Innovation and enterprise blog

07 March 2021

A week in the life of James Seager, Company Director of Les Enfants Terribles

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Les Enfants Terribles is the pioneering theatre company behind the groundbreaking immersive productions “Alice’s Adventures Underground”, “Dinner at the Twits”, “The Game’s Afoot” and “Inside Pussy Riot” as well as original and innovative stage shows ‘The Trench’, “The Terrible Infants” and “The Vaudevillans”.

Run and co-owned by James Seager and Oliver Lansley, the company was formed in 2002 and together they have pushed the boundaries of immersive theatre, alongside their unique take on more traditional stage shows, always challenging the audiences’ perception of theatrical productions. They took part in our Innovating for Growth programme in 2020.

Their artistic policy is simply to make theatre they love and that excites them. With a large and loyal following for their spellbinding work, Les Enfants Terribles continues to captivate audiences in the UK and internationally.

James is the lead producer and creative director of the company and he also co-directs many of the shows.  Currently he is the director for Sherlock Holmes: An Online Adventure, which is an immersive online show designed to bring the Les Enfants Terribles magic into people's homes. It has just opened and you can find out more at www.sherlockimmersive.com. He shared what a week in the build up to the opening of this show looked like...

Monday

The start of a big week – well most weeks are pretty big at the moment due to us launching our new immersive on-line show Sherlock Holmes:  The Case of the Hung Parliament, but this week is a biggie!  We’ve been tirelessly working on this show for three months now and working to build a unique ‘game’ for people to experience.  Working in entirely new ways is always very exciting but it has surprised us how similar this on-line show has been in its creation to how we usually plan our immersive shows like Alice’s Adventures Underground which was similarly built on spreadsheets and computers.  The beauty of course is that the audience are never aware of the complicated tech behind these shows (nor should they) and just enjoy the show as a narrative creative experience.  However, when you are genuinely doing something new you’re bound to hit hurdles and unfortunately our Sherlock show has been slightly delayed due to an issue it took the tech team three days to find and 3 minutes to solve!  Of course, this waiting has been quite stressful as we have many sold out shows and an expectant audience for next week when we go live so we have to deliver the ‘game’ by next Thursday.

James Seager & Oli Lansley_┬®Rah Petherbridge Photography
Les Enfants Terribles Directors James Seager and Oli Lansley

I start my day going for a run - I started this routine every morning since lockdown one last March and have kept it up for a year and do you know what?  I still hate it and it still is not any easier!  However, it does I suppose, clears the cobwebs and gets me started for the day.  I am lucky that I have a small outdoor office in my garden which psychologically has been great to ‘leave the house’ and try and leave work when I ‘come back home.’  Running a company is stressful at the best of times but in lockdown and trying to create a new show – its doubly so!  Monday’s we have a team meeting on zoom which we try and keep to an hour and half but it always runs over.  It’s a good chance for the office to connect when we are all apart working remotely and to see what is on everyone’s plate for the day ahead.  The big question of the day is when do we expect delivery from of the final product for the on-line show  – we hear from the tech team that it will be this week and we remain cautiously optimistic and excited.  The ‘rushes’ we’ve seen so far look extraordinary.  At 2pm I have an interview with the FT about the technology and about creating theatre in a pandemic.  I hope it will be a good piece as we chatted on zoom for an hour and half!  Hearing myself speak it really dawns on me how challenging it is for all the office to create a piece of theatre when we are all apart and a piece of online immersive theatre that is genuinely different.   The rest of the day I’m looking at schedules for the actors (16 of them) who will be in the show and then I join a zoom about a writer’s programme.  The previous week was very stressful but it looks like we have turned a corner and as my head hits the pillow I hope for good news tomorrow.

Tuesday

Ugh another run – still as hard as it was a year ago!  We get news from the tech team that they have sent over the first pass at 9.45am which is great.  The day ahead looks likely to be a testing day to see if it works for us as we start the morning with a few issues.  My team have a call with the tech team at 11am and so we hold off scheduling the actors for rehearsals until we are all happy.  The tech team spend most of the day trying to make the small issue go away which is like waiting in a delivery room reception in a hospital!  I spend the day trying to put it out my my mind by working on a creative pitch for a large company who want us to create an immersive charitable experience for them at the end of the year.  It is based on a book and I spend the day listening to an audio reading of it while creating the immersive idea for it – once finished I send it over to my co-director to get his thoughts.  5pm we are still waiting news on the technology from the tech team who have reported they have fixed the final problem and they need to test it further.  The deadline looms!  At 7pm I receive a version and have to test it for most of the evening – it’s a late one..

Alices Adventures Undergound_Les Enfants Terribles
One of Les Enfants Terribles' previous productions 'Alice's Adventures Underground'

Wednesday

Raining this morning for my run – double ugh.  The show development has hit a snag as its only playing 65 minutes and cutting off the final 9 minutes of the show for some reason so its back to the tech guys to see if they can solve the issue before we roll it out next week.  We spend the day in zoom meetings discussing options and plans in case we don’t hit the deadline but we hear good news at 5pm that the system is responding well to some ‘care’ and we should be able to test it again on Friday.  A long day!

