Innovation and enterprise blog

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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12 October 2020

A week in the life of... Laura Rudoe, founder of Good Ventures Ltd

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Laura Rudoe is an alumna of the Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme and the founder of Good Ventures Ltd., the ethical development company behind natural and eco-friendly beauty brands: Evolve Organic Beauty and S5 Skincare. Each product is lovingly handcrafted in her eco studio in Hertfordshire by a team of artisans, and is cruelty free, vegan-friendly and blended with organic ingredients.

Laura Rudoe, founder of Good Ventures Ltd wearing a white blouse

A Harvard Business School graduate, Laura balances growing her sustainable business whilst nurturing her family, where she is a proud mother of three. With a qualification in nutrition, Laura has always been an advocate for organic living and wellness and is passionate about making a difference in people’s lives.

Monday I begin the week with an early start and a cup of herbal tea whilst I tackle some emails and make a plan for the working week. I find that as a business owner, I always need to be planning ahead, yet maintain flexibility as you can’t always predict what might be just around the corner!

My inbox fills up very quickly, so I make myself some avocado on sourdough toast for an energy boost! I review some reports from my team and squeeze in a leftovers-based lunch between calls with each of my team leaders. Mondays tend to be a bit of an admin and planning day for me, so I unwind with a Peloton class and by cooking dinner for my family in the evening.

Tuesday As I managed to have such a productive day yesterday, I enjoy a more relaxed and slower start to the day today with an awakening yoga flow in the garden. Mid-morning I host our weekly trade meeting, where we review wholesale sales reports, online sales, and any key upcoming activities across our marketing, new product development and operations teams. It’s a meeting to ensure everyone is aligned and we can share updates which affect other teams in the business. We have always held this meeting, but it feels even more important since the start of lockdown, as my team is now working from different locations. Previously, we were all under one roof: our artisans making products and our office team, but since lockdown started, the office team (sales, marketing and customer service) have been working from home. Our artisans have continued to create products in our eco studio, but have had to change their ways of working to ensure everyone stays safe.

A hand placing a label onto a bottle

I enjoy a large salad for lunch before heading back to my computer and replying to a few emails. This afternoon includes attending an interesting webinar about new sustainable ingredients and packaging options for the beauty industry, which is something I am hugely passionate about. I scribble down some notes throughout the webinar and add some tasks for tomorrow to my Asana list. Asana is a programme I use all the time - it’s a great planning tool! Quick dinner with my family and then I attend virtual book club, followed by virtual choir, both on Zoom. Book club works fairly well, but choir takes a little more getting used to. There tends to be a slight delay on the video call, so the mute button comes in handy!

Wednesday Today I have blocked out my calendar for a session of product blending and formulation designing, which is my favourite thing to do. I have a quick green smoothie to keep me going, and then start blending in our in-house lab at the eco studio. Formulating products is both a science and an art, and involves a fair bit of trial and error before I produce some samples I am happy with. All samples go through ‘stability’ and ‘challenge’ testing to ensure they do not separate over time and to confirm their ‘best before’ dates. After I have tested the samples on my own skin, I then offer samples to my team before we carry out further trials on larger numbers of people. Creating new products is one of my favourite parts of my job!

I spend the afternoon conducting further ingredient research and a little more formulation in the lab and then head home with lots of little pots and bottles of product samples. I’m tired after a busy day, so I enjoy a short evening walk with my three children after dinner, then enjoy a good book in the bath before bed.

Evolve moisturizer in cardboard packaging

Thursday My day starts with a virtual pilates class - I used to attend a reformer pilates class once or twice a week, which I miss, but this is still fun. I spend the rest of the morning focusing on finances, knee-deep in spreadsheets and ensuring everything is as it should be. I make a vegetable soup for lunch and then spend the afternoon sharing feedback on various projects with my team. People describe me as a very hands-on founder as I love to be involved in as much as I can and share my input where possible - whether it is writing nutritional advice as part of a campaign with my marketing team or planning new product launches with my NPD (new product development) team.

I spend most of the evening juggling taking my children to various clubs and activities with my husband, which isn’t easy! Somehow I manage to squeeze in an hour-long mentoring session with a budding entrepreneur I am currently working with.

Friday As yesterday ended up being a little more hectic than planned, I start the day with a 10 minute meditation session before breakfast. I split up my spreadsheet-filled morning with a 15 minute virtual coffee break with my team (as everyone who is desk-based is working from home at the moment). I then film some content for our social media platforms, which involves me talking to the camera about our latest product launch and explaining how and why I designed it.

