14 July 2022
Founder and Creative Director, Laura Sheeter spent more than 10 years working as a news reporter in the UK, USA and former USSR - reporting on everything from the fate of abandoned Soviet military bunkers to the villages with only grandparents and grandchildren left behind in the exodus of Eastern European workers to the rest of the EU, the disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the rebuilding of New Orleans in the years after Hurricane Katrina.
After a brief career shift, working as a Russian to English translator, Laura and her business partner, Ruth Barnes, set up Chalk & Blade - one of the first podcast-only production companies in the UK - in 2016, before podcasting appeared to be a business at all. Soon the time came to grow their business, so they joined our scale-up programme, Innovating for Growth.
"The British Library’s Business and IP Centre was the first place, Ruth and I went to learn about how to set up a new business. It’s since become a bit of a North Star with us returning to its resources whenever we encounter new opportunities and challenges.
The sessions with the marketing and brand teams have helped immeasurably with the visibility of the business, particularly embarking on a new redesign of the website and relocation of the offices. The Chalk & Blade team is equipped with SEO-super charged ideas and branding tactics to position ourselves as the premium destination for podcast making."
The company makes premium branded content for brands and organisations including Net a Porter, Adidas and the UN, the hugely popular TV companion series Obsessed With for the BBC (now also a show on BBC3), and award-winning, critically acclaimed narratives including In Search of Black History with Bonnie Greer (audible), The Messenger (audible), Hunting Ghislaine (Global) and Taking on Putin - an independent production with John Sweeney.
So what goes into creating all this ear candy? Read on to find out.
It’s a new work and the first in our shiny new Chalk & Blade offices. While the rest of the world came to a standstill over the last few years, the podcast industry has seen a huge boom. IAB saw an ad spend of $1.4 billion in the space last year alone. With such demand across originals and branded content, we’ve been busy growing and developing the team and the relocation was all part of this investment in the next phase of the business.
Previously in a shared co-working spot on Old Street, we’re now settling into a Shoreditch warehouse space with our own front door and freshly brewed organic coffee on tap (high on the list of requirements during the multiple recces!). A new week gives me a chance to check in with a lot of the team’s projects and look ahead to line up meetings with potential creative partners, commissioners and journalists all bursting with great ideas that could lead to a project.
The team is in full swing juggling a multitude of shows this summer. In any one week, we’ve got a BBC show recording for TV and our first foray into visual podcast production (a fascinating experience and, yes, branded cushions are a must!), drafting and refining a very personal show which requires careful briefing, a narrative podcast in pre-production (our office walls are currently decked out with story arc ideas) and talent meetings to unearth some welcome fresh voices into the mix.
The news tells me that we’re gearing up for a heatwave here in London so this afternoon after school pick up I take the boys to get ice-creams (they both choose waffle cones like the sensible sorts, they are). When my co-founder Ruth and I set up the company, we were both parents and so we’ve always been very open about having to juggle the demands of a busy production schedule alongside homework/baking a sponge for the school summer fete or taking the dog for a spin around the park. This is something we’re also incredibly aware of for our team too and want to offer all of them the same flexibility, whether it’s heading to a spin class on their lunch break or needing to take a duvet day when they’ve had a tough week.
I get a text from my colleague, and Chalk & Blade’s Development Lead, Jason who is at the Children’s Media Conference meeting with other production companies and commissioners this morning. Behind the scenes, we’ve been scoping out opportunities for audio ideas for kids. We’re really excited about inspiring young imaginations through podcasts, both as audio experts and as parents who know the value of great content for our kids.
The final episode of our podcast series with investigative journalist John Sweeney, Taking On Putin, is out in the world and I couldn’t be prouder of the team! I first worked with John as his Executive Producer on our hit podcast Hunting Ghislaine so when he suggested we follow Hunting Ghislaine with a series about Vladimir Putin, I was all in. We actually started work on Taking on Putin nearly a year ago. At the time I had to keep checking with my business partner, Ruth Barnes, that it wasn’t too niche or geeky. Russia wasn’t fashionable, and those warning about the threat Putin posed were seen as paranoid, crackpots or warmongers. We never expected it to be headline news.
Taking on Putin has shown the true value of telling serious stories deeply, with character and humanity, because when the world takes alarming turns we need to understand not only the what, but have a trusted guide explaining the why of what’s happening too.
And that’s precisely the kind of stories we want to hear and tell through our podcast productions at Chalk & Blade.
25 April 2022
Like many budding entrepreneurs, Nick, the London-based founder of Storm Skin has never been short of ideas, but as a first time entrepreneur, he had always hesitated when it came to launching. We are happy to say that with our help, Nick was able to gain the confidence and tools needed to take the plunge and launch his bicycle cover business. We spoke to him to find out more about his start-up journey.
“Storm Skin was born out of personal frustration. As an urban cyclist with limited space, I have no choice but to store my bike outside. A bike cover is an essential item to prevent your bike rusting and seizing up. However, the only bike covers available to buy were cheap, flimsy and prone to ripping. What’s more, they were poorly fitting and tended to spend more time on my next-door neighbour’s hedge than covering my bike. So, we built a bike cover that worked. 100% waterproof, easy to fit, durable, unrivalled protection from wind, rain and UV. Simple.
