Innovation and enterprise blog

249 posts categorized "Business"

29 September 2021

The Pandemic Business Boom

As businesses across the country closed their doors in March of 2020, it was unclear just how long these doors would remain closed. Small businesses found themselves facing a frightening and confusing time, having to pivot and adjust to the continually changing landscape. In many cases, however, this pause in time allowed some to reflect on their career goals and even prompted them to launch their own businesses. We spoke to four such businesses, who either pivoted or started up during the pandemic and explored how they were able to grow despite unpredictable circumstances.

Carolyn founder of Afori Books
Carolynn Bain, founder of Afrori Books

For Carolynn Bain, the pandemic and the civil rights uprising that started to unfold in the summer of 2020 highlighted the importance and need for her to start up her Brighton based business, Afrori Books. Afrori Books is an online bookshop that specialises in books by black authors, their mission statement is simple; to support black authors, create diverse bookshelves and be a voice for justice.

As a National Network business, we were able to assist Carolynn by providing local information and resources to help her grow during this time, specifically ways to source funding to expand the business into a physical shop via our Business & IP Centre Brighton & Hove.

"Starting a business during the pandemic is an unusual thing to do. However, I think what had a bigger impact on us was starting a business during a pandemic and during a civil rights uprising in terms of Black Lives Matter – they can’t be separated for us. Many people were at home, reading books and for the first time ever really the world was sitting still, watching these things unfold before them. That had a massive impact on us and, in a positive sense, bought customers to us who previously maybe would not have considered looking at books by black authors. As we go forward, we are in the middle of crowd funding as we are looking to open a physical shop – working in partnership with a charity in Brighton who have given us a shop space. That has also come off the back of the civil rights movement, as they want to see Brighton change and become a safe space for black authors and black people living in the city. It’s all interconnected."

Hazel Russell co-founder of the Woodlife Project
Hazel Russell, founder of the Woodlife Project

Another National Network business, who recently took part in our Innovating for Growth programme, that has seen growth during the pandemic is The Woodlife Project. The Norfolk based business, founded by Hazel Russell manufactures beautiful, innovative, eco-friendly wooden products for the family home with a focus on meal times. The Woodlife Project, who got support from BIPC Norfolk, mostly sell online on their own website and wholesale through a variety of different retailers, most notably during the pandemic they are now available on John Lewis and, like Afrori Books, will be looking to have in store product space soon too. "Our proudest moment in business so far has been getting into John Lewis, as they were one of our ideal retailers from the offset. We are online at the moment - in the nursery section with our bear, fox and rabbit plates. If all goes well we will be in store soon."

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Jen Lam, co-founder of Stitch and Story

Jennifer Lam also took part in our Innovating for Growth programme, she is the co-founder and CEO of Stitch and Story based in London, which is an online crafting company on a mission to make crafting simple and easy to learn. During the numerous lock-downs, confined to their homes, people were getting back in touch with their creative side which bode well for this crafting business and allowed them to grow despite the uncertain circumstances.

"We’re here to inspire a new generation of crafters with our DIY kits, yarns and materials. During the pandemic Stitch and Story grew enormously. I think we were one of the lucky companies who were able to grow because everybody was in lockdown, looking for a new skill or hobby to pick up at home. Stitch and Story provided many customers with a new skill in knitting and crocheting and so we expanded very quickly online predominantly, albeit it was very stressful!"

One of the biggest changes to Stitch and Story was the team; they more than doubled the team during the pandemic from seven to 22. "We had to recruit everyone virtually at the time and it was stressful as we had no experience in doing that before - the BIPC really helped in providing us resources for this."

Judy founder of Delmora in her studio space
Judy Chicangana-Matthews, founder of Delmora

Start-ups in London Libraries business, Delmora, founded by Judy Chicangana-Matthews, offers a variety of beautiful jewellery items and accessories for women. Judy launched her first product at the end of February, weeks before Covid hit. "The impact was huge. In the beginning, people were buying the essentials such as food and toilet paper, so jewellery was considered a luxury. Nowadays, many people are concerned about their jobs and how that is going to impact their finances.

Covid also affects my KPIs in terms of delivery. I use the service Royal Mail 24, and I have had severe delays on the delivery of the parcels. To compensate my customers, sometimes I offer discounts as a part of the customer service. This practice has seriously affected my margins, so surviving has been very difficult."