I like to make sure I have read and replied to as many emails as possible before I turn my computer off for the weekend - a clear inbox equals a clear mind for me!

My evening is spent enjoying a nice glass of wine at my local pub with my husband and a couple of friends.

Weekend I try to avoid working on the weekend as I prefer to spend time with family. The kids have various clubs, piano lessons, sport matches etc. so weekends tend to revolve around them!

01 October 2020

Meet our delivery partner: The House

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Story Cube founders Michael Murdoch and Robbie Dale run webinars introducing Story Cube. Story Cube was born out of the work of The House, an award winning branding and marketing agency based in London, and can help to refine your brand strategy, tell your story and increase sales.

Michael and Robbie

Who are Michael and Robbie?

Michael Murdoch

Michael founded The House branding and marketing agency in 2009 and has been a Brand Strategist for nearly 20 years working with emerging and established organisations around the world like NHS, MTV, Diabetes UK, Sanyo, Fairtrade and Nokia to smaller start-ups like Franklin Scholars, Mixcloud and Olive Branch. Michael has won awards for his work and helps clients find their full potential, taking them step-by-step through their projects in partnership with them. Graduating from courses at Central Saint Martins, UWE and Oxford University, Michael loves working with entrepreneurs and hopes to pass on his skills and expertise on to help them be the top 10% of organisations that succeed.

Robbie Dale

Robbie is a creative director and writer with nearly 20 years’ experience who was named in both the inaugural BIMA Hot 100 and Drum Digerati for his input into the British digital marketing industry. He has won more than 50 awards for creativity and effectiveness, is an alumni of the prestigious Marketing Academy scholarship and has helped many organisations - from charities and start-ups to the likes of Microsoft, Lego and the BBC - connect with their customers in interesting and impactful ways.

Story Cube - the formula to help ambitious entrepreneurs inspire, pitch and sell with ease.

Necessity is the mother of invention.

In such testing times for families, businesses and other organisations, we require all the wit and wisdom available to us to make it through to the other side.

We've helped thousands of organisations explain what they do to help them inspire, pitch and sell with ease. We do that using Story Cube, a simple formula that breaks down the key questions you need to consider when building the foundations of your brand. Maybe now's the time to try it?

Want to know more about the session?

Successful organisations know how to tell their story. They understand what their audience needs and they understand how to communicate that with a minimum of fuss. That, essentially, is the secret of good branding and how you make more sales.

During our interactive webinar, we'll teach you the principles behind successful brands, giving you practical tips to shape your own story without spending a small fortune. You'll get hands-on with your brand, to help you create your strong and succinct story.

Join experts Michael Murdoch and Robbie Dale to understand how you can create an organisation that people fall in love with. Grab the chance to ask questions and see for yourself how you can...

  • Improve your creative communications
  • Get more customers and make more sales
  • Attract the best talent to your team
  • Pitch to investors with confidence (and much more!)

Watch the two minute video to find out more.

Story Cube - 2 mins from The House on Vimeo.

Who is Story Cube for?

  • Founders/Owners of businesses, social enterprises and charities.
  • Entrepreneurs who want to improve their knowledge of branding, marketing, storytelling and sales.
  • People with responsibility for marketing, design or communications.
  • Anyone with an idea they want to test, improve, launch and grow.
  • Students and freelancers looking to master their craft in branding, marketing and sales.

We are proud of our statistics...

Stats - 500+ business supported, 100% would recommend to a friend, 94% average feedback

Why should you attend?

One company who attended said, "I’ve attended several workshops at The British Library and this is by far away the best. Thank you!".

Our session has been built on over 30 years combined experience working with hundreds of businesses. So, whether you’re planning something new, just starting out or looking to refresh an existing brand, we have the formula and plenty of ideas that will help. Your customers want to know the story behind your organisation, what makes it stand out and why they should care. It’s why so many of the best new businesses are putting brand at the heart of everything they do.

Here are six ways our Story Cube formula can help you...

Story cube benefits

In this workshop, you’ll learn...

  • The six killer questions you need to answer to better tell your story
  • How to answer the questions via tips, exercises and examples
  • How to articulate your Value Proposition clearly and succinctly
  • How to test and validate your ideas about your brand
  • How to differentiate your brand and stand out from the competition in the real world

Hackney Brewery testimonial

What you'll take away?

You'll leave the session with a downloadable appendix packed full of online resources, case studies, worksheets, videos, templates and other tools to help you with your long term goals. They will make it easier for you to build on the foundations laid down in the webinar once you’re back to work.