My first interaction with the BIPC was at Start-Up Day in 2018 and since then they have played a pivotal role in the development of Storm Skin. The Start-Up Day event inspired me to move beyond daydreaming about running my own business to taking steps to make it happen. Once I had taken the decision to proceed, I booked a one-to-one session with an expert from the BIPC. We discussed the lean start-up methodology, and I was able to learn more about the electronic resources available at the BIPC in the British Library. Over the following months, I regularly visited the library, using Mintel databases to research my consumer and market.
They also supported me with exploring opportunities to export my product into the EU. This included providing links to resources as well as workshops run by their partner organisation (Enterprise Europe Network). The information the BIPC provided demystified the complex process of exporting, particularly the new rules and regulations post-Brexit.
Another key area that the BIPC supported with was constructing my IP strategy. I attended a workshop with expert IP lawyers, which provided me with more information on trade mark protection, design registration and patents. Armed with this info I was able to decide the level of protection I needed, whilst remaining within my budget.
Finally, I was also helped with the sourcing of my product. Through their monthly Inventor’s Club I was able to meet Bob and Richard, two product experts and serial entrepreneurs, they explained the basics of sourcing products from target pricing to prototyping. Through Richard, I was also able to meet Katy, who helped me to approach factories with my idea.
The best business advice I was given was that innovation comes in many forms. Incremental innovation is as valid as revolutionary innovation. It is not always necessary to create something completely new. Many great business ideas are improvements on existing products. In my spare time, I like to spend time with my family. I have two children under five, who keep me busy and help give me perspective when I’m having a tough day.
The book that most influenced me was the FT Business Start-Up guide. This book has a step-by-step checklist for setting up a new business. I found it invaluable, allowing me to break down the process into bite-size tasks. The book also ensured I didn’t miss anything (product protection liability anyone?).”
Is your business idea still a daydream instead of a reality? Visit our workshops and events page to see how we can inspire you to take the next step.
16 March 2022
Female founded start-ups represent a growing share of investment activity – in the UK in 2011, only 11% of start-ups were women founded and by 2020, this number had risen to 32%. In the male dominated space of entrepreneurship, women founders are often underestimated and overlooked; while we have made progress, there’s still more to be done. To mark Women’s History Month, we’re delving into the experiences of two entrepreneurs we’ve supported to learn how they overcame discrimination in business.
“My mum certainly has some stories of working as a black female entrepreneur and as I have entered the business with her in the last five years there are a few things that have brought me back down to reality in terms of the challenges that women face in business.
My mum has worked in the hair industry for the past 45 years. She moved from working in a salon to working from home as a hairdresser when she started her family; part-time availability for hair stylists wasn't a realistic career and banks wouldn't lend her the capital to open her own salon. She worked out of our utility room and bathroom for 30 years and with that income, sustained two children (and our many after school activities), a mortgage and bought a flat in Portugal.
Over those years, the banks slowly offered my mum an overdraft for her sole trader account but she never used it because she had always associated debt with poor financial management.”
When Eleanore was studying for her A-Levels, Teresa also stepped back into her own studies and re-qualified as a Trichologist. Soon after qualifying, she found a retail space that she could run her clinical practice from. However, even though she was a successful business owner for the past 35 years, she was asked for a guarantor to support her retail lease application. Financially independent and in her fifties, she didn't find this appropriate, but was forced to compromise by signing an eight-year lease with no break clause instead.
Upon realising that their business was making enough money to register as a limited company instead of a sole trader, Eleanore and Teresa went to several banks and opened a business bank account. Whilst one bank was happy to offer them a sole trader account with a £12,000 overdraft, the only business account they were keen to offer was with a £2,000 overdraft. They eventually went with another bank that offered a measly £6,000 overdraft and meant that their cash flow was still too tight to invest in growth.
Several years later, Teresa was ready to move clinics and they were in a position to develop their clinic hair care range into a product range ready to be sold to retailers. Despite presenting a business plan in an effort to increase their £6,000 overdraft, the bank turned them down. This made no sense to Eleanore, “I had been offered bigger overdrafts as a student earning nothing, yet here was a successful business that made money every year and had never had to dip into an overdraft, had grown organically year after year, and yet credit options were non-existent.” They postponed development of their range for three years out of fear that the investment would deplete their cash flow, and there were no obvious alternatives to financing that weren't fraught with high interest rates.
Fulham Scalp and Hair has also been operating in Luanda, Angola, which is Teresa’s birthplace. There she has a loyal customer base who have grown with her over the years but many customers and onlookers still don't understand how a business like theirs can generate enough interest and enough revenue to fund a satellite clinic in Luanda. “Rumours of my mother having a wealthy benefactor are always amusing, but depressingly remind me that the expectation for women to run a successful, international business is still questioned.
Last year an investor in Angola who was keen to buy a stake in our Angolan business propositioned us. When negotiations began, it emerged that he was only going to accept a majority stake in all of our business holdings internationally and was going to establish his own solicitor as a business consultant with a 5% stake. The mind boggles at how foolish they must have assumed an older black woman and her younger daughter must be.
This I find is the most common theme being a woman in business, and it hasn't really changed from the time of my mum starting her own business through to me joining and leading it. Women continue to be underestimated in their own businesses, and this seems to be particularly brutal for women of colour or for very young (looking) women. For mum she had been underestimated by so many of the services and employees previously hired, that it was a relief to work with her daughter who she could completely trust and not be on her guard with. Personally, I have had to correct solicitors, landlords and accountants on their own work and have even had one rep from an organisation ask if I need to chat with my "mummy" before signing off on membership.”
