sessions into an easily accessible audio series via their website giving participants much-needed time away from screens.

HIYOS (formerly known as Firstcare Pratice), an Innovating for Growth: Scale-up alumnus and NHS GP Practice, has set up a series of live interactive webinars and workshops on topical subjects with clinicians and experts and made it available to all patients to take part and watch afterwards. This patient engagement allows remote clinical and admin teams to offer healthcare support and advice to those who need it the most.

20 April 2020

Business support around the UK

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Although the doors to libraries are closed for the time being, our Business & IP Centres around the country and Start-ups in London Libraries borough venues have been adapting and changing their offering to make sure our community of entrepreneurs still have resources to access at this challenging time.

Databases

Many entrepreneurs count on access to the various databases each BIPC offers, the good news is that some databases are still available remotely with your library account and others can be accessed via the staff in your local Centre. Here is a list of what’s available:

Remote access with library account

COBRA Birmingham, Brighton & Hove, Devon, Glasgow, Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Northamptonshire, Norfolk, Nottingham, Sheffield and Worcestershire. All Start-ups in London Libraries boroughs (Bexley, Croydon, Greenwich, Haringey, Lambeth, Lewisham, Newham, Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest).
British Standards Online Glasgow
ProQuest ABI inform Glasgow
Law & Business Glasgow
Kompass Global  Liverpool, Manchester

Access via library staff

IBISWorld Birmingham, Brighton & Hove, Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, Devon, Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Northamptonshire, Norfolk and Sheffield
Mintel Hull, Leeds and Liverpool
Fame Brighton & Hove, Hull, Northamptonshire and Norfolk
Mint UK     Hull

What else is available?

North

BIPC Glasgow will soon be offering one-to-one sessions and some webinars with their delivery partners and Experts in Residence. The team are still available through their dedicated business email enquiry service.

BIPC Hull will be offering delivery partner sessions online. Their Makerspace has also been using the 3D printer to make face masks and shields for local keyworkers.

BIPC Leeds’ IP delivery partners are offering one-to-one phone consultations and Enterprise Club are being delivered online, which include topics such as writing a business plan, social media for business, marketing and finance.

BIPC Manchester is continuing to respond to emails from entrepreneurs. They are also putting their 3D printers to good use to produce face protection for GPs and people working in social care in need of PPE as part of the Covid-19 Face Shield Volunteer Initiative for the NHS.

BIPC Newcastle is offering IP support by email and can carry out research on some of their databases on behalf of BIPC users. The team can also help people carry out a patent search.

East

BIPC Norfolk can connect entrepreneurs to their delivery partners who are delivering sessions on Accountancy, (Larking Gowen) Legal Advice (Leathes Prior) and business continuity (NAGH) remotely and can take your business enquiries through their dedicated business email enquiry service.

They can also arrange one to one telephone calls and Zoom chats to discuss IP issues, or any answer business related questions and offer business support and guidance, including signposting to partner organisations. (New Anglia Growth Hub, Menta, Leathes Prior, Larking Gowen and NWES).

The team continue to offer many free online business and IP tutorials, workshops and webinars via our BIPC Eventbrite page, they can also conduct patent and trade mark searches using online database and provide access, information and advice on grants available at the BIPC and via Grants for Norfolk.

General business advice can also be accessed on the Norfolk County Council website, as well as information on the latest support offered to support business since the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Looking ahead, we hope to extend our webinar workshops with our own tried and tested Spotlight sessions to include, What can the BIPC do for you, Protecting your idea- An introduction to intellectual property and host regular Zoom IP one-to-ones using the BIPC Eventbrite page as the booking platform, so keep you eyes peeled!

West

BIPC Devon is offering delivery partner workshops via Zoom, which include topics such as CV writing and interviews and top tips for business start-ups. Their FabLab is currently making PPE using the Centre’s 3D printer.

Midlands

BIPC Birmingham’s Immigration Lawyers and BLAC Legal Team are delivering telephone legal advice and the BIPC team are still taking enquiries which come through the Library of Birmingham.

BIPC Northamptonshire’s team is offering basic business support by email.

BIPC Nottingham’s team will be available at times to answer any business-related questions via the library’s QuestionPoint live chat facility.

BIPC Worcestershire will be running online drop in sessions with their delivery partner Blue Orchid. Soon their workshops will be available as webinars.

London

Start-ups in London Libraries - Starting up? Start here!