Not only that, you'll have started to answer the six key questions that feature in every great brand story and you'll be another step closer to finding more customers, attracting talented team members and securing investment.

We're here to help entrepreneurs excel...

Over the past decade we’ve worked with businesses, charities and other organisations of all shapes and sizes to develop the structured process we’ll share in this session. The ideas we use are tried and tested and have been chosen because they help organisations thrive. Without a great brand story and strategy, a depressing number of ventures fail before they ever really get going. By asking the right questions we want to stimulate your thinking and make sure that doesn’t happen to you.

Who has attended and tried Story Cube?

We have worked with hundreds of businesses from all sorts of backgrounds including, but not limited to...food and beverage, furniture, technology, creative agencies, co-working spaces, fashion houses, charities, universities, schools, photographers, consultants, property companies, tour companies, edtech, fintech, medtech (any other tech), travel accessories, uniform manufacturers, banks and many more. The oldest business for 700 years old and the youngest was seven minutes (they chose our workshop to start!).

Organisations we have worked with...

Story Cube has been delivered to students, start-ups, social enterprises, charities and established organisations.

Tickets from just £10: https://bit.ly/StoryCubeWebinars-BL. To see the rest of the BIPC webinars, visit our events page.

30 September 2020

How the BIPC can help you Reset. Restart

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What does the future of business look like? In normal times many things can be uncertain, but with a pandemic almost everything is - demand might have increased, operations closed, plans paused, or business models changed entirely.

We know that businesses need as much support as possible and we’re here to help. Our newly launched free Reset. Restart programme helps you to understand your business, give you the tools to plan for future success and prepare for change in the short-term. The BIPC is here to help you take the power back and become more resilient, sustainable and agile.

To tie in with the launch of our new programme, we are featuring just a small selection of businesses who have come through the Business & IP Centre’s doors throughout the years and who have successfully adapted during the COVID-19 crisis.

Becky Griffiths is the founder of Mother’s Ruin and a former Innovating for Growth alumna, who’s been running her business in its current format since 2014.

“I manufacture a small range of alcoholic drinks from things that I grow or forage. So, by a year-long process of cold infusion I make fruit liqueurs, sloe gin, damson gin, etc. I also make two distilled gins, for which I grow some of the botanicals. On top of this, I run a small weekend cocktail bar, which showcases the products I make... A bit like a brewery tap room, the building I rent acts as manufacturing unit, bottle shop and bar. I also sell my products wholesale to local delis, bars and direct to the public through my website. There are lots of different strands to the business which I think was my saving grace when COVID-19 came along!

Mothers Ruin Gin Palace building

Due to the pandemic, we had to close the bar, which can be up to 90% of our income in some months. Very quickly I saw that alcohol was considered essential shopping (phew!). So I set up myself as an off-license with a table moved out into our doorway – we opened the day after lockdown. We had a lot of people come and buy direct from us – being an outside activity I think people felt safe.

The established online business went crazy. I offered free delivery to a fairly wide area of East London, which I did on my bike. I also created some new products, a hand sanitiser, two bottled cocktails which had previously been favourites in the bar and a bar in a box, where people could buy gin, tonic, snacks and have it delivered to their door. The new products and the free delivery were both taken up well by customers. And so we stayed connected to our customers and got by pretty well throughout the months of closure.”

Mother's Ruin gin bottle on bed of botanicals

Another business who has continued to flourish throughout the pandemic by capitalising on the benefits of an online offering is I Can Make Shoes. Its founder, Amanda Overs, explains how she’s managed to keep her head, or should it be feet, above water.

Amanda Overs, founder of I Can Make Shoes in her office

“During one of my mentoring sessions with Innovating for Growth delivery partner, Fluxx, they helped me realise the importance of starting an online community, which I went on to do. This community has steadily been growing and when COVID struck (which, in theory, should have put me out of business). I spoke to this community and heard what they wanted, which was online courses. I quickly pivoted my business, filmed and released my online course in two weeks and have since made over £100,000 of online course sales in under six months. It's kept my business open, my staff employed and opened up a whole new revenue stream.”

A woman holding shoes she's made with I Can Make Shoes

For Becky and Mother’s Ruin, it was also a good time to reflect on the business. “An opportunity to ask myself if I were to do it all again would I do anything differently? We had to incorporate COVID-19 secure regulations into the re-opening of the bar on Saturday 4 July, but it has also actually enabled me to do things I had wanted to do i.e. Table service, a smaller more sustainable menu, better use of staff resources, a lower impact business with lower overheads – all good.

Plus, I had been quite old school in my approach to the business, never borrowed any money and have no debts. I have always run the business in a way that has felt personally sustainable – and not having to worry about servicing a debt is great.