Our next business is The Fermentation Station, founded by Amy and Sam who received support from BIPC Liverpool in relation to their trademarking. We spoke to Amy to learn how her experience as an entrepreneur has been different to that of her partners’.
“Being a female business owner has its advantages and disadvantages. In Liverpool, having access to support through The Women's Organisation provides many advantages to being a female business owner in the city, but I believe this is a privilege that many don't receive.
Whilst it wasn't impossible to be a female business owner 30 or 50 years ago, the challenge was much greater than what we see in 2022. Things have certainly come a long way but we still have a lot of progress to make in how we view women in business. I often think my Nan would have achieved even more remarkable things during her working years had gender roles been different back then. She was an outstanding woman with a genetic eye condition that she never let stand in her way.”
It is also important to encourage young girls into entrepreneurship, when Amy was in high school the only future presented to her was one of academia. “We were told that it was a safe route into employment that meant that we didn't need to rely on a man - can you guess I went to a single sex school! Whilst I am eternally grateful for the solid upbringing they gave me, the option of becoming an entrepreneur was not one that I was encouraged to explore. I think often this causes 'impostor syndrome' as we feel we aren't skilled for the role, whilst men are more likely to take the leap without second guessing whether they’re qualified to do so."
Having been a Company Director for six years between The Fermentation Station & H2A, Amy has built up confidence to present herself as a business leader and leave the impostor syndrome at the door. When asked about whether she has noticed a difference in the way she is treated by investors, suppliers or clients in comparison to Sam she pointed out that unconscious bias is always at play.
“I believe that many think that Sam is the driving force behind our business – that's until I open my mouth, and he is often granted commendations for behaviours that I perform regularly. When we have been challenged with difficult customers or stockists, who are unprepared to acknowledge or accept my response, I have now resorted to responding to them by pretending to be Sam; you would be surprised how quickly their tone & response changes when they believe it's a man they’re speaking to.”
Overall though, the advantages of being a female founder outweigh the disadvantages, Amy has been the company director of a mother-daughter team and a male-female team which have both been incredible experiences for her. “I think it's completely dependent upon the personalities of your fellow directors or founders, and with both businesses I held close personal relationships. Sam and I work well together not because we are different genders or sexes but because our working styles complement each other.”
18 February 2022
As London Fashion Week A/W 2022 comes to a close today, we’re feeling like it's about time to update our wardrobe! Stuck in a rut with your wardrobe too? Maybe you're feeling inspired to create runway pieces at home? From shoe making classes to vintage inspired clothing, we have BIPC businesses that are transforming the fashion industry to help pull you out of your rut. Find out how below
The Fold Line is an award-winning online sewing pattern shop. Founded in 2015 and based in the UK, they are the home for people who love sewing and making their own clothes, offering an extensive range of paper and digital PDF sewing patterns plus copy shop printing services. They are on a sewing mission to help makers find the perfect project and create a handmade wardrobe they love. If the designs from London Fashion Week has inspired you to try your hand at sewing, why not try making one of The Fold Line's best selling sewing patterns for beginners.
Co-founders Rachel Walker and Kate Underdown took part in the Innovating for Growth Free Scale-Up programme and with the help of experts' advice, marketed their new online shop to an established community following.
If shoes are more your style, why not try I Can Make Shoes, a London-based shoe-making school for beginners. Amanda founded the business back in 2010 to teach total beginners how to make their own shoes from home. Since we last spoke to the Innovating for Growth alumna, a lot has changed - she spent the first lockdown filming the same course content she had been teaching in-person for over 10 years and released it as an Online Course, this turned out to be great timing as people from all over the world had been wanting to take one of their courses but weren't able to travel the distance.
The past two years have been a very rocky road, as is the case many small businesses, but I Can Make Shoes has come out of it in a great position having had a chance reset the business and find their feet in the world of online training.
Inspired by beautiful bygone eras Revival Retro’s garments have classic style, feminine tailoring and flattering cuts. They are the perfect antidote to the fast fashion and throwaway culture of the chain brands on the high street and are committed to enabling individual style with inclusive sizing (8-28). For the discerning woman who wants a better shopping experience, their thoughtful design and considered approach puts people, planet and provenance first. Clothing that women will choose to wear again and again, that are easy to care for, enabling this desire and therefor lowering impact on the environment.
Since completing Innovating for Growth in 2017 where they learned to create a solid foundation for their business plans, their small business has built upon lessons learned and stayed true to their values whilst navigating the challenges of the last few years.
Sabina Motasem is a multi award-winning bridal boutique featured on vogue.com and in Elle. The entrepreneur and designer behind it is Sabina Ali whose dresses are proudly made right here in London with beautiful craftsmanship by an extraordinarily talented team. Having started in 2007, with a single wedding dress made as a present for a friend, Sabina's presence has steadily grown and she took part in our Innovating for Growth programme in 2012; it's an experience she calls "life changing" as it taught her the value of detaching herself and gaining perspective.
Like so many small businesses Sabina had to close her bridal shop in Islington but she believes it was the right thing to do. Her boutique is now online, becoming one of the first bridal brands in the country to pivot in this direction, and in 2022 she has started offering in-person appointments at bridal pop-up shops in Kings Cross, London.