Thursday

More updates from the tech team and its more waiting our end to see if the changes they have made will work – they need 24 hours so we will get our final update tomorrow.  I spend the day on zooms discussing options and then we realise a 6 second piece of video is missing from the content – not crucial – but still missing.  I get my daughter to film it as we need a hand holding some birthday cards and then I send it over the editor!  Back to working on some head of terms agreements for a secret project that we are hoping to launch next year and we’ve been planning for a further three years.

Sherlock Holmes from the Les Enfants Terribles production of Sherlock Holmes: The Online Adventure

Friday

It looks like we will be able to launch the show next Friday which is great news.  We intend to change a few things and then rehearse all the actors next week before going live with the show on Friday.  We are all very excited and can’t wait to unleash the show to the public and hopefully give a bit of theatre to people who have really missed it over the last year.  The whole day is spent planning rehearsals and logistics.

Saturday and Sunday

I try and not work weekends but that’s tricky!  Especially when you are launching a show in a week so I spend some time with the family on a long walk and long lunch and sometime in my office shed preparing for the week ahead.  It’s been a busy week but as expected and we can’t wait for the show to open on Friday.

Find out more about Sherlock Holmes: An Online Adventure and book your tickets by visiting www.sherlockimmersive.com

28 February 2021

Innovating for Growth Diary - Sian Zeng

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Every quarter, Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups chooses 18 high-growth businesses to take part in our 10 week programme designed to help business owners re-evaluate their business across areas such as marketing, products and services and business model.

We have been speaking to Sian, founder and director of luxury wallpaper business Sian Zeng, who is one of our latest Innovating for Growth cohort, to see firsthand the impact of the programme on her business. In this first installment of her diary, we meet Sian, hear about how she started her business, and discover how her first batch of Innovating for Growth one-to-one sessions and workshops have helped her re-evaluate her priorities. 

'Hi, I’m Sian, Founder, and Director of Sian Zeng; we create innovative wallpapers and wall decorations that enchant and delight. Reproduced from original artwork, our captivating designs take inspiration from fairytales and the natural world, all with the intention of helping people bring art, nature, and imagination into their homes.

Sian Zeng painting one of her bespoke wallpapers
Photo: Veerle Evens for Etsy

We sell a range of products to cater to different spaces and budgets, with our dreamy designs available as both classic and magnetic wallpapers, as well as our growing collection of removable wall stickers. Our magnetic wallpaper is one of our most unique products that allow users to place magnets onto their wall, like a fridge or radiator. Our cast of magnetic characters and illustrations were designed with this in mind; move our magnets across the surface of our magnetic wallpaper and suddenly it’s not just a wall - it’s the backdrop to a story. Since opening, our products have been featured in Elle Decoration, The Sunday Times and The Telegraph, and in 2019, we were awarded the honour of the Grand Prize at the Etsy Design Awards.

I started my company shortly after graduating from University and as a result, I had very little business experience. A creative first and foremost, part of me always knew there would always be gaps in my knowledge that could be a game-changer for my company. After more than a decade of growing my business organically and at a steady pace, I thought it was time to see how I could accelerate our growth whilst still maintaining our meaning. So here enters the Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme.

At the first group session with Rasheed Ogunlaru, Getting Ready for Growth, I met members of my cohort and it was so inspiring to hear their stories as well as share my own. What really resonated with me from that session was when Rasheed said something along the lines of “this isn’t about giving up the part of your business you’re most passionate about.” I immediately thought about how I had begun to outsource the creative side of things recently, becoming more of an art director rather than painter/designer for upcoming collections. This was the reason I had started my business more than a decade ago - to create unusual, beautiful illustrations for interior spaces - but the more the brand grew, the more I felt I should be focussing on other aspects. This was a big light bulb moment for me. 

Classic_Clematis_White-720x720-8e40600b-b088-46fc-9d99-a98a7d2b267b

I really like how the course is structured, where each session leads into the next. We began with a business model workshop and then our first one-to-one session, which allowed me to really step back and see my business structure from a bird’s eye view. Then at my one-to-one with Robert Foster from Red Ochre, we delved deeply into my business structure and worked together to create a detailed plan of what to do next.

One of the main things that arose during our session was that I felt spread too thin. As founder and director of a company, it can feel like you have to not only oversee everything but do most of it too, when actually a lot of the tasks could be delegated to my team members. Robert suggested I create a delegation stack to help me categorise tasks into ones I can delegate, automate, divest or outsource. Once I’d done this exercise, I found I’d freed up lots of my time already.

As a high-end wallpaper company, we’ve always paid lots of attention to branding as it is an integral part of the quality and craftsmanship we portray. Our message has always been creating luxury, innovative and dreamy wall coverings for the home. During my workshop with ABA Design, I was presented with the personality archetypes. It was here I discovered there were more elements to our brand personality and I was able to refine it even further, making it easier for us to feed all our designs into our values.