Thus, the need to pivot and test out new business models to grow her business came about. By adding a loyalty program to her business, she was able to ensure repeat purchases and a loyal customer base. "My response has been offering discounts to my customers and creating programs to increase the brand’s recognition. For example, I offer the Delmora Club discount to all my customers in which the members have exclusive access to special discounts and pre-launch of our collections. We also recently created the program named Delmora Brand Champion that aims to get more positive reviews around our online presence."

Despite the devastating effects of the pandemic, we are pleased to see small businesses surviving, thriving and growing through it - it has highlighted the importance of small businesses, which are innovative, provide jobs and support local communities. In turn, there has been an increase in public support for local small businesses, to help ensure they remained profitable - a trend we hope continues long after the pandemic has ended.

Revisiting our Reset. Restarters

Although restrictions have been lifted across the UK and many of us are returning to normal life, the effects of the pandemic are still being felt around the world. Our Reset. Restart programme launched to help businesses pivot and adapt to the changing climate throughout the pandemic and will continue to support many beyond that. We have caught up with businesses who attended these free webinars to see how the programme influenced their business operations and what changes they have made since.

One start up that benefitted from the programme is INTARIS founded by Oliver Hickmet; a full-service video marketing agency combining the power of digital film with analytics led strategy. Starting a business can be very lonely, and even more so during a global pandemic. For many, our webinars provide an opportunity to build and connect with a network of entrepreneurs from various backgrounds and expertise. “Reset. Restart was an invaluable way to stay connected during lockdown and learn from others sharing experiences and the dynamic conversations that always arose in the sessions. The presentations always had something interesting you did not know before and it was a perfect way to start the day with a hot cuppa.”

For some business owners, as well as networking opportunities, the support and advice offered by Reset. Restart gave them the confidence and push to grow their business. This was the case for Keira Simpson, owner and founder of Daisy Days Virtual Assistant. She provides PA and administration support to small businesses, helping them to save time so they can focus on their core business operations. It was through one of the small businesses that she was assisting at the time, that she discovered the BIPC. “My client wanted me to research the BIPC and to find out what support and services they could offer to help with the set-up of her Community Interest Company (CIC). This is why I love what I do, I get an insight to so many networks, and I get to experience the fabulous support and services that they offer.”

Keira Simpson, owner and founder of Daisy Days Virtual Assistant at Jubilee Library
Keira Simpson, owner and founder of Daisy Days Virtual Assistant

 

Keira began by attending BIPC Sussex’s free Reset. Restart webinar – Tools for the Job. This gave her an insight into what digital platforms and software was available to grow her business. Like Oliver, it also provided an opportunity for her to connect with other start-ups and share her knowledge and tips, building her confidence in her business. “I gained an insight to other platforms and gained confidence in how I can support my business. The people that I have had the pleasure in talking to from the BIPC, whether that be from the webinars they offer or via email with a question that has arisen, have been so helpful and supportive. They also offer ideas and information - like speaking to a representative from the centre for advice on your business, to other topics which will steer you in the right direction.”

Julia Alcamo and Dan Hodgson founded documentary production company, Happenstance Films in February 2020, weeks before the world went into lockdown. Although this was a difficult time for the creative industries, it was also a time for Julia and Dan to rethink their goals and strategies.

Julia Alcamo and Dan Hodgson, founders of Happenstance Films
Julia Alcamo and Dan Hodgson, founders of Happenstance Films

“The last year has been tough because of the pandemic. Many of the initial plans we made fell through and our hopes of starting out strong were quickly squashed. But, it gave us crucial time to doubly rethink our approach to this new way of making branded content: how would we convince the marketing departments? How could we position ourselves to be ready? What did we really want to do differently?”

While their business idea has remained the same, Julia and Dan were able to tap into the wide range of databases and expert advice from our delivery partners that guided them to the clients their business should aim to target. “To hear others care about how we would get out there and find the right clients was amazing! Since, we have used the databases to create a potential client ‘hit list’, a roster of local small and medium-sized businesses who work in specific sectors who we then prepare pitches for. The services have helped us directly with our growth in so far as they identify potential clients and allow us to gain clarity. It’s been crucial in feeling like we have the necessary inside knowledge to be a player in the local economy. Just having that sense is very empowering for a small business. It's also been really great to feel the support from the team and a have a place to go should we have further questions on business development, local resources or tapping into the community most efficiently.”