The Maria Grachvogel brand of Fashion and Luxury is about fit architecture – making clothes exist for the wearer, rather than the other way around. She engineers beautiful clothes, in fabrics that make every shape and size of woman look and feel her most confident, beautiful, and feminine. With a deep belief that cut and fit is transformative to the body and soul, each piece is carefully considered with seams that sculpt the body and fabric that drapes perfectly to move and flow as you do with thoughtful design details to enhance and flatter or allow for many ways to wear and style. The finest craftsmanship goes into every, considered piece so it can be loved and worn for many years.
Watch the latest fashion film by Maria Grachvogel, Genesis - A New Dawn, which premiered during London Fashion Week on 21 February.
B_Boheme’s showcases how vegan, sustainable and ethical shoes can be desirable. The collection is 100% animal-free using the latest innovations in sustainable, plant-based materials, as well as natural and recycled materials. With their latest collection, they’ve upped the ante to create a collection with the lowest possible carbon footprint. It features three key styles that are designed to be bolder and brighter as well as durable and timelessly chic. They’ve focused on styles that women can wear to be comfortable while still elevating any outfit, the elegant flat shoe, the designer sneaker and the utility Chelsea boot.
25 January 2022
A new year is a time of reflection, it's a perfect opportunity to make important changes and set goals you'd like to accomplish in the year ahead. For small businesses, 2021 remained unpredictable under COVID-19 conditions and in order to adapt, pivots were essential - a tricky environment to set goals and resolutions in. We spoke to businesses we have supported, through Innovating for Growth, our National Network and Start-Ups in London Libraries programme, to find out what their top three resolutions are for this year. If you're struggling to set resolutions of your own, we hope they inspire you!
Paul, Triple Double
Triple Double is a creative studio, founded by Paul Jenkins, that unleashes how youth engage in sport and education, using the power of design and creativity to transform their lives. Innovating for Growth alumni Paul doesn't usually set resolutions focusing instead on goals, this year he's decided to use themes to guide him rather than setting fixed aims:
- Responsibility. We can't control what happens, but we can choose how we react. This year I'm going to take more responsibility and empower those around me to do the same, so we can collectively highlight and fix the problems, not just put a band-aid over them.
- Future Thinking. 'What is the future of... X?' These are the questions I want to be asking this year, and beyond, within the spaces of youth, sport and education that Triple Double works in. Using design and creativity to be in pursuit of the answers rather than just trying to predict them.
- Team. I want to continue to identify people around me that truly understand why I'm doing what I'm doing, and invest in these relationships – reducing or cutting ties with those that don't. It's impossible to speak and please everyone, so it's about spending time with those that matter most. Goes back to responsibility above ultimately.
Jennifer, Stitch & Story
Founded by Jennifer Lam and Jen Hoang, Stitch & Story gives novice crafters a stress-free experience in learning to knit or crochet, their all-in-one kits contain everything you need to get started and learn the basic techniques. Read on to find out their top three resolutions for 2022:
- Focusing more on the systems and processes for the business. As our business grows, we’re needing to find leaner and more automated ways of working so that our team has all the right information needed to make decisions. I often find systems and processes quite dull compared to the front facing parts of the business, so this year I’ll be making extra efforts!
- Delegating more to my team so that I can get away from the day-to-day and focus more on planning for the business.
- Make sure I plan in adequate leave/holiday in advance - otherwise I’ll end up with the bad habit of not taking any time off.
Tina was inspired by Taiwanese bubble tea concept and British tea drinking culture to develop a delicious, well-balanced, vegan tea latte beverage - HumaniTea. As well as taking part in the start-up arm of the Innovating for Growth programme, she was also mentored by a successful entrepreneur from the scale-ups programme. Then, in 2021, HumaniTea began being stocked in the British Library canteen! Let's see what Tina's plans are for the coming year:
- Make HumaniTea accessible to even more people by launching our Vegan Tea Lattes into a nationwide retailer
- Explore new product development ideas to expand our range of HumaniTea Oat Milk Tea Latte flavours, like turmeric and rooibos
- Increase our sales to support more wellbeing and sustainability initiatives through growing our list of stockists in the UK and abroad
Fiona & Jennifer, Amaze Associates
Amaze Associates, founded by Fiona Wedderburn-Graham and Jennifer McLean, is a transformational coaching company that empowers individuals and businesses to achieve their goals and to navigate work and life challenges. Their top three resolutions are:
- Review the business plan and celebrate our achievements: as often we don't lift our heads above the parapet long enough or take time to consider what we have actually achieved.
- Take social media by the horns: By planning/scheduling reels and stories in advance and introduce lives as part of our marketing strategy.
- To be limitless: As a business we have set an aspirational income target, this acts as a real motivating factor for us and has informed our goal setting for this year.
ArtPerÚK, founded by Katherine Tinoco, is a business created to share Peruvian culture with the wider community in London and the UK, through the art and enjoyment of dance. ArtPerÚK burst onto the UK dance scene in mid-2019, offering Peruvian folkloric dance classes representative of the three regions of Peru: Coast, Andes and Jungle. Katherine let us know what her top three business resolutions for the new year are:
- Run events and performances outside London to increase Peruvian folklore visibility
- Create new and energetic choreographies with traditional costumes to increase our variety and diversity
- Run a Dance Performance with more than 30 dancers in one Theatre in London.
Hellen, Small Stuff
Hellen Stirling is the founder of Small Stuff, an eco-conscious children’s store in South Yorkshire. Hellen used BIPC South Yorkshire’s free market research reports and recently their IP support to become a trade marked brand. Her three goals for 2022 are:
- Continue to grow and expand Small Stuff, both online and in real life by taking on more specialised staff to share the load.