The Start-ups in London Libraries community remains active during this period for all aspiring and early-stage entrepreneurs in the capital. All of the Start-ups in London Libraries workshops are now available as webinars and can be booked via our Eventbrite page. This includes new two-part Marketing Masterclass sessions.

Our borough Champions are running virtual one-to-one sessions. You can contact them on any of the below email addresses to arrange a session:

Bexley- Ioanna Lymperaki
Croydon- Sophie White
Greenwich- Loretta Awuah
Haringey- Nicola Moore
Lambeth- Rachel Samuels
Lewisham- Mark Berbeck
Newham- Rashed Belal
Southwark- Dean Williams
Tower Hamlets- Abraham O'Dude
Waltham Forest- Sarah Eschner

If you have a borough library card, you will be able to access COBRA remotely to conduct research. If you are a first-time user of the system, we recommend going through it with one of our borough Champions. 

We have also compiled all the support that each of these boroughs is offering specific to the impact of Coronavirus on local businesses on a dedicated page. You can find the full details here

27 January 2020

A week in the life of… Siobhan Thomas, founder of What’s Your Skirt

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Siobhan Thomas graduated from the University of Huddersfield 10 years ago from BA (Hons) Fashion with Marketing, Manufacturing and Promotion. This was where her creativity was harnessed and birthed in fashion. Once she graduated, she went on to building her fashion and marketing career and worked for Mamas and Papas as well as some other local designers and companies. In 2018, Siobhan decided to go for her own dreams and launch her brand What’s Your Skirt?, a collection of beautifully crafted skirts for the individual woman. Since launching at Liverpool Fashion Week, Siobhan has gone on to receiving multiple awards including Business of the Year 2019 and Best Fashion Designer at some incredibly prestigious events. 

Siobhan Thomas

Siobhan used BIPC Leeds, in Leeds Central Library, which provided her with basic business acumen and allowed her access to reports such as Mintel for market research. Siobhan also received free of charge guidance from the BIPC staff, as well as an appointment with the local solicitors the BIPC was working with. Due to the advice from these sessions Siobhan was able to ask about her trademark and successfully got her brand name protected. In addition, Siobhan attended numerous free courses and workshops that helped with areas like marketing, business planning, intellectual property and securing finance.

What's Your Skirt? The Afrika Skirt
The Afrika Skirt

Siobhan tells us what her week looks like in the day in the life of What’s Your Skirt.

Monday Research, inspiration and fabric sourcing day. I love Mondays, I always think it’s a fresh start to a new week! My alarm sounds at 5.30 every morning and I go for a morning workout at my local gym. After my class, I return home and enjoy my healthy plant-based protein shake and get ready for work. I get to the What’s Your Skirt Studio for 8.00 and I start my day of creativity.

Sometimes I even go for a walk around Roundhay Park lake to gather my thoughts and get inspired. The simple things in nature can sometimes spark a wonderful theme for my next collection. I create mood-boards, research colour palettes and moods for the next season ahead. I love looking at magazines that are unrelated to fashion, for example interior magazines, I love to see how I can create a collection through creativity in another field. I then go to the local mills and browse the never-ending fabric supplies that surround me, I get to choose the next season fabrics at a competitive price due to the strong relationships I have with the mills. I go back to the studio and start to pin my fabric samples to a mood-board, and I begin creating my collection in more depth. I look at the texture, the fabric qualities, the silhouettes I am going for that season and my core inspiration.

What's Your Skirt? on runway

Tuesday Design development/collections day. Tuesdays are cool just because I am usually getting into the swing of the week by today. Now I have my inspiration, I get to designing! My super favourite part! I draw some illustration styles using my layout pad and pantone colours and I begin to construct some initial design ideas, I try to let my imagination run wild at this point as I can always tame it later on in the process. Sometimes these start off a little extravagant and eventually mellows out to be wearable. I get my favourite music on and I get in my creative bubble. I love being in my zone as my best work is executed. I am constantly touching and feeling the fabrics, seeing how it drapes and I design to the fabric behaviour. By the end of the day I usually have six strong outfits that I can work with ready for the next day of pattern cutting.

