Innovation and enterprise blog

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.

01 December 2020

A week in the life of… Stéphanie Tumba founder of Sté Tumba Capital and Managing Director of Human Connections London

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Stephanie is the managing director of Human Connections London, an introduction and matchmaking agency based in London and founder of Sté Tumba Capital, a business angel vehicle investing in creative ideas, bonds and stocks, commodities, and most importantly start-ups with innovative ideas. Stephanie became part of the BIPC family after taking part in our Innovating for Growth programme.

Stephanie getting into a yellow cab

My diary takes place during the week when the second lockdown was announced, also the week before the highly anticipated American elections and 60 days before Christmas.

We reached out to the Business & IP Centre for Human Connections London as we felt stuck. We felt like we had achieved enviable and reasonable growth, yet we hit a glass ceiling. We needed external eyes and opinions, not only to be bigger and better than our competitors, but more so to implement a consistent system for getting a strategy implemented that truly scales. Whilst I was really impressed by my colleagues and our mentors during the Innovating for Growth programme, I found the few sessions of the Business & IP Centre's Growth Club mentoring programme with Alan Wick even more valuable during such trying times. It has currently proven to be an source of inspiration to sustain during the pandemic and well beyond.

Monday You never know what your day will bring when you own and manage a portfolio of several investments and properties and work on a couple of projects around the world. Especially during a global pandemic! Yet, my Mondays tend to be more or less the same unless there is an emergency.

I do not do any work on Monday; in fact I mostly dedicate this day to charity endeavours. However, I still wake up around 5am with the following morning routine that ends around 8am. I call this period of the day Golden Hours as they tend to set the energies and vibes of the day:

  • Wash my face and drink a glass of water
  • Say my gratitude out loud
  • Prayers
  • Meditation
  • Visualisation
  • Exercise (Pilates 30 to 45 minutes)
  • Reading
  • Plan my priorities for the day with a coffee and a croissant
  • Shower

And now I am ready to start my day around 8am!

8.00 Working from home, I switch my laptop on. The first thing I do is read thoroughly all the reports that I have received from my teams, partners and service providers the Friday before. These reports usually help me to plan the rest of the week and sometimes do tweak my priorities on Monday.

10.00 I check my phone for the first time. I also respond to my emails, for no more than an hour, so I need to prioritise who I respond to.

11.00 I catch up with my assistant, this tends to take at least two hours, to plan the week ahead and determine where she can help me out both in my personal and business life.

Lunch time I am a Rotarian, as such we meet every Monday at 12.30 for lunch, a talk presented by an inspiring leader or charity representative, and a catch up with my Rotarian friends. Rotary is a non-political and non-religious organisation whose purpose is to bring together business and professional leaders in order to provide humanitarian service and to advance goodwill and peace around the world. It’s my way to give back to a variety of communities from one sole place. We usually meet in Mayfair but we are currently holding Zoom meetings.

14.30 I spend two hours reviewing my assets (personal and business) and decide what to buy, sell, or hold. In fact, I check the markets and my investments’ fluctuations. My investments include stocks, equities, commodities and others on the NYC, London, and Paris. Therefore, I read the numbers, the news, any press release, quarterly or annual report, sales and so much more!

Finally, I end my Monday by coaching and/or mentoring three young professionals, free of charge, in the subject of career, lifestyle, and business.

21.00 I ordered food through Deliveroo. It’s too late to cook and I never miss a meal.

22.00 My Evening Routine:

  • Shower
  • Praying
  • Thanks
  • Visualisation and Affirmations

Stephanie on a bench

Tuesday My Tuesdays are your Mondays. My Golden Hours have been well used and I am on the starting block and full or energy for the day. The only difference is that I take my coffee at the office, not at home.

8.00 This time, I start by reading my emails for the first hour.

9.00 Speed read 2/3 unsolicited pitches for investments.

10.00 Zoom call with my mentor.

11.00 Catch up with the Marketing team.

Noon Catch up with Miia from Human Connections London. We have a meeting to talk about the clients I will be meeting this week and looking after. I am a qualified matchmaker, but only look after Platinum Plus and beyond members (most expensive membership). We also catch up, talking about their backgrounds and their requirements. There’s a very exciting week ahead so I love this part of my job!

13.00 Lunch.

14.00 I will be spending this afternoon interviewing Business Development Managers and Matchmakers for Human Connections. I have three different interviews, each with 30 minutes break in between and a quick read of my emails, prioritising who to respond to.

18.30 Checking my emails for the last time.

19.30 I am off! It’s date night and I am heading to one of my faves, Ivy High Street Kensington. We are leaving the restaurant at 21.30 because of the curfew and I am at home at 21.45.