Our archetypes were ‘the creator’, ‘the explorer’ and ‘the magician’. I always felt like creativity was integral to our brand, and with exploration, this definitely ties into the adventurous element of our designs, as well as my constant experimentation with new technologies in the design process of our wallpapers. The magician part surprised me the most but makes a lot of sense; many of our designs contain magical elements, such as a bear riding a crane or flying hands that look like birds in mid-flight. 

Over the past few years, I have noticed a clear trend, where our company’s growth is directly linked to the release of new collections. As a result, I made it my priority to release collections more frequently and bring in help to facilitate faster product launches. During my product and service innovation session with Fluxx, we discussed how I could make this process more efficient. They suggested I should write down every step involved in the development of a product so I can see how much involvement is necessary from me at each step. From there, I can decide where I can bring in help, tighten up the process and minimise my workload, so it can be focussed elsewhere. This really helped me to oversee a very integral element of the business that will enable us to accelerate our growth.

I have very much enjoyed the first half of the programme and feel it has already brought tangible benefits to my business. I am more confident about the direction we need to take as a brand and how we can grow with our core values in mind. If you would like to explore our designs and keep up to date with our journey please follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

In a month’s time you will hear from me again about the second half of the programme.

Until then, wishing you all lots of magical moments!'

25 January 2021

A Week in the Life of Meenesh Mistry, founder of Wholey Moly

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Meenesh is the co-founder of Wholey Moly, alongside his wife, Parul. They started their mission to prove that an afternoon snack didn’t have to be a rash, overly sugared vending machine decision by creating delicious cookies made from the best ingredients and free from refined sugar. After taking part in the Innovating for Growth Mentoring scheme in 2017, their cookies were snapped up by some of the finest food retailers in the UK such as Selfridges, Whole Foods and Daylesford. They are new moving towards launching globally and have been using this period of lockdown to focus on improving their digital strategy and recouping retail costs through online rather than in-person sales.

‘We have been on a rollercoaster this year with our little cookie company taking its next steps to become what we imagined. Myself and my wife Parul, have had to keep on our toes since starting our business, especially now with a little cookie monster of our own to take care of.

We successfully applied for the government bounce back loan and we decided to use this to move our strategy from retail to more online focused. We knew it was a completely different kettle of fish and decided to take on some help for this and so we hired an E-commerce Growth Manager to help us create a more digital led strategy to get our name out there online.

Meenesh and Parul, founders of Wholey Moly

During this madness we have been doing our best to connect with retail suppliers and stockists ready for the re-opening of stores and have been getting some great results. It is refreshing to see the support retailers and external organisations have in the underdogs/ family run businesses. So hopefully the public will be able to taste our cookies in shops and cafes near you soon.

Here’s a look at what a week can look like, but I have to be honest it rarely flows to plan, it all depends on what projects we have going on for example at the end of 2020 we had a rebrand of the business and launched a new webshop so for 3 months it was all about branding, website development and digital marketing.

Friday It is probably better to start with Friday afternoon as that is when I plan my following week.

I have a 3 month plan which I try to break down each week, it doesn’t always go to plan but it ensures I’m moving in the right direction. The weekly plan means I know exactly what I’m supposed to be doing come Monday Morning.

Monday My day typically starts around 6am when I squeeze in a bit of exercise – but I have to be honest it’s not always the case. From 7-9am is a daily battle of getting our son who is 3 years old up, fed and packed off to nursery.

My working day then starts at around 9am.

Mondays I cover operations. This means looking at stock levels, forecasting ahead and scheduling new production runs. I also try to catch up on any industry news, reading The Grocer/LinkedIn etc.

Tuesday I keep a minimum of 2 full days for sales, I follow up on any sales leads from prior weeks and work on new business development.

This can mean anything from calls, site visits (although not so much under the current climate) and preparing presentations.

Wednesday I find that meetings can be quite disruptive for productivity so try and schedule my meetings all on the same day – usually Wednesday!

The calls vary massively including funding, sales, industry calls, networking and being pitched at from suppliers.

It can be quite a full on day so I try and get out for a walk on some calls.

Meenesh and Parul in front of a Wholey Moly advert

Thursday Back to sales! Here I follow up from anything on Tuesday but I also spend time with our e-commerce manager and Amazon person looking at our online sales and how we can better optimise it.

We are new to e-commerce so there’s a lot to learn and I find it quite fun to tinker with the various marketing levers.

Friday I leave Friday to catch up on all back office things, most notably finances – paying bills, issuing invoices, doing cashflows.

I tend to clear out my inbox and then look at my 3 month plan and start to plan the following week.

Since lockdown I really miss those water cooler conversations so I’ve started to book in calls with my peers just to have a chin wag on Fridays, which is a great way to finish off the week.