Wednesday Pattern cutting and draping day. A day of execution! This is where the maths skills come in, I absolutely enjoy this process and bringing my drawings to life. I get all my favourite pattern cutting books out and begin to draft my blocks, I then edit them to imitate my designs and start to trace them off. When I feel like I have mastered the flat pattern cutting I move on the drapery, which I really enjoy. I start to drape straight on to the dress stand and I begin manipulating the fabric to my design. I find this process therapeutic and it’s always nice to see the piece 3D.

What's Your Skirt

Thursday Sample sewing day. Today, I get to working on my samples. I firstly cut out my pattern pieces and lay them out on calico so I can see a draft version of the garment. Once I am happy with this, I cut it out of the actual fabric and get sewing. Step by step, I ensure the pockets are inserted and finished with a neat top stitch, I ensure it is perfect and the quality of the garment is at a high standard. If I have any details that require more attention, I tend to sew a small sample to see what it looks like, I usually feel like this is a day of achievement as all my work for the week comes together. I tend to work late in the studio on Thursdays as I like to get a set amount of samples finished by the end of the day.

Friday Marketing/photoshoot and social media day. Ending the week with a marketing day is so cool! It’s great to gather all the little photos I have taken all week and inspiration and share with the world what we are doing as a brand. By now, I am organising photoshoots for look books and recruiting models to start talking some photographs in the studio and looking for a snappy marketing angle to launch our new collection in. I also have quite a few meetings with a friends who are photographers, videographers, models, MUAs and hairstylists, this is so I can give them my vision on how I see the collections being. Then they go away and come up with a few ideas based on the collection theme.

What's Your Skirt? model in skirt

Saturday Fittings and client appointments day. Our busiest day! From 8.00 – 18.00, the day is usually packed with client fittings and orders. It’s usually the best day to fit clients as they tend not to be at work on the weekends and have the time to come into the studio. I have a few members of my team who help with this too, which really creates a buzz in the office on days like today! Lots of happy clients and lots of creative clothing. I simply love it!

Sunday Business admin, planning and rest day. Sundays are for resting and planning for the week ahead. This is usually a day of real evaluation of the week before, seeing what goals I have smashed and which ones I have yet to complete. And I look at setting new goals for the following week. This is a crucial day for me as it means I can get my mind back in to plan of action and propel forward into what I want to achieve.

24 January 2020

New business services around the Business & IP Centre National Network

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If you aren’t based in London you can still access many of the Business & IP Centre’s resources around the UK as part of our National Network. Over 3,700 activities were delivered in 2019 and over 13,500 entrepreneurs helped outside of the Capital.

Our Centres have expanded their services in 2019 and have some exciting plans for 2020…

BIPC Birmingham

You will be able to attend new workshops and networking events at BIPC Birmingham in partnership with University of Birmingham Business School, Make it Your Business and X-Forces.

From 2020 there will be a regular series of workshops and one-to-one business advice clinics. The activities are scheduled for the 2nd Wednesday, 3rd Thursday and 4th Friday of every month.

BIPC Brighton & Hove

A new pilot Centre for 2019 and will be launching fully in 2020.

BIPC Cambridge & Peterborough

If you are a local business owner or an aspiring entrepreneur in Cambridge, you will be able to go along to regular Coffee Mornings in 2020, which offer a relaxed and friendly space to meet each other and explore what the BIPC can offer.

BIPC Glasgow

Our first Centre outside of England, BIPC Glasgow has expanded their existing offer to develop new partnerships to create an Experts in Residence programme, which includes Business Gateway, Business Advisors in Residence, Jobs & Business Glasgow, Business Advisors in Residence, SnapDragon IP: Entrepreneur in Residence, Creation IP: IP Attorneys in Residence and Gilson Gray: Legal Advisers in Residence.

A new project will launch in 2020, Making Digital Work for Micro-business, funded by the JP Morgan Power-Up fund.

The Mitchell Library

BIPC Hull

If you are looking for a one-stop business hub, look no further. Hull Central Library has rapidly expanded their business offer in 2019, bringing the Business & IP Centre, new Makerspace, new Business Lounge and an on-site café all under the same roof.

They have a busy 2020 ahead as well after securing ESIF funding for a community-led local development project to provide targeted business support to communities in the most deprived areas of the city. The team has also secured ERDF funding for the Innovate Humber project, which aims to encourage more businesses in the Humber area to participate in research and development.

BIPC Leeds

Are you a regular attendee of our Inspiring Entrepreneur events in Leeds? The team have developed a new format for their live screenings, which allows more time for networking, and features talks and a panel discussion with local speakers. That’s not all, the team have also developed several new workshops on topics including Etsy and Innovation.