- Collaborate with the local community, support and engage with other local businesses, shoppers and residents to get Crookes high street on the map!
- Travel and promote the business nationally, but going back to Small Stuff’s roots and utilising pop-up spaces and empty units around the country to promote the brand and our sustainability ethos.
Paul Pringle, Founder and Managing Director of Solarglide, who are based in the North East, produce blinds, curtains and window shades for ships. They received help from BIPC North East to help take their business to the next level in terms of sustainability. This year, Paul is looking forward to progressing three things:
- We’re looking at the transport we use, when we travel to shows or to see customers in other parts of the world. What we can do to either offset that, which is not really the way we want to go, we want to try and get as low a carbon footprint as we can, so we’re just looking at every aspect. The support we’re getting to take that forward is great. It just means we’re getting guidance on how to go about it. I was unsure where to turn, now I feel a lot more confident. Our goal is to get the lowest possible carbon footprint that we can get as a business. Yes we’re a manufacturer, but we’ve got lots of other ideas and ways in which we can reduce our power consumption, the processes to make us more environmentally friendly and also the products and see what else we can do to make them more sustainable.
- One of the big developments happening at Solarglide is we’re going very motorisation with everything we do. For the last 10 – 15 years it’s been all manually operated products we offer. We are now heading into the era of motorisation, i.e. blinds and curtains. We’re investing heavily in research and the development of our products.
- The other area is we’ve moved in to the yacht industry, which is still under the umbrella of maritime and we’ve developed a whole range of products for the yacht and super yacht market. It’s an exciting time for us. We’re also looking at land-based projects, without diverting too much away from the maritime market, i.e. motorhome, caravan, as our products fit that type of environment very well as well. We’ll stay true to our maritime roots and won’t diverge too much.
15 October 2021
In 1969, John Lennon said, “we’re trying to sell peace, like a product…like people sell soap or soft drinks”. That same approach is needed today to sell sustainable goods and services and we need data to help us figure out how to get them to resonate with people.
Some of the most popular sustainable behaviours according to Mintel’s research are driven by frugality, led by meal planning to avoid wasting food (61%) and buying fewer new clothes (58%). The sustainable consumer groups we have identified are more likely to agree with the statement ‘I have a budget that I try to stick to as much as possible’. It is this ‘return on investment’ mentality we need to appeal to when pushing solar panels and EVs, not just environmentalism.
Sustainable products and services should also appeal to people’s sense of well being and self-preservation. A sharp indication of just how seriously UK consumers are taking climate change and pollution is shown by the proportions interested in buying air conditioning (30%) or air purifiers (32%) to make their homes cleaner and safer. Health also informs the growth in greener transport behaviours seen this past year and those who have walked (45%) or cycled (17%) more often.
Sustainably-minded consumers have stronger peacock tendencies, being more likely to agree with the statement ‘I like to stand out from the crowd’. Refurbished tech reseller Back Market appeals strongly to these values, addressing the growing problem of e-waste by selling products 70% below their new price, all delivered in a Freedom campaign that celebrates being ‘different’ from the sheep who line up en masse to pay more for the latest phone.
There’s still time to make a personal difference
The good news is that a small majority (54%) still believe we have time for redemption, and slightly more (56%) believe that their personal actions can make the difference. For brands, the opportunity here is to become the chosen partners of those consumers looking to make a difference. The challenge thereafter is for brands to maintain that relationship by proving what difference they’ve made and reporting back on that impact. So how can they do this?
1. Don’t cross consumers’ ‘red lines’
When asked to choose their top five considerations when purchasing coffee, socks or soap, consumers typically select two or more sustainable features, but they won’t sacrifice product quality, efficacy or brand familiarity for sustainability. We should never forget that a sustainable coffee must first and foremost deliver pleasure, taste and quality before anything else. These rules apply to packaging too: its primary role is to protect the product within to ensure that the energy and other resources that went into its production are not wasted. Their footprint will be much higher than that of the packaging itself. Patagonia is one of the very few brands to have had the courage to explain its reasons for using plastic in these terms.
2. Educate on and disclose impacts
Consumers are fixated on ocean plastic (62% say it’s a top three environmental concern) yet even accounting for its production using fossil fuels, its incineration and disposal it generates less than 4% of annual GHG emissions. More consumers prioritise ocean plastic than a loss of biodiversity in the oceans as a concern, but Sea Shepherd’s revelation that 46% of plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is actually fishing nets, confirms that fishing and food have a far greater impact than packaging when it comes to damaging the ocean and the role of its biomass in storing carbon. It’s the duty of brands to be transparent on their business’s biggest areas of impact when it comes to releasing carbon or methane.
3. Offer tangible, local solutions
When it comes to accepting the reality of climate change, it’s a case of ‘seeing is believing’, with national levels of concern around climate change grounded in what people experience in their own countries. The visibility of ocean plastic is one of the reasons why it resonates so highly and this element of tangibility will also be key in whether people engage on issues. This may hardly seem an earth-shattering insight, but it signifies the importance of tangibility and localism when it comes to delivering sustainable solutions, confirmed in characterisation studies showing ‘sustainably-minded consumers’ to be distinguished by the high emphasis they place on values like ‘community’ and ‘localism’. This means that corporate initiatives – wherever possible – must deliver local visible benefits like cleaner local air from brands using EVs or investing in urban tree planting schemes.
