Innovation and enterprise blog

24 June 2021

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

24 April 2021

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

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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.

18 February 2021

Finding a gap in the market. Nicola Lespeare Greeting Cards

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Business experts will tell you that to be successful in a crowded market you need to have a great idea, an idea that stands out from the competition. Many great ideas are born out of a personal aspiration to solve a problem, a problem that affects a group of consumers and represents a gap in the market waiting to be filled.

In 2016, Nicola Lespeare set out to do just that. She launched Nicola Lespeare Greeting Cards “to solve the problem regarding the lack of visible representation and availability of Black characters in greeting cards in the UK”.

Nicola Lespeare holding one of her greeting card deisgns

"The UK is a multicultural society, yet the vast majority of greeting card shelves fail to reflect this.”

Her vision was to “initiate change and increase diversity in the greeting cards industry”. Every year, Nicola would search retail stores, looking for the ideal birthday card for her sister. “I asked sales advisors which aisle the Black greetings cards were located and the response was always the same, ‘we don’t sell them’.”

Having rediscovered her passion for drawing, Nicola embarked on amplifying the prominence of Black character cards and creating lasting change in the greeting cards market.

Nicola Lespeare greeting card with a Black woman wearing an orange dress

“My sister deserved a card that she would resonate with – an illustration that looked like her, instead of a generic card with pictures of flowers, teddies and cupcakes, so I decided to create my own! I purchased a set of coloured pencils and sketched an illustration of a Black girl with radiant skin and a fabulous afro, surrounded by a bunch of vibrant balloons. My sister loved her surprise and was so excited to receive a birthday card that reflected her deep skin tone and afro hair. Seeing her eyes light up with joy made me want to recreate the same happy experience for others.”

Nicola had identified a gap in the UK greeting cards market and consumers in the Black community who shared her struggle to find relatable, stylish cards. Armed with pencils and a great idea, she was ready to launch her brand.

“Nicola Lespeare Greeting Cards is an aspirational brand specialising in distinctive, illustrated designs inspired by fabulous afros and deep skin tones. Representation is key to instilling self-worth, building confidence and creating a sense of belonging. Receiving a card that you identify with, whatever your age, is a special feeling, a Nicola Lespeare Greeting Card instantly makes you smile because the giver has considered a card that reflects you!

“The response has been brilliant, customers and card recipients leave feedback and respond to our newsletters with comments such as ‘This card looks like me!’, ‘Great to see positive images’ and ‘Representation matters!’

Nicola Lespeare greeting card with an illustration of a Black woman holding balloons

“Being new to starting a business, I found the British Library’s webinar, Introduction to Copyright for Business, valuable when registering my logo and the Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Cultural Changemakers was a highly insightful event. An informative one-to-one business session with an advisor at the Business & IP Centre Nottingham facilitated mentor support through a Nottingham business programme, this enabled me to align my priorities with my brand vision.

“The Metro, You Magazine and The Strategist have featured my cards in online articles which has increased our circle of brand supporters and social media presence. Nicola Lespeare Greeting Cards recently joined online greeting card retailer Moonpig as well.

“This is a really exciting milestone because it means enabling a wider audience to celebrate with Black greeting cards and choose touching sentiments that reflect the important people in their lives.’’

For more on Nicola Lespeare Greeting Cards, visit the website. You can also follow Nicola Lespeare Greeting Cards on Instagram.

10 February 2021

How entrepreneurs have Reset and Restarted their businesses

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Around the Business & IP Centre National Network, Reset. Restart webinars have been supporting entrepreneurs to pivot and adapt to the ever-changing business climate. We’ve caught up with businesses from around the UK who have made changes to their businesses since attending the programme's webinars.

Some business owners struggle with various aspects of running a business, planning, forecasting, research. Mario Spiridonov, founder of Santa Sofia coffee took part in our Reset. Restart programme to help with just those things.

Mario Spiridonov, founder of Santa Sofia

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Mario incorporated Santa Sofia in December 2019, with a B2B business plan. When COVID-19 struck and disrupted his plans, he turned to the BIPC’s Reset. Restart webinars to help learn about and research different markets.
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“When the hospitality industry was in lockdown, I was in shock, as I had stock worth of £5,000 which had a shelf-life of less than a year and I wasn’t eligible for any of the government support grants. After browsing Eventbrite, I signed up for the BIPC Leeds’ webinars to learn more about marketing, forecasting finances and networking. One webinar in particular, with Helen from Collective Stories on getting your products in the retail market was an amazing experience. I learnt so much and Helen was so passionate. I had a follow up one-to-one session with her, which really inspired me.
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I then signed up to a finance webinar with Gareth Allen coaching and really learnt the importance of forecasting, again, I immediately signed up for a one-to-one session and he helped me navigate my finances in a better way. He helped me understand the importance of expecting expenditure and money coming into my business finances. As a follow-up, I’ve also been supported with great market research, which is unbelievable. I just can’t explain in words how grateful I am for all the support I have had from BIPC.