In 2020, building on their partnership with the Santander Work Café, BIPC Leeds will be working with Liz Jowett to deliver one-to-one advice sessions on business planning and banking.

Leeds Central Library

BIPC Liverpool

After hosting their first Start-up conference in partnership with the Women’s Organisation in 2019, they will be holding another on Wednesday 26 February 2020.

Liverpool’s Entrepreneur in Residence, Gary Millar, is celebrating his fifth anniversary at BIPC Liverpool. In this time, he and his team of volunteer specialist mentors have advised over 1,600 individuals starting or growing a business. Gary Millar is Deputy Mayor of Liverpool & Mayoral Lead For Business & International Relations.

Gary Millar

After growing his own IT and marketing businesses, he is now co-owner of Parr Street Studios (hotel, recording studios, bars and offices).

When he launched his weekly business clinic Gary explained, “I have a passion for business and a unique understanding of what entrepreneurs and businesses can go through. My role is to listen, inspire, motivate and steer people to hopefully the right kind of support.

“It’s been a great year for business in Liverpool and we have been excited to see so many bright, enthusiastic entrepreneurs coming to see us at the library’s Business & IP Centre, in search of the boost they may need to get their business grow and under way. Interestingly they don’t just come from Liverpool but as far afield as Yorkshire and Wales! Thank you to them all for taking that bold step in reaching out for help.”

BIPC Manchester

Are you a social enterprise in Manchester? BIPC Manchester will house a second branch of the Human Lending Library®, a programme where social entrepreneurs looking for business advice can ‘borrow’ one of Expert Impact’s experts, for free, to help them solve their challenges and scale fast.

Manchester will also be launching a new lunchtime networking session on the last Thursday of every month, hosted by start-up coach Patrick Lauroul.

BIPC Newcastle

Could self-employment be for you? BIPC Newcastle has developed closer relationships with Skills Hub, a City Council project providing employability and skills support and also based in Newcastle City Library. The BIPC team, Skills Hub and other local Start-up support agencies are developing advice sessions for individuals looking at self-employment as a way back into work.

BIPC Norfolk

BIPC Norfolk has expanded their services to King’s Lynn and Thetford libraries, with Great Yarmouth launching this month. As well as expanding their locations, they have also extended their partnership programme to include the DWP Self Employment Team, the Princes’ Trust Enterprise Programme, Teachers Learning Network, People From Abroad Team (Norfolk County Council), Norfolk Enterprise Festival and Pinnacle People as well as existing partners - Menta Business advisors, New Anglia Growth Hub, Leathes Prior (legal advisors), Larking Gowen (accountancy), UEA Alumni, Economic development Team (NCC), Hethel Innovation and the Norfolk Chambers of Commerce.

BIPC Northamptonshire

The BIPC has expanded its offer of regular workshops and experts in residence one-to-ones to Kettering Library as well as Northamptonshire Central Library. Graphic designer appointments and business finance advice will be coming soon.

BIPC Nottingham

There are some big changes for Nottingham and new internal images of the proposed new Central Library, including the best children’s library in the country, have been revealed by Nottingham City Council, with the public being offered the chance to offer their views on the plans.

BIPC Nottingham is hoping to include a Business & IP Centre in the proposed new library. More details including a video flythrough are available here.

BIPC Sheffield

Do you need techniques on mindfulness to help manage wellbeing issues which come from being an entrepreneur? A new workshop has been added to their programme, Mindfulness for Entrepreneurs.

BIPC Worcestershire

A new pilot Centre for 2019 and will be launching fully in 2020.

06 December 2019

The 12 Days of the BIPC

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It’s fair to say that 2019 has been a jam-packed one for the BIPC. We wanted to have a look back at some of the highlights this year has provided for us and so without further ado, we present to you the 12 Days of BIPC and first off, our true love (by which we mean our BIPC community) gave to us….