Make sure to check out our new website and if you would like to try any cookies here’s a discount code for our fellow British Library businesses BRITLIB20.

08 December 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teal logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caron Pollard at workshop in Croydon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

07 December 2020

Meet our delivery partner: Pete Schönbeck

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Productschön Business Advice is run by founder Pete Schönbeck. Pete started out at the age of 18 as a trainee buyer for a European clothing wholesaler, Campari International Plc, where he was mentored by the managing director, his father, John, in all aspects of design, product development, sampling, sourcing, buying, brand franchises and major account selling. This led travelling extensively around Europe, the Far East and the United States, providing Pete with a rich understanding of different cultures and the ways of doing business on the international stage.

Pete Schonbeck during a speed mentoring event

Background

With a strong family history in the clothing industry, right back to my great, great grandfather, Johannes, who was a tailor to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, I am an internationally experienced merchant. I have worked in retail and wholesale for internationally recognised brands such as Levi Strauss, Timberland, Tommy Hilfiger, Barbour and Ellesse.

From there, I went on to live and work in Germany, then back to the UK where I set up a designer fashion store business with a good friend in Clapham, South London. I then proceeded to work for Timberland EMEA out of their UK EHQ. I consulted for the Pentland Group (with the Ellesse brand), then to Levi Strauss Europe as Design & Merchandise Director for Dockers EMEA. Next, I went on to Simonside, near Newcastle, to consult on the J Barbour & Sons clothing brand, before moving overseas once again to work as Senior Merchandise Director Menswear for Tommy Hilfiger Europe, in Amsterdam.

On returning home once more, I then began working on small consulting projects. That led me to become, a creative industry focussed business adviser initially, with LSBC, as part of a London-based business advisory team.

I provide experienced business insights and an entrepreneurial approach to developing business strategies. I have in the past, and continue to work with both new and established businesses. These include fashion creatives, artists, service industry professionals and a multitude of online and offline businesses in the food and beverage, tech, furniture, beauty, travel, sports and well-being sectors.

What will attendees get?

Productschön Business Advice can help to breakdown the possible barriers to the marketplace that you are targeting, from the fundamentals of assisting in the process of setting up a business by:

  • developing business plans
  • financial projections
  • product management strategies
  • gaining access to business funding
  • not forgetting the all-important market research. 

I deliver quality and popular business planning and business development workshops, up until COVID-19 at the British Library, and as my client one-to-ones, coaching and mentoring, these are all now held online too.

Reset. Restart

I also deliver the Reset. Restart: your market opportunities webinar, as part of the exciting nationwide Reset. Restart programme. Helping business owners get a greater understanding of how things are evolving in the world of business and how to hit the ground running in a post-COVID-19 world, not forgetting the pending Brexit scenario.

After the COVID-19 pandemic, how is business and the world in general evolving? In the webinar, I take attendees through some insightful statistics that will help businesses refresh and re-engage with consumers, the marketplace, and the new and accelerated evolution of where we are now, and will be in the future.

We investigate the following:

  • consumers trends
  • the growth in online and mobile device use
  • which markets are performing particularly well against the pandemic backdrop?
  • how social and environmental aspects are now shaping our world
  • how businesses have adapted to help the UK and the world economy fight back against the virus
  • Brexit awareness and preparedness.

I love to inject humour and real-life anecdotes to anchor the points I use to reinforce understanding and enable clients to achieve their goals.

Visit the BIPC's workshops and events page to view all upcoming workshops, webinars and events.

16 November 2020

Meet our delivery partner: Paul Grant, The Funding Game

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Paul Grant has been running workshops, webinars and masterclasses for more than a decade at the British Library's Business & IP Centre, principally focusing on funding and growing a business.

Paul Grant

About Paul’s funding events

One of the biggest hurdles of early stage companies is fundraising. Entrepreneurs looking for investment often face difficulty when navigating their way through the many funding options available without giving away too much control of their company. Paul has spent many years demystifying the funding game for entrepreneurs so that they can take the right decisions when it comes to launching and growing their businesses.

What’s covered?

Paul delivers online and in-person coaching, events and courses that break down the steps to getting funded into straightforward, practical actions.

As part of the British Library's new Reset. Restart programme, Paul runs a free monthly session on Your Funding Options which helps entrepreneurs discover routes to capital that they may not have heard of before, and decide on the best approaches for their business. Included in the session is advice on the latest government loans and support initiatives, and how to take advantage of angel investment and crowdfunding.

Paul’s half-day anchor workshop, How to Attract the Right Investors, walks entrepreneurs through the whole process of securing equity investment through crowdfunding, angel investors and venture capital.

Attendees leave with a simple, step-by-step plan for funding their business, as well as proven pitching templates and strategies. The workshop includes an interactive session with a top angel investor who shares insider information on the way he makes investments.

Paul also delivers regular online events to give entrepreneurs the best chances of raising the capital they need. His Fast Growth Series covers four key areas:

The series also includes several free question and answer sessions with top angel investors, debt-financing experts and legal professionals.