Although Reset. Restart began as a way to support businesses, like Happenstance, through the pandemic; many entrepreneurs who have used the service started their business as conditions highlighted by the pandemic pushed them to.

This is the case for Roxy van der Post, a Dutch-born documentary filmmaker and lifestyle photographer who began Myosotis Film & Photography in the summer of 2020. For her, the ongoing pandemic emphasised the many social, racial, and climate injustices that were difficult to ignore. The corporate world was no longer a world in which Roxy felt her values and ambitions were shared, so she forged a new path and now works with purpose-led people, social enterprises and charities to amplify their voices through the collaborative practice of visual storytelling.

Roxy van der Post, founder of Myosotis Film & Photography at Jubilee Library
Roxy van der Post, founder of Myosotis Film & Photography

After settling in Brighton in February 2021 and having no prior knowledge of Brighton or its business community, the Reset. Restart sessions run by BIPC Sussex were a fantastic introduction to the city and its ambitious entrepreneurs. The informal nature of the Reset. Restart workshops meant Roxy could easily engage with likeminded business-owners and quickly grow her network. “All sessions included interviews with entrepreneurs whose fascinating stories of business growth provided much inspiration and motivation, an informative presentation on topics ranging from finding your ideal customer to pricing models and how to establish valuable connections, and room for open, but facilitated discussions, all expertly woven together by Lucy Paine of alwayspossible.” It was through these events that Roxy was introduced to Business Model Canvas, which “was an absolute game-changer that provided more clarity and confidence than any other business plan.”

Following on from the Reset. Restart sessions, Roxy booked an online one-to-one information clinic with BIPC Information Specialist, Gemma Miller. “There is a wealth of information out there and it can be rather intimidating to explore these extensive databases and conduct benchmark research, but Gemma was very helpful and reassuring, she showed me some of the best options as a filmmaker and photographer. As a sole business owner, I valued the opportunity to talk this through with someone outside of my network. The next step is becoming a member of the library and visiting in person, which - as a bookworm and meticulous researcher – I am very much looking forward to!”

Another business that was born during the lockdown period of the pandemic is Nicola Austin’s Life of Libra. Life of Libra is a Professional Organising and Decluttering business, which began in January 2021.

Nicola Austin, founder of Life of Libra at Jubilee Library
Nicola Austin, founder of Life of Libra

 

“Before the pandemic, I was juggling school runs, a long work commute, after school clubs and the everyday pressures of life. I knew how full, cluttered and unbalanced our homes and lives can sometimes feel. The pandemic allowed me valuable time and space to think, read and reflect on my strengths, on what I enjoyed doing and what I wanted to do going forward. After attending a training course run by APDO, (the Associated of Professional Declutterers and Organisers), I decided this was the industry I wanted to work in and joined the organisation. I founded Life of Libra soon after.’

It was through a fellow Professional Organiser at APDO that Nicola became aware of the Reset. Restart programme and she signed up for several of our free webinars. “The sessions were practical, insightful and current. They really impacted my thoughts and actions, especially the sessions on Mindset, Digital Productivity Tools, Business Model, and Products and Services. I reviewed my business case using the Business Model Canvas, re-evaluated my customer segments using the Empathy Map Canvas and considered how best to validate my market research. I learnt about net profit, cash flow and operating costs. I was introduced to Brightbooks, Process Street and Airtable, all free software products that I am now using in the day-to-day running of my business.”

Like Roxy, Nicola then arranged a one-to-one information clinic at the BIPC Brighton & Hove, BIPC Sussex’s regional Centre, where she was given recommendations of networks and people to talk to, suggestions about information resources she could access and websites she could refer to through the library. “I had no idea what to expect, but again found myself impressed. I spent an hour talking to two excellent Information Specialists about my business, my ideas for growth and the challenges I was facing.”

One Dareham-based business, Crescent Research, used BIPC Norfolk and MENTA’s Reset. Restart programme to help generate new business ideas, look at digital marketing tools and strategies, as well as building customer relationships and re-adjusting and re-assessing their cost base.