One thing the Innovating for Growth programme taught me when I thought I was looking to scale-up (as I thought this was the way that businesses inevitably must progress), was a clearer understanding of what I didn’t want. Which is a difficult but extremely useful lesson! Not to be confused with feeling like a failure because you don’t fit with what appears to be the standard of success...”

Another business, who previously used BIPC Norfolk for support on intellectual property, has also used this as a time to reflect and refocus their business. Hazel Russell, co-founder of The Wood Life Project, had onboarded over 20 retailers when they launched to wholesale in September 2019 and she partnered with Not on the High Street and Joules a couple of months later. By January 2020, they were looking to increase this number to 45 after a successful trade show. However, when COVID-19 struck, retailer orders stopped and conversations were put on hold.

Hazel and her husband Jimmy

Hazel explains, “This enabled us to focus our efforts on our online sales, via our own website, as well as Not on the High Street and Joules. We worked on our SEO/CRO, blogs, and used social media platforms to drive sales and grow brand awareness. As a result of this, our sales far surpassed those experienced last Christmas.”

Hazel continues, “The rise in sales can of course be explained by the change in consumer habits in the lockdown period; shoppers were no longer hitting the high street to find gifts for loved ones, they did this from the comfort and safety of their homes instead.”

Much like Becky and Mother’s Ruin, The Wood Life Project were also able to work on their sustainability, “During this period, we spent time preparing for becoming Grown in Britain (GiB) certified, and successfully gained accreditation in June. We also gained our Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) accreditation in July.”

The Wood Life Project children's plates

Hazel is now looking forward and is currently working on a new range of products to complement their existing product range. These include seasonal children’s products especially for Christmas as well as some products for adults and the hospitality trade. They are also now back in discussions with the large retailers too. Watch this space for The Wood Life Project products in a retailer near you soon!

New products and innovations are continuing to pave the way for businesses to continue trading and move forward. Innovating for Growth alumna, Central Vision Opticians, founded by Bhavin Shah has done just that. Bhavin explains “We’ve had to adapt the business as a result of coronavirus and I believe it has had a positive effect. We were already a multi-award winning practice and I’ve always been looking at ways to innovate and offer more to our patients. As a result, safety now became a very important priority in a way that we’d never considered before. Not just for our patients but for my staff and myself. I re-mapped our entire customer journey from the point of first contact, to when patients entered the premises, how the examination was conducted to trying spectacles. After identifying all of the potential risk points with my staff, we planned and found ways to make everything as safe as possible.

I had been planning to invest in new technology that would allow us to examine our patients’ eyes in more depth, so we could identify problems more quickly and accurately. This technology also had the benefit that we could examine patients without getting as close as before, which meant that it would be safer as well as more thorough.

We also noticed a few common symptoms that patients were experiencing as a result of lockdown and working from home. Many children have become more short-sighted because of reduced outdoor time, excessive screen use and close-up work. We had already been successfully working on innovative programmes to help reduce the rate of this type of deterioration, so we were able to help many children who became short-sighted (myopic). We also noted a surge in patients who were experiencing symptoms of eyestrain as a result of working from home and additional VDU/screen time. We created blog posts and information guides to help alleviate the symptoms from home where possible and invited those with lingering eyestrain to attend the practice for a specialised assessment to solve their problems.

I believe that the crisis has helped to focus the way we help our patients and has increased the value we can offer in keeping their eyes safer and healthier with better vision than ever before.”

For Becky and Mother’s Ruin, there continues to be positivity, “It is hard to know what the future will bring for us. What the crisis has taught me is that the business does have a good resilient core, and that we can only live in the moment and try and respond creatively to changes as they happen. So I ask myself, is everything OK today? This week? And if so, I think that is all I can hope for, and I am grateful! I think being a tiny multi-stranded business makes all this possible.”

If you are looking to Reset. Restart your mind set, business model, market opportunities, customer offer, social and environmental impact, products and services, marketing, finances, funding options or digital productivity, visit our free programme page to find out more and to sign up to our webinars.

24 September 2020

A day in the life of… Hazel Russell, co-founder of The Wood Life Project

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Hazel is the co-founder of The Wood Life Project, alongside her husband Jimmy. The Wood Life Project manufacture beautiful, innovative, eco-friendly, practical products for the family home, with a focus on mealtimes. The product range consists of children's tableware, pet bowls and a range of boards for grown-ups. All products are manufactured in the UK and use sustainably grown and harvested wood from the UK.