4. Sell in the science
Just 45% of UK consumers agree that “science can provide solutions to the climate crisis”, which is pretty disappointing when we consider how intrinsic available technologies (solar panels, batteries, fuel cells, hydroponics) and those still in development (carbon capture, climate engineering, zero-carbon manufacturing materials, chemical recycling and lab-grown foods) are to us achieving emissions reductions. The pandemic has afforded us a zeitgeist moment to seize upon the speedy and spectacular successes in RNA vaccine development and trust in science needs to be built up by brands to help us achieve progress to net zero. Brands need to be brave enough to explain the benefits of science and synthetics instead of taking the easy option of celebrating ‘natural’ for all of its’ supposed purity. Palm oil, beef and coal are all “natural” resources, but they are finite and threatened and release GHGs in their production.
5. Use clear metrics and language
What will convince consumers to purchase products that claim to have environmental or social benefits?
To build belief in science and to convert potential into actual purchases, companies need to offer a new sustainability lexicon and use simple data and metrics that consumers can understand. Some 44% of UK consumers want labelling that shows a product’s environmental impact and 40% want this communicated in terms they can understand (eg litres of water used or km travelled). Mondra has developed colour-coded on pack “eco scores” that will go on trial in the UK this autumn and go some way to meeting that need.
Richard Cope is a Senior Trends Consultant at Mintel and author of the Sustainability Barometer. Join Richard at our Start Up Day 2021 event on 11th November. He'll be hosting a session on understanding sustainability trends in the UK right now - an unmissable and informative event for all small businesses wanting to start up sustainably.
12 May 2021
Every quarter, Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups chooses a cohort of 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 caught up again with Sian, founder and director of luxury wallpaper business Sian Zeng to see firsthand the impact of the programme on her business. You can read about the first half of her Innovating for Growth journey in the first installment of her diary. Having finished the programme, Sian can now reflect back on what she has discovered and the improvements she has already been able to put into action.
'Since our first post, we’ve now finished the Innovating for Growth Course. And in that time, my team and I have already made so many changes to how we organize ourselves, what we prioritize and how we present our brand.
Before joining the programme, one of my biggest goals was to find out how accurate our financial figures were; our inventory system often failed us and without an accurate stock figure, it was difficult to gain a real insight into how much profit we were making! Up until recently, I’d been keeping our books myself, which was another pressure on my workload and time I could be using elsewhere.
During the course, I was lucky to have two one-to-one Financial Planning Sessions with Suzie Campbell from The White Space Collective. In these sessions, we discussed the issues I was facing with bookkeeping, how I could improve our inventory system, our wholesale profit margins and worked through our cashflow forecast so that we can make an informed decision on which projects to invest in and people to hire going forward.
On the book keeping side, Suzie referred me to a company that was very well suited to our ecommerce business and was able to give advice on installing a good inventory system. We’ve now switched to an accountant that can fulfill our business needs.
As a creative business owner, I’m always tempted by so many projects I could invest in or hiring more help, but seeing the cashflow forecast with Suzie and the advice she gave me, I’m now a lot more strategic when making these decisions. I now know what to prioritize and when to stop an investment if isn’t working.
When it came to my session with Oliver Henderson, I already had several questions I wanted to ask him specific to my sector. Oliver has great research skills and found valuable market information for me to work with.
During my one-to-one with Dave Vann from ABA Design, I came to realize that some of our branding wasn’t translating effectively on our website. Even though our site is very functional and visually compelling, it lacks the storytelling element our brand is known for as a whole. Dave helped me tease out some of the stories I could share on my site, which is something that I hadn’t thought about before.
Next up, I had a marketing session with Izzie Sully from ABA Design. Using Trello, we went through my marketing plan and it was really helpful to visualise and create it in this way. One of the priorities we discussed was developing a CRM system to help create bespoke customer journeys specific to my business. I have now implemented it for our trade customers and have already seen a massive improvement in how we interact with this audience. We feel so much more organized with a system in place.
Both Dean Wilson and Ophelia Spowers from Fluxx were extremely helpful. I enjoyed speaking to Dean because he often questioned my assumptions. I assumed I needed stock of all my patterns in the new magnetic wallpaper material which we would be launching soon. This would have been a very large financial commitment. He was suggesting perhaps if customers were happy to wait for stock in the past then I might be able to print on demand rather than pay everything upfront. This also means I don’t have to wait until all collections are printed before I start launching this material.
We also discussed that we should have more regular and personal communication with our trade partners going forward, to build those relationships and explore how we can work better going forward. It was suggested that I start arranging catch-up calls with our partners and Ophelia was kind enough to draft a list of questions I could ask during these meetings.
I had a session with Robert Foster from Red Ochre at the very beginning of my course and it was there that we set out a series of goals to guide me through this course and beyond. I was happy to see how much I’ve already tackled. We have agreed on a new set of objectives for the next few months for myself and my team, and I am excited to see where else we are able to simplify and streamline our business.
Overall, the Innovating For Growth Programme has made such a big difference to my business. I feel I understand it on a deeper level and know which systems I need to put in place to not only grow faster but ensure I do more of what I love - painting, designing and creating. I’m very grateful to all the experts for the valuable advice and the British Library staff for organising everything so smoothly, especially during these difficult times.
If you are thinking of signing up for this course, I can’t recommend it enough!'
To find out more about Innovating for Growth and to apply for our next cohort, visit bl.uk/grow.