Tracey, founder of the business, which helps locate missing heirs and reunites individuals with unclaimed assets, also attended networking sessions, which has allowed her to meet other entrepreneurs and hear about their business journeys. “Getting to know others who have also started the new business journey has been beneficial and it’s great to see how everyone is progressing at different stages of their journey, sharing tips, ideas and resources.”

The programme also allowed Tracey to look at the different areas of her business using the Business Model Canvas and focus on the areas which needed more time, resource and thought.

Another Norfolk-based business, bear, founded by Bryony Fayers, which sells sustainable and responsibly sourced products for the family used Reset. Restart for one-to-one sessions with MENTA just as she was starting her business. “The team has been ever so accommodating and understanding about how different people are approaching setting up a new business and for me, it’s been chaotic. The one-to-one sessions have been incredible. The session was warm and relaxed, and so, so useful.”

bear, founded by Bryony Fayers
bear, founded by Bryony Fayers

Lottie Katie Russell, founder of L K Designs, a graphic design and illustration studio, also used BIPC Norfolk’s Reset. Restart networking sessions, “They were so informative and filled with a diverse group of like-minded people in very different fields. They were monthly meetings with a guest speaker at each to discuss different topics that we hadn’t necessarily thought about before. This helped me to drive forward with my small business and put into practice a lot of the skills I had learnt to create my website, social media pages and Etsy shop.”

Another business which benefitted from discussing their ideas with like-minded people was BIPC Worcestershire’s Wise Owl Tuition Kidderminster founder, Danielle Hickey. “The small groups that we worked in enabled us to have more specific discussion that was relevant to our individual business. Feedback on our ideas from the trainers and other participants proved equally valuable. It was most beneficial to be taken seriously as small business owners, but to be supported and be amongst others who were at a similar stage in their young businesses too.”

“The support has enabled me to focus on the next steps for growth of my business, and how to achieve them. It also encouraged me to consider my valuable difference as a business, and what I specifically contribute to the market. I made a timeline business plan in pictorial format to hang on my office wall and have achieved the first three steps of it six months ahead of schedule. The opening of another office suite downstairs and taking on two associate tutors to cope with demand - before I have even started to advertise! I was afraid to look to expand, due to my lack of experience in business. Rob and Phil helped me during my one-to-one to develop the confidence to commit to my ideas.”

24 June 2021

A week in the life of Silvia Pingitore, founder of The Shortlisted Magazine

And so, here you go. After taking part in plenty of brilliant one-to-ones, webinars and events at the BIPC covering a range of essential business topics, from IP to marketing to bookkeeping and sales, after speaking at Start-Up Day Reloaded workshop in April 2021 and after facilitating a case study about you and your business, you were eventually asked by the lovely girls at the BIPC to write an article about a week in your life as a media entrepreneur, journalist and founder of The Shortlisted Magazine.

Silvia Pingitore
Silvia Pingitore, founder of The Shortlisted Magazine

You try hard to figure out a typical week in your life but you cannot find anything that won’t entail purposeless references to exercising, housekeeping and how you do take your tea, especially because you don’t really drink any tea and you know this won’t grant you any sympathy in the land of Shakespeare.

You continue rifling through your life to try and find some kind of repeated structure to fill out a weekly plan, but your weeks and days really have nothing instagrammable to show off. No yoga classes, no vegetable smoothies, no healthy morning routines. Often, not even any mornings at all.

Life as a media business owner and journalist is just an overly-complicated mess, and you wonder what you could say to be useful to those who might be interested in reading this post. In the end, the sole business-related activity closest to a five-day disciplined programme that you may think of is the process of securing, arranging, conducting and publishing celebrity interviews. And so, here’s what a week in the life of a media entrepreneur and rockstar chaser looks like.

The Shortlisted Magazine selection of interviews

Monday After four weeks of extenuating email exchanges, follow-ups and phone calls, you’ve finally got a confirmed phone interview with some big music celebrity for this week, but you don’t know the exact day and time yet. They said they “would be in touch soon” and then they disappeared. You know they won’t be in touch and that you’ll need to follow up again, but not today. That’s your number one rule in business: never email people on Monday unless it’s to threaten to sue their customer service.