Paul is a regular presenter on the British Library's Innovating for Growth programme, a free European Regional Development Fund initiative designed to help small businesses that are looking to grow.

Who are these events for?

All Paul’s events are designed to support early-stage entrepreneurs who are struggling to figure out which route to take to fund and grow their business, and who are seeking clarity, direction and a clear set of practical steps towards securing investment.

Paul’s How to Attract the Right Investors workshop is ideal for ambitious entrepreneurs who are either in the start-up phase and are unsure of where or how to raise the capital to launch, or are already trading but need more capital to reach profitability and scale.

The Fast Growth online series is designed for entrepreneurs who are keen to secure equity funding as quickly as possible and includes special events on crowdfunding and agile funding which are increasingly popular ways for business owners to finance their growth.

What can attendees expect?

Attendees can expect pacy and highly interactive sessions packed with valuable content and practical guidance. All events include follow-up information and support, as well as road-tested formulas and templates for attracting investment that have been validated by hundreds of investors. Paul’s aim is for everyone attending his events to leave with clarity and confidence about securing the right investment, so they are free to spend more time on their business.

"Paul is one of those advisors that is talking from experience rather than from a textbook. These events will save most people a fortune." - Managing Director at Arated.com Corp. Ltd. More testimonials.

About Paul Grant

Paul Grant is founder of The Funding Game which offers practical guidance, support, tools, events and networking opportunities for entrepreneurs seeking capital for their startup and scale-up ventures. Paul is an experienced entrepreneur and was founder of a London-based company for seven years which was funded through equity and debt finance. The company offered London-wide catering to the corporate and retail markets. Paul then worked with BA Capital and Capital Partners Private Equity Ltd. where he built a network of over 500 business angels, while coaching entrepreneurs individually and in groups on all aspects of funding and growing their early-stage businesses.

Paul has been featured in The Guardian and in several industry blogs and podcasts, and has run mentoring sessions for the British Library's Business & IP Centre, The Chartered Institute of Marketing, Cass Business School, City University, London South Bank University, the Impact Hub network, Innovation Warehouse, Google Campus, Rainmaking Loft, The Princes Trust, The Business Funding Show, Big Venture Fund and many other incubators, innovation hubs, accelerators and organisational partners in and around London. He also provides pitch training for entrepreneurs delivering successful pitches on BBC’s Dragon’s Den. Paul’s passion is playing a part in helping other entrepreneurs enjoy the game of launching and running their own successful businesses.

Connect with Paul on LinkedIn.

Visit the BIPC's workshops and events page to view all upcoming workshops, webinars and events.

29 October 2020

Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups diary – The Street Food Company – part 2

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Hi, and welcome back to part 2 of The Street Food Company blog (read part 1 here if you missed it)! After another great six weeks, we have finally finished the Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme and have managed to build a solid growth plan that we are so excited to start actioning.

After all the workshop learnings from the first half of the programme, part 2 really allowed us to tailor this work to our business with focussed one-to-one consultations.

Everything kicked off with one of the most overlooked areas of a business, market research. Not only did we have access to thousands of up-to-date market reports via the programme, we also had Oliver, our dedicated Business Library researcher. Oliver was able to help us answer specific questions we had e.g. were young people engaged in cooking sauces? How has COVID-19 changed people’s eating and cooking habits? Getting these questions answered gave us a much clearer picture about the opportunity in the market and how our products and offering could be as competitive as possible.

Two cheeseburgers being held

With this research in hand we decided to engage a design agency to help us reposition our brand and get the key messages right. During this design phase, we fortunately met with Alex and Ceyda from Briffa, a specialist IP law firm. They were able to give us advice about protecting trade marks and other business intellectual property, both in the UK and abroad, and reviewed our existing confidentiality agreements and privacy policies. We now feel so much more confident in protecting all our work.

Our final meeting was with Uday from Red Ochre where we brainstormed final thoughts and ideas from all areas of the course so we could confidently walk away with an actionable growth plan that will truly make a difference to our company.

We are now incredibly excited to launch our updated brand and products and to crack on with our mission of making truly unique, adventurous and fun products with crazy bold flavours that other companies are afraid to do; that challenges the status quo and pushes the boundaries of food and flavour. If you are as passionate and creative with food as we are, subscribe on our website and be the first to find out!

All in all, it has been a fantastic journey and couldn’t have come at a better time. I would like to thank the British Library for accepting us on this course with a big shout-out to Julie and Anna the Relationship Managers, who have been fantastic. Also big thanks to all the mentors who have helped so many companies with their growth plans in such volatile times.

Although it’s goodbye to the Innovating for Growth programme, we are now looking forward to joining the BIPC’s Growth Club and getting access to their amazing guest speakers. For those thinking of taking part on the course, all I can say is get over to the Innovating for Growth page on the British Library website and apply.

Thanks for now and Let Your Taste Buds Travel!