22.30 My Evening routine (note, I would not have checked my phone in the all evening).

Wednesday Morning routine.

8.00 Check my emails.

9.30 Taxi towards Home Grown for a meeting at 10.00 to meet my assistant. We are working on a couple of creative projects for 2021.

I am currently working on a franchise called #Superwomen and today my assistant and I meeting one of the potential videographers. Th project requires a very specific sets of skills for both the editing and the filming. We are looking for someone able to shoot and edit the show in the a style that I’m envisioning, therefore need someone who can understand and translate my ideas in reality.

The launch is for next year, it was meant to be last summer 2020, but I am very excited as this time allowed my team and I to tweak and fine-tune the project and make it very specific. We would be working with a group of talented and highly skilled artists, entrepreneurs and successful women and we can’t wait to introduce the project to the world. This is another fun and creative part of my role, it’s less factual, more engaging, and most importantly, the show is meant to inspire me and other women from around the world.

After discussing #superwomen project and a few more projects for next year, we eat lunch at Home Grown, have a quick re-viewing of the place where I want to film and leave.

15.00 My assistant and I are heading toward Home House for an additional viewing of one of their venues. I have a clear vision of where I want the show to be filmed and I feel like Home Grown is the ideal place to do so. Yet, I wanted to see an additional venue to be sure that I am not missing out on a better place. Well, I stick to Home Grown, however, this place will be ideal for my birthday.

16.00 Back at the Home Office. I speed read the legal documentation needed for my call with my lawyer, read the news regarding current legislation changes in France, and write down questions for him.

16.30 Call with lawyer in France to discuss a few amendments to our standard rental agreement as per recent changes made in France in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

17.30 End of call. I read my emails until 18.00.

18.30 Home getting ready for my night out.

20.00 Dinner with friends at Bagatelle.

22.30 My Evening Routine

Thursday Morning routine

8.00 Checking my emails. At this point, my ordinary Thursday routine was interrupted, so I’ll relate what happened instead:

I received an emergency call, a worker had had an accident on one of our building sites (Sussex) with a serious injury. I had to meet one of my business partners and the building company that employs him onsite and assess and gauge what happened. I had to be sure that our site had not broken any rules as it is our responsibility to provide a place that is safe and healthy for all of all our builders/contractors. So, needless to say that I was pretty anxious (a very unusual feeling for me as I rarely am!).

9.00 I was on the train discussing with my business partners and lawyers about the questions we need to ask and what needs to be assessed on location. I simultaneously used my personal phone to email Miia, my business partner for Human Connections to cancel my meetings with the clients that I was meant to meet today.

11.00 I arrived on site. I checked the details (report) of the accident, the pictures taken on the scene of the causes, the damages on site, and I call or question the two witnesses of the accident, ask about the working practices, and so on so forth. I was stressed out, I need to relax.

Human Connections logo

13.00 Lunch. I was on a quick call with Human Connections to check my next availability and speak to my assistant to tell her what happened. This was followed by a quick 'fun and relaxing' call to my BF and BFF. I was calmer, relieved, and back to my normal self.

14.00 Back to business (like I really had a non-business lunch) we then call the employee’s lawyer.

15.00 We had a meeting with the the employee’s employer to define whose insurance is going to be used.

16.00 Exhausted, on the train, I postponed my jazz night and dinner with the ladies for 20.00 instead of 1900. I responded to my emails on my mobile.

18.30 I get home. I had a quick shower, a change of clothes and am ready to relax.

20.00 Drinks, dinner, and jazz with my ladies.

22.30 My Evening Routine

What a day! I was exhausted!

Friday Morning routine

8.00 My inbox was cracking, unsurprisingly, and my business phone had billion of voicemail messages. I am really tempted to postpone my appointment at the hairdresser later on today… Let’s see.

I start with checking my voicemail. I had 13 messages. I take notes, phone numbers, and saved most of them. I decide to call two of them back later in the morning and email three of them immediately, the rest will have to wait until next week.

9.00 I decide to deal with most of my emails by themes, projects or start-ups. I start with the Business Development Executive recruitment for Human Connections. I confirm a few interviews that had been conducted for me and review the CVs received. I send my new availability for the following week for the missed phone calls and client meetings the days before.

I have a call with Miia to review our new package called 'Love at first Dial'. We are excited about it and will be organising Zoomtastic dates for our new and former clients.