A brand new series of blogs

In January, we started our Week in the Life Of... blogs, taking a look into the weekly tasks of entrepreneurs, staff and others involved in offering business advice services. Since then, we've heard…

🌳 how Jan Kattein Architects are involved in the British Library's Story Garden

🏠 that for Merilee, founder of Under the Doormat, exercise helps to set a positive outlook for the week

🐶 the importance of dog walks to The Foldline’s co-founder Rachel's week

👥 the difficulties in managing a team spread around the country with Superwellness

🏊 how sometimes running your own business means you just have to go to your daughter's swimming gala in a cocktail dress with The Foraging Fox

switching off from work with Sandows

👶 running a business whilst pregnant with Mama Designs

🚆 the amount of travelling involved for a member of the IPO’s Business Outreach Team

🎥 some days are glamourous and involved being filmed for a UK media company with KeriKit

🍸 and finally, how to balance your home and work life with Conker Spirit

In the second month, we got…

A brand new BIPC

In February, we celebrated the launch of our Cambridgeshire and Peterborough BIPC, our 11th BIPC in the UK. The new centre is a hub for entrepreneurs, bringing them together to network, attend events and access a wealth of resources like databases, market research and other business info. On the day, Julie Deane OBE, founder of Cambridge Satchel Co and Entrepreneur in Residence at BIPC London, gave a speech and highlighted the importance the Centre would have on local entrepreneurs: “It’s easy to be put off in the early days of setting up your business. You can’t know everything from the start, but you do need a vision and the will to achieve it. I believe this resource will help entrepreneurs on that journey!’

Cambridge launch

In the third month, our treat was….

Our sold out Start-up Stars

On the topic of 'How I Disrupted My Market', with a panel of trailblazing entrepreneurs including CompliMed, In A Wish & 33Shake, alumni from the Innovating for Growth: Scale up programme, chaired by motivational speaker and coach Rasheed Ogunlaru. Our audience learnt out how the panel of businesses challenged the status quo and shook up their sector.

On the fourth highlight day, our beautiful National Network gave to us….

A brand new BIPC (again!)

Another month, another launch at the Mitchell Library for BIPC Glasgow. The first BIPC in Scotland, the 12th as part of our National Network, and a partnership between the British Library, Glasgow Life, the National Library of Scotland and Santander. Dr John Scally, National Librarian at the National Library of Scotland, said of the launch: “Creativity and innovation among entrepreneurs and start-ups rely on the most up-to-date information and advice available. We have vast business and intellectual property resources in our collections and want businesses throughout Scotland to know that help and expertise is there. We are pleased to partner with the British Library and the Mitchell Library to open this service in Glasgow. By our combined efforts we will help local businesses thrive.”

Glasgow launch

Our fifth day brings us to…

Our Start-ups in London Libraries launch

For our latest programme, Start-ups in London Libraries which brings start-up support to 10 London high streets, we had an amazing launch event in City Hall at the beginning of May, where the Deputy Mayor of Business, Rajesh Agrawal, announced that he was going to be the Champion of Champions for the project and threw his support behind the plan. He said “This initiative will deliver vital support to our burgeoning small business community while providing a huge boost for the capital’s libraries.”

Fast forward to now and a total of more than 850 businesses have attended Start-ups in London Libraries workshops and seen our borough support teams for help getting their business off the ground. And it’s onwards and upwards from here!

Start-ups in London Libraries launch

Which leads us nicely onto the sixth day of the BIPC…

Our new Start-ups in London Libraries look and feel

In June, after our Start-ups in London Libraries launch, we released our brand new campaign for the project, featuring some potentially familiar faces – our London success stories (or BIPs). From cats with cake to coffee with a conscious, these brilliant businesses cover the wide range of companies we’re hoping will also come out of the project, and it provided a great opportunity for us to showcase just some of our BIPC community who were already sitting in specific boroughs, including Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, Cyclehoop, Change Please, Sabina Motasem and HR Sports Academy. And as you’ll see, Start-ups in London Libraries wasn’t the only thing getting a makeover this year…

Facebook-timeline-1200-x-628-all

On the seventh day we’re remembering…

How we cemented our reputation with stats in our economic evaluation report (and celebrated it in Westminster!)

July saw us head to the House of Lords to launch our Democratising Entrepreneurship report, which looked at libraries as engines of economic growth, highlighting that the BIPC had helped create 12,288 new businesses, 7,843 jobs and £78m GVA. Out of those we helped start a new business, 22% were from the most deprived areas, 55% were women and 29% were aged 35 and under. We are committed to continue offering accessible business support across our National Network and in London, to help you plan, start and grow your business.

House of Lords Event - Jen Lam

The eighth day of the BIPC brings us..

More makeovers!