James and Kevin

20 October 2020

Meet Aleksandra Horwood, founder of Happy Stance Yoga and Start-ups in London Libraries participant

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In the Summer of 2019, Aleksandra had just been made redundant: ‘It was a painful experience,’ she says now, ‘and even more painful that I was not able to find a new job. I went to the Job Centre, but they told me they couldn’t help me searching for a job in the field I had worked in before. It was a totally new experience for me.’ Thinking about ways in which she could turn her practical skills and passion for yoga into something that could provide her with a salary, she stumbled across a programme, Start-ups in London Libraries, in her local library in Waltham Forest. ‘I could learn new skills, and get support. I attended all the workshops and it was breath-taking how in no time I learned about all the practicalities so I could move on and test my business idea. So many people have ideas, but they do not know there is a treasure box in the reach of their fingertips. It is free and highly professional, effective and tailored-made for each individual, each business idea.’

Here we spoke to Aleksandra, now the proud owner of the company Happy Stance Yoga Therapy, about her business, her newly discovered purpose in life and her experience of the ‘treasure box’ that is the Start-ups in London Libraries programme.

Can you tell us a bit about your business idea?

My idea was to create a specialised yoga and meditation programme to improve the quality of life for older people. At the moment there are 12 million people aged 65+ in the UK. Among all developed EU countries, the seniors here have the shortest life expectancy and the unhealthiest lifestyle. I definitely thought I could help here. Healthy ageing is the focus of WHO and the UN and they have made a global call to action – for the decade of healthy ageing, 2020-2030. So what better time than now, as we enter into this decade, to create a business that focuses on assisting healthy ageing?

AleksandraHorwood%2CHappyStanceYogaTherapy

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

I really love to help however I can and I like to use my existing skill set, but I also like to learn new things. I can say now that being made redundant was a blessing in disguise. Since I decided not to pursue my journalistic career, it became obvious that I should do something with my yoga teacher role. There are so many already existing yoga studios and gyms, but I have found out from talking to people and a couple of my private students that these venues are usually not age-friendly, the music is too loud, the tempo and energy in the classes is too intimidating and simply not encouraging for the elderly. I thought yoga would be such a nice way to help the elderly stay healthy and socially engaged.

I have always exercised with my grandparents after they suffered from strokes, diabetes, and some reduced mobility issues, and later with my students. Some of who were close to being centenarians! It simply feels good to be able to make positive changes in the lives of older people, their families and their communities.

How did the SiLL programme help?

SiLL was helpful from day one. I gave Sarah [the Waltham Forest Business Champion] permission to remind me of the deadlines for my project schedule we set up together. I tend to get distracted and she was always kind and firm enough in keeping me on track, informing me of any interesting new developments she saw in this field, offering constant supervision and guidance. I was provided with the list of local care homes and organizations I could contact as well as the venues where I could offer my yoga classes.

Defining the process and all its stages were the crucial points for me. I would never have been able to develop my business this quickly without the help of Sarah. She gave me tips for presenting my idea and even kindly offered to go with me to care homes to make an appointment for delivering my trial session as I wasn’t receiving any response. She checked my website, my email signature and my flyers as well as finding and suggesting quiet workspaces in the borough.

Can you tell us a bit about Sarah or the Waltham Forest business community?

I felt thoroughly supported. There was no question I couldn't ask and I always felt that Sarah was really there, in service of the community and I felt complete trust in her guidance and motivation. Her immediate responses to countless emails or LinkedIn messages, networking skills, and also human skills were a huge support for me. She would regularly remind me to take care of myself, have a day off and do something fun and take pride in success I made so far. I would get impatient or unhappy and she would quickly remind me how much I have already progressed, in just two months, in a foreign country, in a foreign language, without family or friends. And then I would take pride in myself and continue my work, my mission of bringing health and happiness to the lives of the elderly.

How did COVID impact your business and how have you pivoted?

Coronavirus affected my business pretty badly. The big studios had resources to adapt much more quickly whereas I was struggling to organise online classes. However, I was able to pivot the business. I opened a Zoom scheduling account to allow me to teach anywhere in the world. This was after years of having an uncompromising belief that yoga requires direct person-to-person connection. Now I see the benefits. My digital sessions focused particularly on elderly people who may have been more isolated than ever during lockdown and centred around mobility and fall prevention to allow for that independence.

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

I would suggest searching for a mentor is the most valuable asset. Someone who will guide you, support you, but also question your ideas, your strategies, your planning, and priorities. Someone who has soft skills too, to be able not only to instruct you but also tutor, monitor you and tell you that you need counselling if that is the case. Your life experience is also a great asset as you will recognize and accept other people's help and not be too stubborn or too proud to ask for it when needed. Do not be a perfectionist, like me, just start somewhere and work from there. 