Selection of Santa Sofia coffee

The three main takeaways from the programme have been: Planning is important, networking is key, do your research and never stop learning about your market and finances. Since attending the webinars, I have started doing my forecast on a weekly basis, preparing presentations ahead of approaching clients and learning more about different aspects of my market.
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At the start of lockdown, I wasn’t eligible for any grant money and having invested with my own capital money, three months before, was such a stressful time. However, I have since managed to secure a bounce back loan, which is great. Now I can start again from scratch."

For The Shortlisted founder, Silvia Pingitore, the pandemic opened up some opportunities both for her entertainment and music magazine, but also in terms of business support. 

The Shortlisted founder, Silvia Pingitore

“It’s difficult to see and celebrate opportunities for you when this means somebody else losing their job. As a journalist, I have been able to interview many more people than usual in the music industry during 2020 because tours were cancelled and artists were suddenly available. Was I happy to interview all these big stars? Of course I was. But I won’t forget at what cost this was made possible.
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I had previously taken part in so many amazing BIPC webinars, one-to-ones, panels and events prior to joining Reset. Restart that I was 100% sure this programme was going to be great too. Fluff and pointlessness are the worst things when it comes to online business events. It’s very easy to emerge from webinars extremely annoyed and confused, but this will never happen with BIPC programmes. They have structure, quality, plenty of practical examples and sense of purpose, in addition to bring together a great community of like-minded entrepreneurs.

The Shortlisted Magazine homepage
Since attending the webinars, I learned to let things go. When you’re doing everything by yourself in business, it’s easy to get lost into three million different things, and if you absolutely want to do perfectly in every of the 50 jobs you’re performing, you’re going to burn out very soon. There are things that can be learned, other can be outsourced after you’ve learned how and what to outsource, but certain things just need to be scrapped. Less is more, and putting this principle into practice is the biggest change I’ve made to my business since attending the webinars… it sounds weird, but I basically learned to procrastinate!”

One business which is putting its best foot forward is Esentzia, who produce luxury men’s home slippers. The slippers are designed to be comfortable with added health technology in the insole. Brigitte, who founded the company, manufactures the product in the UK using only biodegradable and recyclable materials.

Brigitte with a prototype of her slipper

The Reset. Restart programme came at the right time for Brigitte, who is at the start of her business journey, who used the webinars to learn about business models, market research, marketing, finance and more. “It has also helped me to clear my mind and to focus on my business. I feel more confident in knowing where to find information and who I should address when I need help. Finally, I feel part of a group, part of a community that helps me to launch my dream, I feel to be in a positive environment to succeed.”

Alongside the main programme, Brigitte also attended the smaller group Q&As which helped cement all the elements from the main webinars to take into consideration and to keep in mind “what people value”. From these follow-up sessions Brigitte received additional practical support, with spreadsheets to help her create her financial forecast and the idea to use offcuts from mattress production as a recycled material in her product.

It’s not just Brigitte who is looking for ways to make her product more sustainable, BIPC Leeds’ entrepreneur, Omar Bahadur, founded Faraday after graduating from Bradford University. Faraday is natural raspberry rose flavoured water with similar caffeine to your typical energy drink without the artificial ingredients, high sugar content or carbonation. Sustainability is also at the fore of the business as it’s served in an aluminium bottle that’s resealable and reusable.

Omar Bahadur, founded Faraday

Whilst working on his business as a side hustle to his full-time job, Omar invested everything he earnt into his idea. “Since our limited first run of 2,000 bottles in July 2020, Faraday is now stocked in a total of 10 independent stores in Bradford and Leeds, as well as making sales on our website offering free UK delivery on our cases of 12.”

“Faraday’s first offering has been subjected to two years of R&D since inception in November 2018 prior to commercialisation. We are in a proof of concept phase collating feedback on our pricing, recipe and packaging. We landed a Bounce Back loan last year and this will be used to scale-up before seeking angel investment next year.”

Before the pandemic Omar used BIPC Leeds, in Leeds Central Library, for workshops, access the free market data and IP clinics. During the lockdown, Omar, with the help of BIPC staff has continued to access data remotely and attend Reset. Restart webinars on dealing with retailers along with one-to-ones with the delivery partner. “The webinar highlighted the importance of storytelling, and on a deeper level the DNA behind the brand as opposed to simply focusing on the product. This prompted me to work on developing this, for example, what are the three things I want Faraday to stand for in the minds of consumers? Natural, sustainable and inspiring. This then dictates everything we do from packaging design through to recipe and choice of words on the website as opposed to vice versa.”

Omar has also made sure his intellectual property for his product is protected and has taken out UK and US trademarks and a patent for the resealable bottle, which is a novelty with aluminium. This allows the product to be cheaper and more sustainable than using a traditional glass or plastic alternative.