06 May 2021
Zachary Pulman is the founder of award-winning Zachary Pulman Design Studio, fast becoming the go-to design agency for the competitive socialising sector. The team recently took part in Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups.
Also designing high-end residential homes and developments and retail projects for the likes of Nike, Adidas and Sonia Rykiel, the studio began to expand their scope and in designing Swingers City and Swingers West End crazy golf venues, found their niche – competitive socialising spaces that evoke imagination, conversation and memorable experiences.
Now working with Swingers, Top Golf and Hoyts internationally as well as London’s new Pop-music themed crazy golf venue Pop Golf to name a few, the studio are putting into practice learnings from the British Library’s Scale Up Programme to take their designs and concepts worldwide. Competitive socialising never looked so good.
Mondays usually start with an early morning yoga session. If I can fire of a few emails to my team – before my wife Gosia and I take Hugo, our Kerry Blue Terrier out for a walk – then we’re off to a good start! Gosia and I try to find some quiet time before the day fully kicks in.
Recently, we’ve been trying to change up our walks and today, we’re off to Wanstead Park. Hugo currently has zero interest in other dogs but is fascinated by rats, squirrels and ducks. We feel this time is like his version of gaming or competitive socialising. He is extremely high energy!
We get back around 9am and I move to my mezzanine home office to meet the rest of the team. Like most, we’ve all been working remotely for the past year or so, so our team daily meetings are on online. Today, we review projects and plan out the week ahead. The rest of the day is a mix of client meetings on zoom, and site visits for our London clients.
Between 5 - 7pm I usually work on business development and after that it’s time for an episode of Brian Johnson’s Optimize. I’m finding his podcasts on leadership and productivity from his Optimal Living 101 Master Classes to be fascinating and I have been listening to the same 30 podcasts for the same 10 years. Today’s episode is all about leadership. Apparently, there’s no such thing as a bad team, only a bad leader. Johnson shares an example from the Navy Seals – a badly performing team swapped leaders with a top performing team. Before they knew it, that new leader transformed the worst performing team into the best!
This morning starts with vitamin day for Hugo. He automatically sits up, knowing he’s getting last night’s leftovers (disguising his supplements!). Once he’s revitalized, we head off to Hampstead Heath for a quick walk/hunt for squirrels.
They say you should plan your high brain power tasks for the morning, shifting admin to the afternoon or evening. So I start with some work on our projects for our clients in China.
Recently, we’ve been batching our international meetings and on Tuesdays we have our calls with China, so I start with prepping for those. Now that we’re working much more internationally, we’re better understanding the nuances between different regions. It's been great to be working with local teams of executive architects and interior designers to keep designs sensitive to local culture. The first example given to us in China is if you were to open the same KFC as you would in America, it would be almost pointless to unlock the door. With our designs in China, it seems to be a higher-end VIP, private, luxury experience. You really feel the sheer size and quality and speed of fabrication is mind-blowing.
Early evening, I catch up with a friend in Regents Park, since walking is the new socialising! Back home, it's time for evening exercise. I alternate legs (cycling using Zwift) with upper body (TRX - ropes). Today it’s cycling!
Wednesday is Hugo’s girlfriend day so we head to Camberwell to meet a blue whippet called Poppy for their rendezvous. Back in the home office and my inbox is filling up fast so I start the day catching up on client emails. We have our team call at 10.
On Wednesdays, we also have our Marketing and PR Manager in the studio (or more recently online!), we plan out our social media and I usually have a check in with Jessica in the afternoon. Recently there’s been a lot of buzz around the opening of Pop Golf so we meet to chat through progress with that PR campaign.
On Wednesdays, we also have our calls with clients and collaborators in the US, and today feels pretty flat out with Zoom/Skype/Teams etc! We catch up with our client Swingers Crazy Golf who are expanding into the US, reviewing designs for their upcoming Washington DC and New York venues.
Today the focus is on our Australia and Argentina-based projects so after our team meeting at 10am, the day’s a mix of client meetings on zoom and progressing projects. Today, we review designs for Be West, a new development based on sustainable architecture and wellness in Buenos Aries.
Never feel like it but always do it, I think I’m the laziest hard-working person I know. Today’s evening exercise is upper body and I’m working on TRX with ropes. In normal times, I’d usually be off to a competitive socialising venue in London on Thursdays with the rest of the team to see what our competitors are up to.
I try to keep Fridays clear of meetings. I find it’s important to have some uninterrupted time for deep thinking to get fully immersed in creative projects. The idea is the phone goes off on Thursday night and doesn't go back on again until Monday morning.
Today, I’m working on a new VR bar concept where gaming pods become spectacles for unforgettable nightclub experiences. I’m really enjoying working on concepts with emerging technologies and the space to explore new ideas.
Usually I would go to exhibitions and events but over the lockdown’s that’s been replaced with gardening, reading and life drawing.
I love to start my weekends by going for a super early morning drive, in my 1960/70s classic car or a friend’s car for variety. I get on the road by 5.30am before the cyclists are out and about, and usually do a 2.5h lap. My friends and I made a car collective where we share classic cars – a small collection of Italian, English and German 60s, 70s and 80s cars. It’s an analogue experience.
We’ve got a new arrival coming soon and it’s not the most baby friendly house in the world! We’re changing a house that's purely about flow of space and daylight. The new arrival will mean we've got to add some safety elements, pull up our socks on health and safety. The choice is either to do it in an elegant and permanent way or inexpensive and reversible.