You spend the day reviewing your list of questions for the celeb and watching videos of their past interviews to get accustomed to their accent and style. You also spend a great deal of time sourcing, selecting, giving appropriate credit, optimising and compressing the pictures to go with the interview.

Tuesday Time for a follow-up early in the morning. Time to try to remember who you’re actually going to follow up with, which is not that obvious when you receive at least 70 pitches and press releases per day every single day and - for God’s sake - everybody seems to be called the same. You had this vague impression at some point that all the publicists out there had identical names and so you eventually ran a poll into your nearly 6,000 LinkedIn connections just to find out that it’s true: if you’re called Chloe or Alison, you’re 85% going to work into PR, just as you’re certain to be getting into recruitment if your name is Rebecca, Matthew or Adam.

When she receives your follow-up email on Tuesday morning, the PR girl sees your message and starts to panic. She suddenly realises that she kept you hanging since last Thursday. She thought she had confirmed the interview date and time at the end of last week. She responds immediately. She’s nice and everything, and you can gauge how guilty she feels based on the number of “xxxx” she uses to greet you.

You now have a day and time for your interview, which is going to be tomorrow afternoon. If the celebrity is really huge and you’re a fan, you definitely don’t want to get too excited and start fangirling around. If the celebrity is Robbie Williams or Roger Taylor, the above doesn’t apply because you’ve already fainted to the ground.

Either way, you decide to cool off with a range of tasks you hate. Social media is the king of the tasks you hate. Back in the day, you created a magazine logo with a little round face that could virtually be turned into anything, and so you transform it according to the social media days of the month, because when the world is crashing down, there is always going to be some urgent Pink Cake Awareness Week posting to do.

Wednesday Time is up and you’re getting more and more stressed out. You check your technical devices and internet connection relentlessly in the hope that nothing horrible will happen to you and your equipment as you dial the celebrity’s telephone number. You would love to have met them in person and regret not living in the good old days when you would just hop on a horse and travel the world without anybody or anything annoying you on your way up. Time flies. You get super excited. They’re just brilliant to talk to and you would like the conversation to last forever. You’re having the honour to speak with ladies and gents that have made the history of rock and roll; people who were once speaking to John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Freddie Mercury are now on the phone with you. How crazy is that? You are so happy. You send a thank you note to the PR girl saying that the conversation was amazing and the interview will be out by the end of the week. You’re so joyful that you spend the rest of the day doing accounting until 5am.

Thursday You wake up at midday completely devastated. The interview seems like a million years ago. The excitement is over. All that’s left is a 45-minute mp3- recorded file with a persistent noise in the background to transcribe, fact check, proofread, edit, refine, make SEO friendly and publish.

As you’re taking a painkiller to get rid of your terrible headache, the rockstar you just interviewed briefly appears on the telly. You start to detest them. Also, you’d better not forget that, in addition to the transcription, you’ve also got an introduction to write from scratch. Introductions really are your thing and you don’t want to disappoint the readers when it comes to that. For some reason, the more your interview openings have absolutely nothing to do with the topic of the interview - like the one with Andrea Bocelli, Moby and John Steel of The Animals - the more the audience seems to enjoy them.

You start transcribing the mp3 file using Otter, which is an amazing artificial intelligence transcription tool that takes most of the hassle out of the process for you but only works wonders if the speaker has comprehensible elocution, which is not something to take for granted when there are Americans involved. Once the transcription is ready, you’ll have to go all over it again and triple check everything word by word, following through with headphones. The worst part is when the chap starts making lists of names and places that sound exactly like hundreds of other names and places. You’ve got to double-check everything, hoping you’ll guess the correct spelling. The fact-checking part is enormously time-consuming and may well take even longer than the proofreading process itself.

Many hours later the interview transcription is done, but you still need to write the introduction. For a good introduction, you need some good inspiration. But you cannot go and buy a tin of inspiration at that time in the night, so you stay up and continue to work until the right introduction magically appears on the page.

Which is just when the sun is rising out through the window.