Customer feedback is key to Omar’s plan, “we’re keen to implement the feedback from our customers across all areas. This also includes packing less into a case, strengthening our online presence via our website and Amazon, as well as tweaking the flavouring. Increasing our retail presence is likewise on the agenda. The pandemic has been beneficial for us in the sense that we landed the loan last year, without this I don’t think Faraday would exist today.”

It’s not just Omar who has been thinking about how his brand is seen by consumers. Susan Widlake, founder of Mill House Millinery, used BIPC Cambridgeshire & Peterborough’s Reset. Restart webinars to revisit the messaging to her customers in order to address her appreciation to her local community, which she’ll reflect on her website.

Susan wearing one of her designs in front of an NHS wreath made from sewing thread

Susan had always had a passion for hats and after travelling the world as an IT auditor, decided to leave the corporate world behind her, return to the UK and turn her passion into a business.

“I now make hats at my home studio, a windmill, just outside Saffron Walden on the Cambridgeshire/Essex border. My hats are named after places and locations that have captured my imagination. I love to incorporate local silk, woven in Sudbury in Suffolk in my designs, and my millinery wire comes from twenty miles away in Essex. A case of inspired globally, created locally.

“Everything I make is unique, from wedding hats to show stopping creations made for racegoers and millinery competitions. I’m particularly proud that one of my pieces was selected from hundreds of entries to be exhibited at London Hat Week in 2020.”

Barcelona hat design and matching mask

2020 was a challenging year for Susan, with no weddings or events, it could have easily forced her business to stop, however Susan quickly pivoted to online fairs to showcase her designs and started sewing face masks. The thought of her local community was at the forefront of her designs with her Etsy shop stocking prints relating to the local area with crocuses and windmills. These struck a chord with the local tourist information office who saw her designs on Twitter and now stock Susan’s face masks and have put in multiple repeat orders.

She didn’t stop there. “Some ladies in a business network I belong to, Thrive Collective, asked if I’d consider making some sequin face masks for Christmas. I was a little dubious, as wanted them to be both comfortable and washable, so made some samples and got them to market test them. When they were road testing them, people were asking them where they came from, and I was referred to a local boutique, Blue in Saffron Walden. They asked if I could make some for them, and they were then featured on ITV’s Lorraine. These sales totally turned my business around, and have given me a huge amount of local and national exposure.”

Before Reset. Restart, Susan used BIPC’s webinars to help with her online presence. In the space of a few weeks after attending a Getting your business online webinar, “I’d stopped procrastinating, and purchased a domain name, and set up social media accounts”.

“Alongside Reset. Restart, I’ve been attending a millinery business course, and all of the topics have really reinforced the learnings I’ve been getting on the course.” Susan’s best piece of business advice is ‘done is better than perfect’, “I had to accept that in the real world getting your font choice and size doesn’t have to be perfect, and doing something is far better than nothing. My Etsy shop went live with just six product listings.”

Another business owner who attended our Reset. Restart programme is Lea Fletcher. In February 2020, Lea started a small business as a sole trader, offering business support services. “This started as a friend who had a business needed support and asked me to help out. I used the opportunity to set up Girl Friday Business Support Services. As my friend was an essential service business with key workers, I was required to work during the first COVID-19 lockdown period. My contract came to an end and I was offered other contracts by other businesses. I also applied to Anglia Ruskin University to complete a Master's in Project Management in order to provide additional services from my Girl Friday business and expand the range of services too.

Lea Fletcher

“Unfortunately, I was in an abusive relationship and I had to leave home for my safety and go and stay in a Refuge. Whilst I have been living in the Refuge I have not been able to work, however, my current situation and the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown gave me the idea to focus on undertaking a project to help domestic abuse victims and survivors.”

Lea wanted to create a safety application that could be located discretely within existing commercial websites and an online community platform, in collaboration with other service providers, agencies and businesses etc. “The aim is to provide essential information, access to resources, and necessary products and services to help assist current victims and survivors with their ongoing recovery journey. I am very passionate about this having gone through my own experience and now have a back story I can utilize to help others. I am currently researching this project and entering the first stages of establishing the concept.”

The Reset. Restart programme has supported Lea since it started in November 2020. “I have been attending lots of workshops and one-to-one sessions. They have proved to be very helpful and informative. I have attended all the workshops so far, but the one I enjoyed the most was my one-to-one session with a business advisor who helped to give me clarity with my ideas. The workshops came at a crucial time for me and have assisted to give structure to my business and also explore possible pitfalls that I could avoid, amongst other things.”

Lea’s new business to support her first project is called Adhoc Project Management. “I am currently going through the process of setting up and applying for funding in order to undertake my project to help victims and survivors of domestic abuse.”

If you'd like to see what webinars are taking place with your local BIPC, or from London, visit our Reset. Restart webpage.

08 December 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teal logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caron Pollard at workshop in Croydon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

07 December 2020

Meet our delivery partner: Pete Schönbeck

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

Pete Schonbeck during a speed mentoring event

Background

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

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

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

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

What will attendees get?

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

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

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

Reset. Restart

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

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

We investigate the following:

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

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

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