Since launching to wholesale in September 2019, they now work with 50 retailers, sell via their own website, as well as through Not on the High Street and Joules.

Hazel Russel at Top Drawer

Hazel and Jimmy first sought support from Business & IP Centre Norfolk, at Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library, for help with Intellectual Property. They then went on to get further support from a Menta Business Advisor. They contributed to the BIPC report, Democratising Entrepreneurship, and were invited to the launch event at the House of Lords, hosted by Lord Bilimoria.

Life in a product business start-up with multiple sales streams means that no two days are ever the same. I have to wear many different hats; head of sales, head of finance, customer service, supply-chain manager to name but a few.
So today my day has consisted of:

5.30 Alarm. 6k run and upper body weight session. Exercising first thing is a non-negotiable for me as it helps me start the day in a positive way, where I feel great and have time to myself. This morning I listened to an audiobook, Oversubscribed by Daniel Priestley.

6.30 Get myself showered and dressed.

7.00 Get the boys breakfast and ready for school.

7.30 We leave for the drive to school. Back home by 8.30.

8.30 A quick clear up of the house (from the carnage that is left from the children!) and then I sit down at my desk to begin work.

9.00 Following up on the leads from virtual trade shows we have been exhibiting at, a new experience as we would normally be at a trade show in person as I write this. I have really missed meeting all the lovely retailers in person and the buzz that comes with exhibiting at a show. Is this the future of events like this?

The Wood Life Project dog bowl

9.30 Answering emails, engaging on social media and invoicing.

10.00 Time for a Zoom meeting with our local Innovation Centre. We are investigating ways of improving our supply chain, in particular logistics. We are passionate about ensuring our supply chain is transparent and as ethical and sustainable as possible. We are striving towards eco-excellence and will not stand still on our journey. We are also looking into what grants may be available to us, so a really useful session.

11.00 Packaging review for new product range. We are about to launch a range of boards for grown-ups and some Christmas-themed tableware for children. We are working with a graphic designer and have a lot of packaging copy to approve.

13.00 Check in with our manufacturer. We have recently become FSC and Grown in Britain certified, and we had a big delivery of certified material arrive with the manufacturer. There are new procedures in place to ensure all material is segregated correctly and recorded throughout the processing of the material, so a quick call to ensure all procedures had been followed correctly was a must. We are also beginning development on some children’s cutlery, to complement our children’s tableware range, so we discussed a number of manufacturing methods to come up with the best designs which are also efficient on the machines.

14.00 Packaging up orders, including gift-wrapping and gift tag writing (I love this part of the day as some messages are so funny and sometimes very random!). Today was a fairly quiet day for orders… The calm before the storm of the Christmas period!

The Wood Life Project Christmas tablewear

14.30 Post Office run for all of the day’s orders. Luckily, we have a very patient post-mistress!

15.00 School run. I love picking the boys up from school and hearing all about their day. They have adapted really well after having nigh on six months off school and have had their first full-week back at school.

16.00 Back home and time to prepare the family meal.

17.00 Family mealtime. A really important part of the day for us as a family. We love having this time to connect with each other.

18.00 Family time.

19.00 Bedtime for the children.

20.00 Sometimes I will log back on and finish off any work, but mostly I try to relax with my husband and switch off.

22.00 Bedtime.

17 September 2020

Julie Deane: Living proof that you can start and adapt a business from your kitchen table

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Julie famously founded The Cambridge Satchel Company from her kitchen table in Cambridge, with only £600, as a means of paying school fees for her children. Being seen on the arms of celebrities and bloggers such as Taylor Swift and Liberty London Girl quickly gave the brand global recognition.

To celebrate Julie's upcoming event, Kitchen Table Talks: adapting to the times with Julie Deane OBE, in partnership with Santander, we caught up with her to find out more about her business journey, and why every business should have a dog for company.

Julie Deane sat at her kitchen table

Championing the self-employed cause

Julie’s monumental start-up success from “a cup of tea and a big idea” to a globally recognised brand is living proof that anyone can set up a business they’re passionate about from their kitchen table. Throughout her rise to business success, Julie’s philosophy has always been to champion aspiring entrepreneurs, believing that everyone should have a chance to take control of their own destiny and achieve their life goals.

“Personally, self-employment changed my life,” said Julie. “There are over 4.5 million self-employed people in the UK and there are now more possibilities to set up as self-employed. People can now create opportunities for themselves – they now have options.”

Whether it’s getting a brand new product to market, securing investment for a potentially ground-breaking invention or simply spreading the word about your available services using social media, there are now more ways than ever to achieve your self-employment ambitions.