Friday, I’m In Love The Cure knew what they were talking about when they famously released their Friday I’m In Love song in 1992: it’s Friday morning, you did get three hours of sleep in total and look your ugliest, but you’re happy as a sandboy. The interview is published. Time to celebrate by picking the celebrity’s loudest song, blast it on the stereo and throw a party between you and the cat. Such a shame that, in fact, you do not have a cat. You’ve always wanted one. What’s more, people are loving your article. You can tell it from your Google Analytics data. Some even spend as many as 40 minutes reading on.

Followers are liking and sharing the post on social media and they also say that they love your introduction. The PR girl is over the moon and sends you lots of xxxx.

Mission accomplished. You can now sit back, relax and look forward to Saturday morning when you’ll have a great time yelling on the phone with the HMRC because of those missing paperwork you’ve been waiting for six months.

 

To read more of Silvia's interviews, visit The Shortlisted's website.

08 June 2021

Nurture your ambitions with the Business & IP Centre National Network

Last year, the Business & IP Centre’s (BIPC) National Network was awarded a £13million investment, announced by the Chancellor, to enable the Network to expand.

Fast forward, and just over a year later and we’re bringing business inspiration and support to more people than ever before by growing the Network from 14 to over 100 libraries. Offering insights and access to free resources, training and events – both online and in-person – BIPCs in regional and local libraries around the UK, can help you imagine, start or develop your business.

Business & IP Centres can open up the path to entrepreneurship for anyone with an idea. While each Centre is equipped with a core set of resources, such as up-to-date market research and business databases, they are brought to life by a tailored and highly individual programme of events, workshops and one-to-ones, delivered in collaboration with local business leaders, role model entrepreneurs and community partners.

This support has been invaluable for over 26,000 business owners supported by the BIPC during the COVID-19 pandemic. In our recent annual survey, almost a quarter of users agreed that the service had helped them gain confidence and resilience to steer their business through the challenges of the past year. Over 3,600 business owners attended events as part of Reset. Restart, an emergency online programme launched last year to provide new skills and resilience to all SMEs affected.

Whether you’re just setting out, need advice on protecting your intellectual property, or simply have a brilliant idea you want to discuss, we’re here to guide you. To find out more about how you can join a thriving business community in your local library, visit our National Network page and find your closest BIPC.

01 June 2021

Beautiful Ethical's top tips for making your business sustainable

Sustainability is at the core of Tracey’s handmade beauty business. Beautiful Ethical is a company that offers natural and luxurious wellbeing gift boxes as a way for people to treat themselves or someone they love to positive self-care.

Founder, Tracey holding a Beautiful Ethical box

After losing her job during the pandemic, Tracey launched Beautiful Ethical to promote self-care, positivity, and mindfulness with an ethical focus. Read on to find out how she ensures sustainability remains at the centre of her business…

“I love animals and nature, so choosing cruelty free beauty products and making eco-friendly choices are a part of my everyday life and central to the Beautiful Ethical ethos.

Beautiful Ethical Pamper and Wellbeing Box

Since people like David Attenborough have highlighted the environmental impact we are having on our planet, I think that protecting the environment and living a more sustainable life has become something we’re all more aware of and people are now considering how they can make a difference. For me, starting a business that puts sustainability at its core was always a no-brainer.

All our products are cruelty free, vegan and handmade by small brands in the UK – helping us to keep our carbon footprint down and support the local economy. Our products contain natural ingredients and are made by hand, plus everything is made in small batches to ensure that waste is kept to a minimum. In addition to this, we also:

  • Look for products that use sustainable ingredients, such as soy or rapeseed in our candles and wax melts
  • Use eco-friendly packaging so that everything can be recycled, or is biodegradable or compostable
  • Use an environmentally friendly printing company
  • Offset our carbon footprint through Ecologi – an organisation that funds climate-positive projects around the world, including tree planting.”

Sweet Dreams Box

Tracey has used Business & IP Centre Leeds' services to access free resources and attend webinars and one-to-one sessions which have helped with "friendly, straightforward and practical advice in areas such as designing a website, social media and marketing”.

Find out more about Beautiful Ethical over on their website.

12 May 2021

Innovating for Growth Diary Part 2 - Sian Zeng

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. 

SianZeng_031_landingpage

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.

Hua_Trees_Green_1square_photo_Veerle_Evens_Styling_Charlotte_Love_Sian_Zeng_wallpapers-500x500-ace4382d-3d99-4298-a327-359518a99e96

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

A week in the life of Zachary Pulman, founder of Zachary Pulman Design Studio

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. 