We continued to spruce up the BIPC with our new marketing materials, featuring talented entrepreneurs who received business support at the BIPC and also from our network of national hubs. We’re so delighted to have been able to show off the tangible results of the BIPC business support this year in our new campaign and capture the range of people who have been able to start up or scale up in part through our services. Included in our community and photographed for our marketing materials were: Annie from Campbell Medical Illustrations, Gil from ChattyFeet, Amanda from I Can Make Shoes, Abigail and Chloe from Buttercrumble, Joe from Krio Kanteen, Natalie from Acacia and Marcela from Sacpot. We can’t wait to keep growing our business community up and down the country and look forward to adding more faces to these in 2020.

New BIPC brand

On the ninth day was when we started to realise that 12 is a lot of highlights to pack into one blog, but luckily, we had plenty of exciting events to see us through the last couple of months of 2019… so for our ninth day…

We got inspired

In September, we were thrilled to host another stellar Inspiring Entrepreneurs event with a wider focus on people who are at the forefront of the UK’s creative industries. With our incomparable moderator, Night Czar, Amy Lamé and a panel consisting of Jamal Edwards, Irene Agbontaen and Rick Lowe, no one could leave the auditorium without feeling inspired and energised.

Inspiring Entrepreneurs Cultural Changemakers

On the tenth day, we find ourselves at…

Our biggest event of the year

Maybe our biggest day of the year was Start-up Day which took place in October. There are too many highlights to mention but include panel discussions on starting up on a shoestring and profit with a purpose, a brilliant presentation and candid chat with the charity, Mind, and Julie Deane OBE about looking after your mental health while getting started, and an epic keynote from Steph McGovern, where she discussed embracing your authenticity and finding business potential in recessions and times of economic hardship. It was a truly inspiring day and we can't wait to hear about the progress of the 400 entrepreneurs who stepped through the doors! We'll be back with Start-up Day 2020 before you know it.

Steph McGovern - Start-up Day

On our penultimate day we received…

The chance to discuss the BIPC in the Anything but Silent podcast

In November, we were featured in the British Library podcast ‘Anything but Silent’, with our Innovating for Growth alumna and Start-ups in London Libraries’ ambassador, Mickela Hall-Ramsay from HR Sports Academy, and were able to discuss and celebrate one of our favourite topics, community in the world of business. It's worth a listen all year round!

Which brings us to, our 12th day…

A touch of luxury

Our final 2019 Inspiring Entrepreneurs, Leaders in Luxe, took place earlier this month, where we saw our panel – Frieda Gormley from House of Hackney, Clare Hornby from Me and Em, Jennifer Chamandi Boghossian from Jennifer Chamandi, Rupert Holloway from Conker Spirit and Darren Sital Singh from The Jackal, moderated by Walpole’s Helen Brocklebank - discuss the future of British luxury, how they built their brand and overcame challenges along the way. You can watch the catch up discussion on our YouTube channel, link in bio.

Inspiring Entrepreneurs - Leaders in Luxe

And that is it for 2019! What an exciting year and we have particularly loved seeing our support spread to more places and people than ever before.

Stay tuned for even more in 2020…. See you then.

25 September 2019

Start-up Day: What’s going on around the Network

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Start-up Day 2019

It’s not only the British Library hosting Start-up Day 2019, this year we have over 40 public libraries around the country holding their own Start-up Days. The day aims to support start-ups and small business owners with talks, workshops and interactive sessions designed to take the first steps towards turning a business idea into a successful enterprise.

On average, our National Network helps create an average of 15 new businesses every working day[1]. Most of these were started at home, with 40% of them beginning in a home office and almost a third from the kitchen table. These new businesses are far exceeding national averages for success rates – 90% of them are still trading after three years, compared to UK-wide rates of 60%.

Here you can find a snapshot of the highlights going on around the country and discover what your local Business & IP Centre will be doing for the day…

Start-up Day Birmingham

If you’re in or near Birmingham, they will be running activities including:

  • Market research using IBISWorld
  • Brexit & business with Enterprise Europe Network
  • Why your IP is valuable with Forresters

Start-up Day Brighton & Hove

Our new pilot centre will be live streaming some of the British Library talks and panels and introducing the new BIPC.