Julie has now had to come back to where it all began, her kitchen table, when Cambridge Satchel Company's office closed during the pandemic, she realised that founder stage Julie may have had better ways of working than now. "I’ve rediscovered the necessity of making decisions quickly and not overthinking. The clarity of focus when undisturbed has been good when reflecting on how best to move forward. There are fewer distractions and more hours, reclaimed from commuting, but how did I separate life from work? How did I shut off when the house is filled with work reminders? I have some questions I’d love to run past the first year founder me!"

The importance of work/life balance is also key, especially when it comes to pets. "I can do without most things, my dogs don’t fall into that category. The garden has never looked better and the dogs have never been happier – those are the balances that have kept my spirit high."

Classic Satchel in brown

Overcoming limited budgets with creativity

With such a small starting budget, Julie had to be extremely creative in raising awareness of her new business. Julie admits she was a self-proclaimed “queen of the free directory listing”, utilising as many local resources as possible to get noticed, such as regional newspapers, fashion and lifestyle editors and business directories. In fact, it was her innovative relationship-building with fashion bloggers and lifestyle editors that would eventually propel the brand to the next level.

In 2010, Julie was contacted by fashion bloggers in the United States, who were desperate to wear her satchels to New York Fashion Week. This massively increased the exposure of the brand, and having the satchels on show on the laps of front row fashionistas caused quite a stir. This culminated in Bloomingdales stocking the satchels in the iconic 5th Avenue store in New York – quite a meteoric rise from Julie’s quiet Cambridgeshire family home.

The importance of staying true to your roots

Perhaps the really impressive aspect of the global growth of The Cambridge Satchel Company is that the brand has continued to remain close to its roots. Julie has been the brand guardian throughout the years, using social media to maintain close relationships with customers and building the human aspect and relatability of the brand.

Julie’s first company photo shoot of her product range even featured her own children as models. This proved to really resonate with customers, especially given that Julie’s children were such a significant factor in the company’s creation.

Julie cites her greatest achievement in business as being able to scale the business globally whilst staying true to who she is.

“We’ve taken investment, and it would be very easy to step back and potentially get too big for our boots but we’ve remained the same company essentially – we have a direct relationship with our customers and want it [to stay that way],” she said.

When stores had to close due to lockdown, these roots proved once again to be key to success. "The Cambridge Satchel Company was born on the internet. Our customers and following were built online and so from that perspective it’s always been a strength we feel we have. During lockdown though, there was an increased need to reach out and help customers with browsing, product advice and customer service through all online channels. I even recorded videos in the garden for some customers to answer queries."

This has also led Julie and her team to reassess and not be afraid of changing decisions made previously. Her current three priorities for the company are:

  1. Communication is on the priority list every week – yes, the team is smaller but that doesn’t mean it’s easier to make sure we’re all on the same page. Remote working has some benefits but does challenge communication and the maintenance of team spirit.
  2. We have used this time to reflect on who we are as a brand and what sets us apart from competitors. The next step is to action these thoughts – this week we have already commissioned a new look photo shoot.
  3. I’m looking to simplify our offer. Currently there is a large range of styles, sizes and colours, so an overwhelming amount of choice. Simplicity is king and during these times when we are operating with a smaller team we need to get back to basics. 

The Sophie in red

Guard your intellectual property with your life

One of the biggest challenges Julie faced in the early stages of building up her business was protecting her intellectual property. The company’s first factory and manufacturer actually attempted to steal her original designs to create an imitation product.

Julie, however, soon learnt from her naivety, and opted to set up her own manufacturing facility in Leicester and operate using non-disclosure agreements when working with third parties, which helped her protect her brand.

In the space of just twelve months, Julie discovered 330 fake websites that claimed to sell her satchels – some even displaying an imitation trade mark. Fake profiles had also been set up on social media channels claiming to be The Cambridge Satchel Company and selling counterfeit goods.

“We enforce our trade marks aggressively and have fake websites shut down,” she added.

“At MarkMonitor meetings I am surrounded by household names, far bigger than us. We have to join together to defend ourselves but it is a huge drain on resources.”

Intellectual property infringement is no laughing matter; it can cost you thousands. However, you can get all the information and guidance you need to protect your ideas and creations here at the British Library at our regular workshops and through advice clinics.

The Emily Tote in French Grey

Work with honesty and integrity

The Cambridge Satchel Company has quickly become a brand that people can believe in across the world and this has led to global success. This is particularly the case for China, which is now the business’ second-largest territory for sales. Even Prince William paid a visit to a festival in Shanghai which housed Julie’s very own ‘Great Wall of Satchels’.