Big Wheel Course at Swingers West End (Photo by Edit Photo)

Monday

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. 

ZP Home Studio

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!

Tuesday

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.

Zach  Gosia and Hugo

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

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. 

Team call

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.

Zachary Pulman - Bandstand Bar 1 (photo by Edit Photo)

Thursday

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. 

Friday

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. 

Zachary-Pulman-Image-

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. 

Weekend

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.

05 May 2021

Inventor of the Month: Lucean Arthur Headen, 1879-1957

Introducing our latest blog feature: Inventor of the Month! In our first edition, our IP expert, Jeremy O'Hare explores the fascinating life of Lucean Arthur Headen.

'For someone to be both an inventor and an entrepreneur is a unique thing. To be someone who overcomes racial prejudice and become a pioneer in his field is truly exceptional.

I discovered the story of Lucean Headen while answering an enquiry for an historian and author, Dr Jill D. Snider, who has written a recent biography about this extraordinary man. Jill had used our historical collections of patents in order to track Headen’s achievements in engineering.

Lucean Headen, an African American, born in 1879 in North Carolina, was to become an important figure in manufacturing and engineering in Camberley, Surrey before and after the Second World War.

Passport Photo of Lucean Headen

How then, did Headen travel from a segregated USA to England in the early 20th Century and prosper in what was an extraordinary life journey and adventure for his time?

The answer is, invention. Quite a few of them in fact.

Headen, was born into the generation after the American Civil War where racial inequalities and prejudice were the norm. He belonged to a family of artisans, who had learned their trades while enslaved.  His father was exceptional in his own right as an entrepreneur and owner of a sawmill  and his family had acquired strong connections with other African American entrepreneurs.

The social networks his family built were what Headen needed to get ahead, and they became vital to his securing future opportunities. They included contacts through the Northern Presbyterian church, a network that would continue to be a place of social as well as spiritual support for Headen. But also a wider circle of investors, both black and white, who saw promise in Headen’s early inventions.

His first two patents, in fact related to cars as he established a car manufacturing business producing car bodies and engines. But it was the promise of overseas opportunities that saw him travel to the UK. He made his first trip toward the end of the First World War, to demonstrate to the British Admiralty an optical device referred to as the “Headen system of mirror camouflage,” used to make small patrol craft invisible to German submarines.

This of course helped to get him known in inventing circles. However, with the war soon to end he didn’t receive the opportunity to fully develop his idea, though his talent was commended.

Illustration from patent GB381588A Improvements in or relating to vaporizers for internal combustion engines
Illustration from patent GB381588A Improvements in or relating to vaporizers for internal combustion engines

After some time back in the USA, Headen returned to the UK in 1931 not with patents for the military, but for the car industry.

Again, the trip was because of an opportunity. England had a petrol problem; there wasn’t enough of it, and it was too expensive. Something that wasn’t a problem in the US at the time. So Headen had developed a converter kit that allowed petrol engines to burn heavy oils instead of petrol. This was a big advantage for England at the time because heavy oils were more plentiful and cheaper.

The invention certainly created a stir and was demonstrated at the Royal Motor Club. Off the back of its early interest, Headen formed a company in 1932, first in London, then relocated to Camberley, the place that would become his home. Having formed a partnership with another entrepreneur, George Hamilton, and later Camberley builder James Richard McLean Keil, this gave Headen the local network and connections to get his invention to market.

Headen and his company would become central in the local business community, and he emerged as a leading industrialist for his time in the region.

More patents were soon to follow, each developing his automotive innovations, but it was the onset of war that proved to be of such importance for Headen’s contribution to the war effort.

His engines were instrumental in British agriculture and logistics because tractors and lorry operators were able to switch to oil, therefore allowing scarce petrol for military use. His engine gasket also increased the efficiency of oil-burning engines and reduced the maintenance required.

It was clear that Headen had grown to love England and indeed had remarried here and adopted a son. He never gave up his US citizenship but was very much considered a local, and even served in the Home Guard. It’s true to say that he had created opportunities as an African American here in the UK that were so much more difficult for him in the US at the time.