Happy Stance Yoga

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

I have learned that I have strength, capacity, and curiosity to start anew even when the conditions are not very favourable. I must admit that I felt very depressed in summer since I couldn't find a job and I was thinking if I can stay in this country, what will happen with my marriage if I have to go back to Croatia to look for a job. I am going to be 50 next year so that didn't help when looking for a job as everybody was asking for young people. I found my self-worth, I regained self-confidence and I am more engaged than ever with different sectors in the community, searching for the best ways to serve elderly, whom we owe everything, yet they experience a lot of hardship, isolation, even ageism, age-based discrimination, etc. I found out how good I am in networking, doing research and informing people about these issues.

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

I would absolutely recommend it. I think of the local start-ups Champions more as leaders since they recognise the potential in everyone, and they offer support during the process, it is not just telling you can do it. They share their authority and accountability, they connect and explore and ask how can we do things better? They listen and they ask the right questions. 

To find out more about the Start-ups in London Libraries programme and to register for one of our free workshops, visit bl.uk/SiLL

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09 September 2020

Meet Patricia Gurman, founder of Sweet Paper Creations and Start-ups in London Libraries participant

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We’ve all been speaking a lot more about our mental health recently. So we love to hear about businesses that are tackling mental health issues in innovative and creative ways. Enter Sweet Paper Creations: a not-for-profit business that is here to support those with poor mental health through crafting and creation. We spoke more to Patty to find out how the business came into being and how Start-ups in London Libraries has helped her to expand her vision...

'At Sweet Paper Creations, we make and sell piñatas, made from recycled materials, for any occasion in our online shop, where customers can also commission their own bespoke character.

The profits from our shop help us to deliver our “Make It and Break It” workshops, where we provide a creative outlet for those suffering from mental health issues, stress, bereavement or those helping support someone going through such issues.

As a Guatemalan who settled in Walthamstow 27 years ago, I have always made piñatas for my children for their birthdays as a way of sharing my Guatemalan cultural heritage with them, and making and breaking them together has become a family tradition.

Ice Cream Pinata

In recent years, as my eldest child (Ali) had been suffering from depression and social anxiety, we found that making piñatas together was an ideal form of therapy and an opportunity to support her through her journey. Towards the end of last year, with Ali feeling stronger, it struck us that we had stumbled upon a potential support for the growing numbers in our local community who are suffering from poor mental health, as well as their carers and families who feel as I did: inadequate, frustrated and alone.

Our “Make it and Break it” workshops give others the opportunity to engage with a creative outlet, where they can work alongside us, learn a skill in a fun environment and talk about their circumstances should they choose to do so.

 

We joined SiLL to help develop this idea and since then our business has come alive; we have developed our online shop, sold more piñatas, and delivered three pilot workshops.

From the time I met Sarah at the Walthamstow Library, I felt reassured and confident to be able to develop my ideas into reality. She listened to my ideas, helped me to organise my priorities and to develop an action plan which includes looking at ways to fund-raise in order to deliver our pilot workshops.

Attending the library events and workshops also provided me with the opportunity to learn about legal requirements and to identify new opportunities to continue my business development. As a new business with limited experience, we believe that Sarah’s support and encouragement has helped us to be where we are now.

Covid Pinata

In starting my business, I learnt a lot, like how to organise my ideas, identify what ideas can work, and how to figure out how to implement them. I also learnt the importance of recognising what I am able to do and to achieve by identifying my limitations and then seeing these as the opportunities to develop in the future.

It is important to understand that everything takes time and does not happen automatically. I learnt to give myself time to learn and develop but also to make mistakes and to learn from them.

And so, if I were to give anyone who was thinking about starting a business advice it would be: attend as many workshops as you can. There is so much that we do not know at the beginning and, even if you are already trading, there is still so much to learn.

If, at the end, you decide to wait to develop your project, or if it is not for you, you will not have wasted your time as you get to meet so many amazing people and develop new friendships, which in itself is a win-win result.

Do not be afraid. Write all your ideas on a piece of paper and mark the ones that make you feel excited and motivated. Share your vision and passion with people like Sarah, who are able to guide you through your adventure.

And to anyone thinking of joining the SiLL programme, don’t think twice! It is the best thing you can do before you start your business adventure. Talking to them really opens your eyes and helps you to avoid mistakes, even though making mistakes is part of the learning.'

To see Patty and Ali's collection of piñatas, visit sweetpapercreations.com.

For more on the Start-ups in London Libraries programme and to book a spot on one of our workshops, visit our webpage

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10 August 2020

Meet Sol Ramos, co-founder of London Basketball Nation and Start-ups in London Libraries participant

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There were a strange couple of months in 2020 where team sports were essentially non-existent. As they are slowly creeping back to normality, we wanted to celebrate one of the sports businesses who took part in our Start-ups in London Libraries programme.  Here we speak to Sol, co-founder of London Basketball Nation to find out more about her business, how it came into being and her advice for anyone else thinking about starting their own business.

‘We are London Basketball Nation Ltd. We organise basketball tournaments and events related to the sport.