Julie has used the recent months to think about the brand in a more meaningful way. "We recognised that this was the time to stop, pause and reflect on exactly why we deserve to exist and survive. What we offer that’s of value and sets us apart. Those fundamental questions led us to recognise that we needed to rediscover the brand in a way and be bolder. The project has brought so much excitement and clarity – definitely the most defining, valuable solution."

Julie has been deservedly heralded as a true British business success story and was acknowledged by the former Prime Minister, David Cameron who asked her to lead an independent review of the UK’s self-employment landscape. The resulting report outlined 10 recommendations for the Government’s consideration that would support the growth of the self-employed community in the UK. This included increased use of libraries and enterprise hubs.

The Cambridge Satchel Company’s inspirational story is a fantastic example of how one great idea can spiral into a global business success. As Entrepreneur in Residence, Julie shares her own expertise and experience to help users of the Business & IP Centre achieve their own self-employment ambitions. Kitchen Table Talks: adapting to the times with Julie Deane OBE is on Tuesday 22 September, 10.30.

11 September 2020

Meet our delivery partner: Melissa Addey

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In 2016 I spent a very happy year based in the BIPC as the Leverhulme Trust’s Writer in Residence. During that time, I wrote two business books, developed two mini pop-up exhibitions and ran multiple workshops, which focused on authors being more entrepreneurial and entrepreneurs telling their stories better. Since then, I run monthly workshops at the British Library, still focusing on those two strands. I spent 15 years in business myself before becoming a full-time self-published author. I mainly focused on business innovation and mentoring entrepreneurs, so when I became an author, that entrepreneurial and creative spirit stuck with me! Since then I’ve written and self-published 13 books and completed a Creative Writing PhD.

Melissa Addey

During my workshops, part of the session is me talking, plus some hands-on exercises. And, lots of time for questions, so that I can answer specific queries. I try to give a lot of useful resources and links that you can go away and explore, to really expand your knowledge and develop your working practice. It’s my aim that coming to one of my workshops will keep you busy afterwards for several months! Many of my attendees write back to me later on to let me know how they are doing and their progress is hugely satisfying to me.

Melissa Addey

I really enjoy welcoming both authors and entrepreneurs to the BIPC workshops and webinars. Most of my workshops focus on a blend of creativity/storytelling and entrepreneurial/business skills. If you’re an author, these sessions will help you earn a living. New additions to the programme are sessions on applying for grants and productivity for authors, both of which can really make a difference to building a successful writing career. Meanwhile entrepreneurs can benefit from writing non-fiction if they want to develop a book as a communication tool for their business. This autumn/winter I will also be running my most popular session, on self-publishing, which benefits both authors and entrepreneurs wanting to write a book, as well as a session on blogging for beginners, which again benefits both groups. Creativity + Business = a winning formula!

Read more about Melissa here.

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

SiLL_logo_lockups_CMYK

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)

 

06 August 2020

The beer lover’s guide to the perfect IP brew

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Since Babylonian times, humans have been in search of the perfect beer brew. The brewing business today is a testament to the originality and passionate dedication of its forebears.

Each generation has created beers that have inspired the next while building a major industry.

Beer and commerce are an easy blend but what’s the one key secret to brewing success? Earning from your brewing creations by protecting the Intellectual Property that made them.

If you have developed a novel invention to brewing, a unique brand or a secret brew that gets people at the bar talking, then Intellectual Property is something you should invest in to reap the rewards you deserve.

Here are four different forms of intellectual property every new brewer should consider.

Brewing breakthroughs with technology

The sheer size and volume (literally) of the brewing industry means that it’s constantly innovating. So it’s not surprising that there’s some pretty clever technical innovation happening around the brewing and bottling process too.

If you’re a keen inventor, find out what some of the big problems that need ‘fixing’ in brewing today and ask ‘could you engineer a solution’?

If so, you’ll soon encounter the remarkable world of patents. A patent is an exclusive right granted to the maker of invention. It is a form of Intellectual Property that protects technical innovations. The innovation is eventually made public in exchange for the owner having a monopoly on the idea for a period of time (usually 20 years).

My favourite example from a past brewing patent is the story of William Painter. You may not have heard of him but without doubt you will have benefitted greatly from his invention, the ‘Crown Cap’ bottle top. Or in patent speak, ‘a bottle sealing device’.

William Painter was an accomplished inventor with a keen commercial eye. His devised a way to effectively seal a bottle of beer to prevent it from going flat. This involved a sealing disk topped with a metal cap. The advantage too was it could be opened easily. Perhaps you’ll recognise this from the patent image below?