But it would be wrong to see Lucean Headen as either American or British. He was bigger than that, a man who would never allow his race, background or lack of higher education hold him back, Headen succeeded with talent, determination and an instinct to chase an opportunity wherever it led him.

Illustration from patent CA376999A ‘Ice formation preventing apparatus for aircrafts
Illustration from patent CA376999A ‘Ice formation preventing apparatus for aircrafts

To use a cliché, the ‘sky’s the limit’, would even be a little limiting, as Headen was also a pioneer aviator, among the first African-Americans to fly. He added to his automotive achievements with aeronautical inventions. One of these, an anti-icing technique for planes, has been cited as an early patent for later developments by Curtiss Wright, GM Grumman Aerospace, Boeing and Rolls Royce right up to a recent thermal patent method to de-ice turbine blades in 2018.

His inventive and personal legacy continues to inspire to today. Lucean Headen is a man whose time for recognition has come.'

24 April 2021

A week in the life of Edward Draper, founder of Ortheia

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. 

Monday

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.

Edward holding Ortheia's biomaterial-min

Tuesday

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.

Wednesday

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.

Edward reviewing laboratory data

Thursday

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.

Friday

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.

19 March 2021

Meet our delivery partner: Sam Lane

Not everyone can afford a professional photographer, especially when you are starting a new business and having to spin a number of plates including and not limited to marketing, research and  finance... But these days almost everyone has a great camera in their pocket or bag. Today’s smartphones are all pretty good with a good quality lens (or maybe multiple lenses) and software that makes some great photography decisions for you.

I’m Sam Lane and I have been taking photos since I was around 10 years old. I have over 30 years of experience in Marketing Communications working for some amazing brands including Microsoft and I set up a Limited company in 2013 covering both Commercial and Social photography projects. Commercial clients include the British Library, Network Rail and High Speed 1 (that owns and operates St Pancras International station); I have had the pleasure of photographing the Queen, Sir Elton John and John Legend as well as over 85 weddings including two in Australia and one in the US!

Sam Lane taking a selfie

So I know what it is like to work in a business and not finding enough time to work on the business. A few years ago the Business & IP Centre ran a(nother) fantastic Start Up Day and invited me to do a session on smartphone photography. This evolved into two-hour workshop – face to face when we are allowed, but now perfectly manageable via Zoom – which gives some practical tips and tricks about how to take better photos using your smartphone, whatever make or model; whatever your skill level; and whatever your business needs.

This workshop is aimed at start-ups, small business owners and entrepreneurs who have brilliant ideas but maybe not the money to pay for professional, outsourced help.

We start by looking at ways of optimising your camera phone settings and identifying some features that are going to be helpful as you take more photos – switching on the camera grid being one great example.

Phone camera screenshot

We touch on how to actually take a photo, and moving you from taking a snap to taking a more considered photo.

And really getting to grips with storytelling as “a picture speaks a 1000 words”.

We also look at the importance of planning to make sure that you don’t waste your valuable time. Imagine you are paying someone else to take pictures for you – they’d need to know where, when and what you want the photo of, but also why and how they are going to be used…

We focus (you see what I did there?) on what makes a good photo with the key photographic principles of Lighting and Composition. Ever heard of the Rule of thirds for example?

Even as a professional I know that life is too short to spend time editing so I will give you some tips on making simple edits, mainly using the in-camera editing tools, that help take your images from good to great.

We touch on saving, sharing and storing the images and then focus back on YOU.

Sam workshop in person

My favourite part of the workshop (apart from seeing and hearing your “lightbulb moments” – AE/AF Lock to mention just one) is then finding out about your businesses, looking at your website images and social channels and getting peer group insight from other attendees about what looks good and / or could be improved.

I’ve been amazed - and humbled - at the talent I have seen. People who are thinking about it or just starting out; and those already running small businesses and even growing them - from belly dancers and fitness instructors to tango shoes and pet accessory manufacturers – all with unique challenges but the one common factor – the desire for great photos.

From my experience of running the workshops, we all learn something, especially me!

I look forward to seeing new and inspiring people and hope to meet people face to face at the BIPC later in 2021!

You can find Sam's workshops listed on our Events page: https://www.bl.uk/business-and-ip-centre/workshops-and-events

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