The business came into being after years of unsuccessful attempts to find where to play amateur basketball in London. We started in 2018 with the experience of being unsatisfied customers who could face a challenge. The CEO of the company (and my husband) is the coach of an amateur basketball team. I spent some of my weekends at basketball courts watching games but also listening to almost everyone involved in the activity complaining about the poor quality of the service they were getting. They were paying to do something they loved during the scarce free time they had, and they were having a terrible time! This concern was shared not just by players but by staff working for existing organisations.

What first started as a chat about how bad things were, ended up in more serious talks about how much better things could be, and we took the matter in our own hands. Having experience in the amateur sports sector and a multidisciplinary team on board was really helpful. We got the support of two experienced officials that have been giving valuable insight from day one.

The London Basketball team

I have a background in Management and I get easily bored.  I was motivated by the challenge but also by the potential results.  Seeing people doing what they love and making that possible is very satisfying. As someone who has several hobbies herself, I can also identify with our customers.

There was little to no information available online about related services so we conducted some research, talking to other teams and players about what they wanted. They were all looking for the same: good venues, but above all, sensible people behind the activity. We thought of offering an “all-inclusive” format (fixture, staff, venue, etc) – from the players’ perspective, they then just had to be there and do what they do best.

We set up a company (just in case “it worked”) in March 2019 and organised a short tournament in June that year to test the waters. Teams decided to give us a chance and we ended up organising a 7-month tournament for adult men (18+) afterwards. We are looking forward to expanding our reach and have not only more teams but also a Women’s division. We celebrated our first year as a company in March 2019.

I found out about the SiLL project thanks to a British Library newsletter around September 2019 and registered for the ‘Get ready for business’ workshop that was taking place in December. My SME Champion, Loretta, got in touch with me to know a bit more about the business and I shyly accepted a meeting. She talked me through the Business & IP Centre services for new businesses. I was amazed by the number of resources and support given to entrepreneurs.

SiLL helped us see the organisation as a business rather than something to do on weekends. It provided us with key insights and added value to our service.  This is my first experience as an entrepreneur and I had to learn a lot about legal and financial aspects of a business in the UK, as well as networking; social media… you name it! There is a lot of information out there, so much that it can be not just overwhelming, but also misleading. The SiLL project served as a guide.
I would have loved to have known about the project from day one as I think it would have saved me tonnes of time and work.

Two teams at a London Basketball Nation event

Coronavirus has, of course, been a huge challenge. With people not being able to gather in groups and the basketball courts being closed, we have been forced to stop our operations during this period. It really is just me and my husband running the business alongside other jobs right now, and so we have had a real split focus over the past months.

However, it has given us some space to focus on our brand and the digital aspect of the business. My husband is a web developer and he was able to dedicate time to work on the website and to bring more functionalities on board. We are also currently working on LBN Courts, a portal to find and rate outdoor basketball courts. We think this will help players to get back in shape - both physically and mentally - whilst encouraging people to make the of their local facilities (and that way, diminishing the use of public transport). The portal will not only show the location of courts, but it will allow players to rate their features, and to organise training groups - always according to the latest government advice of course.  

I consider myself extremely lucky to be part of the Greenwich business community. Loretta’s insights and support are invaluable. She is a connector, she puts together ideas to create new things, and people to make them come to life. She is always happy to have a one-to-one to talk about the progress of the business, and she makes sure I keep up to date by sending training and promotion opportunities. Not to mention she has such good energy! I am deeply thankful for her support.

A basketball game at a London Basketball Nation event

I have learnt so much from starting up my own business – the main one being that everything takes at least double the time and the money than you expected/calculated, especially admin work! Reaching people is not as easy as it sounds, especially when you’re new in the game.

However, it has also given me lots of advice that I would p[ass onto anyone else thinking about starting their own business:

  • Do your research: know the market, the customers and the competence.
  • Someone has already done it: maybe not exactly what you are thinking about doing, but someone has already walked the steps to set up a business. Someone has already made the mistakes and reached success. Use it and share it.
  • Be organised and have a plan: Having a plan, even a vague one, and keeping records of things you want and what you are doing to get them is really helpful. It’ll keep you focused, and with time it’ll give you information to analyse and understand what happened and why, and identify what can be improved.
  • Be responsive: reply to everything (emails, calls, social media messages, etc) as soon as possible.
  • Do not assume anything. It is better to talk about things rather than thinking they are a certain way. Ask for confirmation, repeat things, write down dates and meeting notes.
  • You can’t make everyone like you or what you do, and there’s no point in trying to do it. Focus on providing a good service and listen to feedback, let your actions speak louder than words.
  • You can’t control everything. Deal with it.
  • You can do much more than you think.
  • Just start!’

Find out more about London Basketball Nation.

If you’re interested in joining the online Start-ups in London Libraries webinars and workshops, you can find all of the information at bl.uk/SiLL.

SiLL funder logos - ERDF, Arts Council and J.P. Morgan)