Patent for William Painter's bottle sealing device

We’re still using the same basic technology on bottled beer and soft drinks today.

In 1894, when Painter was granted his patent, there was no shortage of bottle sealing devices but his particular patent (US468258) ensured bottling could be mass produced, increasing supply and meeting demand from a very thirsty public.

Painter himself went on to found the Crown Cork and Seal Company and quickly developed manufacturing technology to enable his patent’s potential to be fully realised. The company was immensely successful and is trading today as Crown Holdings Inc.

The lesson here is that if you find the right problem with the right solution and obtain effective Intellectual Property protection with a well drafted patent, it can be a significant advantage in a highly competitive market place.

Brewing up an awesome beer brand

Beer has personality. It has unique characteristics all to its own particular brew. It has heritage and modern edge with everything in between. Local, global, national. There’s a beer brand to suit every taste.

There are thousands and thousands of them. And a registered trademark for each.

You may have heard of the beer brand Bass. That brand has heritage, and is also UK trademark number UK00000000001 from the 1st January, 1876. The registered trademark is still in force today and no doubt worth more than every penny of the original registration fee!

Bass beer logo

 

The Bass brand also benefitted from what we nowadays call product placement. It’s not too discreetly featured in the French artist Édouard Manet’s famous, “A Bar at the Folies-Bergère”.

But beer brands rarely demure.

If we look at a modern brand such as Beavertown, they like so many beer brands, have registered their trademark too. The name is just too recognisable not to.

You can do this too. There’s a database of existing marks to check your own mark is original and to help decide what classifications of trade to choose.

Because it’s not uncommon for beer brands to produce all manner of merchandise and marketing material, so why not maximise the reach of your trademark by applying in a number of different trademark classifications?

With so many beers on offer, the beer brand you want to brew will need to be your unique identifier. Your trademark is, to put it simply, the legally registered name and/or image of your brand. It protects you by preventing others from blatantly copying or ‘trading off’ your good name and reputation. If you find yourself in that unenviable situation (and plenty have), the registered trademark is your comeback to cease and desist unfair imitation.

It also represents the incredible value of your brand. And because your trademark is your intellectual property, you can sell it or licence it to whomever you choose. It’s what will earn your reward in the future for all the thousands of hours of hard brewing.

To discover more about patents or trademarks, visit our website.

Beer that creates a first impression.

To own a registered design is to have rights over the appearance of a functional object that can include colour, shape or even texture. The form is what creates its appeal as a marketable object, instantly recognisable.

As one form of Intellectual Property, registered design is worth considering. Especially if you’re producing a beer product that wants to be distinctive.

For example there are many distinctive shapes of beer bottles that are themselves an identifier for the brand just as much as a trademark is.

And this is not only something for new beer brands striking out to get noticed, registered design is used by older established brewers as well.

Affligem, is a beer brand with an astonishing heritage, coming close to one thousand years of brewing history. But a brand with such pedigree still values other Intellectual Property assets, even if the taste of its brew is so famous.

They too have a registered design on their classic bottle shape.

Affligem beer bottle

If it’s something a thousand year brewer would have, why not consider it as a new brewer?

You can register a design with the Intellectual Property office and the Business & IP Centre runs regular webinars on it. See our upcoming webinar schedule.

The secret bit behind the beer magic.

If you’ve spent hundreds of hours in the quest of brewing perfection, and you think you’ve found it, what’s the best way to protect it from the rival brewer next door?

The answer is disarmingly simple; keep it a secret.

Don’t underestimate the importance of keeping trade secrets in the brewing business. Plenty of brewers rely on it.

A proper definition of a trade secret is a technique, process, formula or method of creating something that has commercial value and is known to only a limited number of persons. It is often kept secret through the use of legal agreements (such as employment contracts) or non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).

Unlike all of the other forms of IP mentioned, this is known as an unregistered right. Meaning you don’t have to register the secret with a governing body. It is yours to keep and the length of time is how long you want the secret to be kept.

A good trade secret is also good for the brand. It helps create a mystery around the product and keeps people guessing to how it was made.

Four cheers for IP

These are four forms of Intellectual Property every beer lover and maker should consider. You can pick and choose which of these works best for you. Maybe all of them. It’s all up to how you innovate, create and ultimately protect your most valuable asset, your own unique IP brew.

Jeremy O'Hare is the Business & IP Centre's Information Expert. You can find more information on intellectual property and the Business & IP Centre's upcoming events, by visit bl.uk/bipc.