It’s the weekend, so I take Hugo out for a longer walk today in Victoria Park. One thing Hugo loves to do is to get into the water and cross over onto an island. He’s happy to swim over to the island... but refuses to come back. Today, that results in me turning heads, by wading through the lake to rescue him.
For me the weekends are all about family and spending time at home, I do try to have a good switch off from work.
24 April 2021
Edward Draper is an alumna of the Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme and a founder of Ortheia Ltd, a start-up company in the early stages of development of new medical technologies. He leads on commercialising novel products in collaboration with UK-based Universities and other technology-based SMEs, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises. The current flagship product they are developing is a new biomaterial that, when implanted into the body, does two things: helps bones to heal, and fights infection without the need for antibiotics. This is especially important at a time when there is a world-wide increase in resistance to antibiotics.
Edward leads the small but talented team of three that make up Ortheia, which has only been trading for three years. He has a lot of experience of R&D in the MedTech sector and has worked in Universities such as Imperial College and UCL, as well as leading innovation teams in industry. He has led on the technical aspects of product launches in the UK and across the globe and has his name on many patents. The whole Ortheia team share his passion for the challenges of getting new MedTech innovations into the clinics and onto the markets across the world.
Today the team are all working from their homes in different parts of the country because of the COVID19 Lockdown. We spoke to Edward to find out more about what a typical week looks like for him.
Welcome to my Lockdown Lair. It’s an ex-bedroom that I have converted into an office/workshop (I am an inveterate maker). Most of my work is collaborative and is about making sure all the aspects of the work are progressing, despite the restrictions imposed by COVID19. Today I had three major tasks.
First, I am working with my three fellow directors on our Business Risk Register, which may sound a little boring, but in fact it makes us can go through all aspects of the business in quite a lot of detail. This is so important right now because we know from the statistics that Companies at the stage we are in now are most likely to fail. Going through the Business Risks will not guarantee us success, but it is more likely we can spot things early before they go wrong. The meeting was done by the inevitable video call sharing documents over three hours. It was tiring but productive. We are about a quarter of the way through the Register.
Second was the final tasks needed before filing our next patent. This involves chasing up our collaborators for the necessary paperwork and finalising the Figures we need to add.
Third and final, there was some consultancy work I am doing with an exciting Oxford-based company who want to launch new 3D-printed metal implants and I am helping them get regulatory approval here the UK and in the USA. The current work was deciding how best to explain the quite complicated case to the Regulatory Authorities.
We are leading a large project with University of Cambridge and two other SMEs on a grant funded by Innovate UK. Today was the monthly meeting so it was yet another videoconference. The product we are developing looks a bit like granulated sugar (you can see it in the image above), but it is technically quite advanced. This is our flagship product design to speed up bone healing and damping down infection. Today’s meeting was to go through where we were with the manufacture and the lab testing. This needed some preparation time before the meeting and then quite some time in the meeting picking the best option to go forward. I also did some more work on the patent.
I have been elbow deep in Excel. I had two quite critical tasks that I needed to progress quite urgently. The lab results from Cambridge looked as if we’d had a ‘bad cell’ day and I was looking at how the data compare with previous work. It is quite common that data need to be scrutinised in detail like this. We exchanged a lot of emails and we did come to an agreement as to what to do next (wait for the next lot of data that should arrive in a week or so). Once that was settled, I was back in Excel looking at the biomaterials formulations to make sure we have the specifications right. Last part of the day was spent trying to find slots in peoples’ diaries before the end of the week so I can help resolve any issues before they become problems.
We have several months left in the current Innovate UK grant. This has been fabulous and has allowed us to really test out the early formulations of the biomaterials. However, at the end of the grant we will still have a long way to go before we will be investment ready. This means we must plan the next grant in detail. Today we were mapping the technology development out to clinical launch and beyond. To attract the next round of grant funding we have to package up the next few years work in a way that will be attractive to the viewers. So it was another long video call with the three of us sharing big virtual whiteboards. It was very productive, but we still have much further to go before we have an application that is strong enough. Fortunately for us we have some time. The next suitable grant call from Innovate UK will be announced in a few months.
I also had a call with an Academic in the University of Sheffield about an academic project we are planning together to help us understand the underlying phenomena associated with some work we have done in the past on early joint disease and healing cartilage. It is good to keep it progressing. Today also saw my take 30 minutes off to dash to my GP’s surgery for the first of my COVID19 vaccinations; a miraculous technology that hopefully sees the world getting out of this ongoing craziness.
This was a day in which I was being pulled into different directions. We had a call with our Patent Attorney about the final stages of preparing the new patent; we were very nearly there. I just needed to chase up comments from our Collaborators on the patent wording and sort out some Figures. It is not unreasonable to think that we will file in the next month or so. Then a sharp pivot in attention. The consultancy work I am doing needs for me to define what is known to the Regulators as a ‘predicate device’. It needs a detailed search through the FDA’s database, which are all online, and find a product that is currently being sold that is like my client’s. I have come up with a choice of three, which I will work on next week.
I finished the day preparing for next week’s business planning. We have adopted a graphical approach to the five years, and I need to prepare to facilitate the big meeting next week, Yet another video call with a complex ‘Orbit’ on a virtual whiteboard. This afternoon’s efforts were handwritten notes on an A3 copy. I am looking forward to working through this with the team next week.
07 March 2021
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...
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.
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.
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..
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!
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.
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
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