Start-up Day Cambridgeshire & Peterborough

A wide variety of drop in sessions throughout the day at Cambridge Central Library with organisations and businesses including:

  • Chamber of Commerce
  • Prince’s Trust
  • Santander
  • Growth Hub

They also have free headshots with Elton Cilliers, a start-up photographer himself, as well as talks on decluttering for business, fraud and cyber-crime as well as live streaming some of the talks from the British Library.

In Peterborough, they will be holding one-to-ones on accountancy, legal advice and intellectual property, amongst other workshops.

Start-up Day Devon

Taking place in both Exeter and Barnstaple, there will be a full programme with workshops and talks on:

Exeter

  • IBISWorld
  • Introduction to intellectual property
  • FabLab tours
  • Marketing videos on a budget with BitPod
  • How to avoid legal mistakes with Cartridges Law

Barnstaple

  • Branding with South West Growth Hub
  • Bookkeeping with Mark Ponsonby Blue Ink Bookkeeping
  • Panel on the challenges of starting up
  • IBISWorld

Start-up Day Glasgow

BIPC Glasgow is our only Centre in Scotland and will be running a day of workshops and talks, such as:

  • Finance with Santander
  • Lifecycles of a company
  • Trade mark starter pack

Throughout the day there will be option to watch the live stream from the British Library as well as talk to relevant businesses and organisations at their trade stands, including:

  • NLS
  • Prince’s Trust
  • Santander
  • Codeworks
  • Gilson Gray
  • People Plus
  • Business Gateway
  • Jobs & Business Glasgow
  • Trading Standards

Start-up Day Hull

For those thinking of starting a business in Hull, you can attend workshops and talks on:

  • What you need to do in the first 90 days to increase your chance of business success
  • IBISWorld
  • Developing a social enterprise
  • Market research with Mintel
Hull Start-up Day 2018
Hull Start-up Day 2018

Start-up Day Leeds

As well as some of the talks being streamed from the British Library, BIPC Leeds will be running talks and workshops on:

  • Getting inside customers’ heads with Ad:Venture
  • Global trends with Mintel
  • Personal branding with Stepp Digital
  • How to combine profit with purpose with Agency for Good

There will also be a Start-up Stars panel, with local entrepreneurs about how they started their business.

Start-up Day Liverpool

For those in and around Liverpool you can get tips on marketing your small business and accounting, as well as hearing from local entrepreneurs, such as Owen Drew Luxury Candles.

Start-up Stars Liverpool Start-up Day 2018
Liverpool Start-up Day 2018

Start-up Day Manchester

Start-up Day is not only taking place in Manchester Central Library, but throughout the region in Ashton-Under-Lyme Library, Blackpool Central Library, Bolton Central Library, Eccles Library, Oldham Library & Lifelong Learning Centre, Preston Library and Stockport Library. You can find networking and coffee mornings, speed mentoring as well as talks on:

  • Preparing your business plan with Santander
  • Marketing with Tidal Wave Consulting
  • How to be a healthy and confident entrepreneur with Amina Waldron
  • How to tell your story with Steve Rawling
  • 10 mistakes I made in year one with a local panel of entrepreneurs

For a detailed programme in your local library, please contact the library directly for their full schedule of events.

Manchester Three Rivers Gin - Machester
Manchester Start-up Day 2018 with Three Rivers Gin

Start-up Day Newcastle

Join BIPC Newcastle for workshops on setting targets and goals, branding and IP, as well as a coffee morning with their experts in residence.

Start-up Day Norfolk

Whether you’re in Norwich, Kings Lynn, Thetford or Great Yarmouth, there will be talks for you. Each Library will have a networking coffee morning and streaming of British Library events. There will be more talks in Norwich, including topics such as getting your product to market, creative product development and start-up funding.

Start-up Day Northamptonshire

A full day of talks and networking will be taking place which includes how to manage your Portfolio Career and maximising the benefits of networking amongst others.

Start-up Day Nottingham

BIPC Nottingham will be hosting two presentations as well as speed mentoring and a networking coffee morning during the day.

Start-up Day Sheffield

A variety of business-related talks, which include:

  • Tips when starting a business with Business Sheffield
  • Researching your business with IBISWorld
  • A start-up journey with local entrepreneur Katie Bain
  • Using social media to boost your business
  • Social enterprise and investment
  • The Sheffield tech scene with Digital Llama

Start-up Day Worcestershire

Our new pilot centre will be running business support clinics all day with Enterprising Worcestershire as well as hosting talks on:

  • Digital marketing and social media with Quick by Design
  • Crowdfunding with Be The Change Café
  • Business plans with Blue Orchid
  • How to assess your big idea with Blue Orchid

For more information on Start-up Day or to book your place in any of our Business & IP Centres, click here to visit our event page.

