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.’’
22 July 2019
Business & IP Centre Manchester became the first venue outside of London to host PRECIOUS Nights, an evening aimed at professional women of colour.
The founder of PRECIOUS Awards, Foluke Akinlose MBE FRSA, is a Mancunian at heart, so it was extra special being able to host the event in her city.
Foluke explained, "It was hugely exciting to take PRECIOUS Nights on the road and even more exciting for me personally to host the first one in Manchester, my home town.
“It was also a wonderful opportunity to showcase the work of three Manchester based entrepreneurs contributing so successfully to the GDP of the city and beyond. We had a lovely audience, they were really welcoming and engaged which led to a very open and honest conversation about being a women of colour in business in modern Britain. Huge thanks Manchester Business & IP Centre for hosting us so warmly. We cannot wait to go back!"
As well as hearing Foluke's story, the rest of the panel included:
Roselene Thomas: Director and founder of Thomas UK Consulting Services Ltd, a company that provides IT software testing services with headquarters in Manchester, UK and offices in India.
Dijonn Taylor: Founder of two award-winning businesses. Starting with a desire to empower and reward children at all levels of education through experiencing a traditional graduation ceremony, in 1997 she staged the first ever cap and gown graduation ceremony in the UK at a Manchester Primary School. Soon after her business Young Graduate was born.
Her second business venture Savvy Guest was created to facilitate pre-career meetups between adults and employees for pre-career chats. Dijonn realised people were experiencing barriers when trying to gain access to employers for a conversation to gain realistic career tips and insight into job roles and the industry.
Lisa Maynard Atem: Social media strategist with a proven track record at the world’s most famous luxurious department store, Harrods, where she worked with numerous luxury brands including CHANEL, Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Dolce & Gabbana and GUCCI.
Lisa built and developed a global social portfolio that now boasts over 2.5 million followers across key social media platforms - Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Harrods is now the most followed luxury department store in Europe on Instagram and one of the most followed in the world, with over 1.1 million followers.
It was hosted by transformational counsellor, blogger and the founder of Self-Central, Lisa Bent.
Audiences at PRECIOUS Nights can hear from previous PRECIOUS Awards finalists and winners about their business journey, get actionable tips, be inspired and build networks with new contacts. The PRECIOUS Awards were founded in 2007 to celebrate and applaud the professional achievements of women of colour in the UK. The organization has a dynamic and passionate following, gained over twelve years of bringing brilliant women into the spotlight and celebrating the 'Best of British' by recognising and rewarding exceptional determination, innovation and entrepreneurial skills across multiple sectors and inspiring women of colour to succeed in business and professional life.
Jonathan Ebbs, Service Development Specialist at Business & IP Centre Manchester said, “The evening was full of powerful, inspiring stories including lots of shared tips and anecdotes from the audience. It was one of the buzziest events Business & IP Centre Manchester has seen, with lots of laughter but also a real passion and desire to help each other to succeed”.
10 October 2018
As part of our Inspiring Entrepreneurs series, we hosted a panel of leading lights in the creative industries with stories of what can be achieved with the right attitude and determination to celebrate the success and cultural impact of Black British entrepreneurs in the creative sector. The panel included MOBO CEO and founder Kanya King CBE, Femi Oguns MBE, actor and founder of Identity School of Acting and Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené, co-authors of Slay in your Lane.
As part of the Q&A the panel were asked which books had inspired them. You asked us to compile them; and your wish is our command:
#Girlboss, by Sophia Amoruso
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg
“Without Lean In, we wouldn’t be here… that book was such an inspiration”
Black Feminist Thought, by Patricia Hill Collins
“A book which helped me grow a lot and I’d recommend anyone, from any background read. If it wasn’t for me having read that book, I wouldn’t have understood my position in this society as a black woman”
The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, by Dan Millman
“A magical book about life, trust, flow and mastery in being yourself”
The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It, by Michael E. Gerber
Business as Unusual - the Journey of Anita Roddick and the Body Shop, Anita Roddick
Book of Ecclesiastes
What They Don't Teach You At Harvard Business School, by Mark McCormack
Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE, by Phil Knight
Rich Dad Poor Dad: What The Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not! by Robert Kiyosaki
“I had all these ideas of what I wanted to do to generate an income… my mother told me whenever I wanted to do something, she’d say ‘no’ as she was very risk adverse. But you do need to take calculated risks… how you think about money, good debt and bad debt.
Of course, we can't miss out Slay in your Lane, written by Elizabeth and Yomi (currently available to purchase in our bookshop) and, as revealed at our event, one to look out for in the future, Kanya King's first book, we can't wait!