 

[1] Economic Impact Survey 2019. Analysis from January 2016 – December 2018.

Choosing revenue over retirement - starting a business in your 60s

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Bryher is the founder of Autodotbiography. In honour of Book Lovers' Day, Bryher tells us about her book-based business and the inspiration that made her start a brand new business up at the age of 60. 

I know that at the age of 60 most people think their careers are over. I spent 25 happy years at the BBC working on all kinds of factual programmes. I was Editor of 'That’s Life!' and later Editor-in-Chief of BBC Online during the very early days of website development.

So why, at this late stage of my life have I started a business for the first time? I have put my bank account, my home, life-savings and my future on the line? Is it because there is insanity in my family, and I’ve inherited it?  Not as far as I know. It’s all down to my mother’s untimely death.

When my mother died 20 years ago I was devastated.  We were extremely close, she was my best friend, my wise and trusted advisor and more than that, she was great fun to be with. With her sudden death our wonderful relationship died, and so did her memories.  They say that when a person dies a library burns and I think that is so true. There were so many questions I wanted to ask about her life but it was too late.

As her executor I had to rummage through her life to find the documents needed to sort out probate.  I came across drawers full of photographs of people who must have meant something to her but who were now anonymous.  I had no idea who they were and never would. There was no-one to ask.

She had told me very little about her childhood – I knew it had been tough and that she clashed with her mother.  Then I found a story written by her.  It was on yellowing paper and typed on a very old-fashioned typewriter.  It told of jumble sales held at the Methodist Hall where her father was the caretaker.  She described how she would sneak into the hall before it opened and try on hats with magnificent feathers, or teeter on high heels, only to tear them off and put them back when the doors opened and the sale began.  I loved reading it.

I realised that while the rich and famous have their lives recorded, this wasn’t possible for everyone.  Of course, there are ghostwriters to help people tell their story but they tend to cost thousands of pounds. A blank piece of paper or screen is very daunting. Just knowing where to start can be difficult.

I wanted it to be easy, and affordable, for anyone to write their life story and have a beautiful hardback book at the end of the process.  It took 12 years of devising and writing and spending our life savings and putting our house on the line – my husband of 44 years, Paul, has been magnificent in supporting me.

Bryher 1

So, hundreds of thousands of words later and all my savings, I launched www.autodotbiography.com , a unique online system that makes it easy for anyone, no matter how good or bad at writing, to create a beautifully written, lavishly illustrated hardback book of their life story for their family.  All the author has to do is answer simple questions - selecting from pre-written answers, if they are not a confident writer, or writing in their own words if they are.  To illustrate their stories they can upload photographs and documents, and then our automated system turns their words and pictures into a beautiful book.  Basically, it is a virtual ghost writer and a virtual book designer.

By profession I have been a television producer, so it might have been expected that I would produce videos of people’s stories and there are companies that do that. My reason for producing a book is that it is intended to be a family heirloom and that means it has to last hundreds of years.  An autodotbiography is a hardback book with very high-quality paper, designed to last.  As a programme maker and an internet entrepreneur I have watched many video and photographic formats come and go and who knows how we will be accessing our data in 100 years. More likely than not it will be impossible to get at these precious memories because the operating system or app no longer operates. But an autodotbiography will still be sitting on a bookshelf for future generations to enjoy.

Bryher 3

There are so many things to say about running my own business. It has been terrifying, amazing, frustrating and a tremendous adventure. I have learned to do so many things in the course of running the business. For instance, I never dreamed I would become a cruise ship speaker!  But lecturing and running workshops on cruise ships is a terrific way to market autodotbiography, as well as seeing the world with some delightful people who have wonderful life stories to share with their families.

I am thrilled to report that at the ripe old age of 62 I won an award from PRIME (Prince of Wales Initiative for Mature Enterprise) Best New Digital Business.  And I have wonderful comments from the authors who have completed their books and their fascinated families that makes it all worthwhile. In a world when physical books are becoming outnumbered by digital formats, it is wonderful to see the importance people still place on creating beautiful books and I love that I have been able to build a business out of this. 

To find out more about Authodotbiography, visit https://www.autodotbiography.com/.