I read my PR team’s email, with the subject: 'POST ON INSTAGRAM – YOU HAVEN’T DONE ANYTHING FOR DAYS' and decide to post later on Halloween and tomorrow as well. My simple and quick response: 'Will do :)'

The start-ups are all panicking at the shadow of a new lockdown. I have to approve the final pricing, packages, services, products, discounts, offers of six different companies. I start by printing the minutes of our latest meetings, compare them with the final tweaks and approved most of them. DONE!

I can’t believe it’s 14.00! Where did this time go? I call my hairdresser and postpone for Saturday. Not proud. I need to eat and go for a walk.

I am walking in Hyde Park and grab some sushi on my way back home.

15.30 Well, I can’t cancel my dinner with the BF, so I am going to be very selective with what I choose to do for the last couple of hours. Passion (hobbies/friends/family) first, business second! That is my motto… So, quick quick…

Last project to work on that day, #Superwomen. I am still working on my emails! We are negotiating the licensing rights with Sony and Warner Chappell for a song sang by Kygo that we want to use. It’s our first contact with them and we want a quote from each publishers.

16.45 Finally returning the calls from my voicemail. I know it was meant to be this morning!

17.30 I speed read the different reports I have received from everyone including my assistant, the marketing team, WIB Limited, Human Connections and so on…

I am done for today! And I’d better try on my costume for Halloween that I received on Monday and just did not have the time to try. It’d better fit or tomorrow will be an intense shopping day as well.

18.00 I am on the phone with my sister.

18.55 Getting ready for my dinner date.

20.00 Dinner at Koji.

22.15 Night Routine.

Saturday (full moon) I am awake around 8.30 but stay in bed until 10.45, when I receive my Gousto for the week.

11.00 Coffee and croissants in front of my iPad on La Redoute, Maje, and Net-A-Porter to get some dresses and style inspirations for the winter. 2021 will be a better year! Did I mention that I like fashion and have a soft spot for dresses? I rarely go into stores (unless I’m in my home city of Paris and strolling around cute boutiques). Yes, I am a proper millennial, from food to clothes, if I can avoid wasting my time and use it more efficiently for family, friends, and socials. I will. I’d rather go to the theatre to see a play. Well, when they open.

12.00 Morning Routine.

13.00 I grab a quick sandwich on my way to the hairdresser.

14.00 Hairdresser. I spent two hours there to hear all about conspiracy theories about the COVID-19. Very entertaining.

17.00 Walking home and chatting with a friend over the phone.

17.30 Getting ready for my Halloween afternoon tea and dinner with my dearest girlfriends.

18.00 Afternoon tea at Home House. The atmosphere is intense. Boris has just announced a second lockdown starting on Thursday at midnight. We are even more willing to have a great night and enjoy these fun and dearest moments.

22.00 Heading home.

22.30 Call with mom.

23.34 Night routine.

Sunday (at home with the boyfriend) This time, I stayed in bed until 11.00.

Noon Brunch at Delloway Terrace.

14.00 Back at home checking/planning for the week ahead. Checking my emails and diary.

15.30 Enjoying my book, magazines, and other reading.

16.30 Chat with my brothers, my best friends, catching up on our latest adventures.

18.00 Watching a documentary on the American elections.

20.00 I cook my first Gousto meal.

22.00 Night routine and good night!

This was a fairly lazy weekend. In a world without COVID-19, I, or we, would probably be enjoying a matinee at a ballet, theatre, or cinema. Or doing some outdoor activities. But considering the intense week, I wanted to have a quiet weekend.

This was a week in my life. It’s not that much different to a regular week the I would have had pre COVID-19. But, add in the flights delays, cancellations, my trips to the Nordics, the USA and Greenland, the getaways in Europe over weekends, or the night outs in operas, theatres, ballets and gigs and you would have a real idea of what it is to live a week in my life. Happy lockdown!

16 November 2020

Meet our delivery partner: Paul Grant, The Funding Game

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

Paul Grant

About Paul’s funding events

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

What’s covered?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who are these events for?

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

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

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

What can attendees expect?

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

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

About Paul Grant

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

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

Connect with Paul on LinkedIn.

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

02 November 2020

A week in the life of… Catherine Farrant, founder of Ossa Organic

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Catherine, founder and CEO of Ossa Organic took part in our Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme earlier this year, so we wanted to find out more about how she leads her company and what it involves...

Catherine Farrant, founder of Ossa Organic sat at a table with a hot drink

Ossa Organic is a food business on a mission to inspire people to change the way we eat, from choosing fast and convenient to nourishing ourselves for optimal gut health and wellness.

Our first product to market was organic and traditional bone broth, which was also the first to hit UK supermarket shelves in 2015. As a business we are focused on tradition not trend, and a lot of mine and the teams’ time is spent in educating and inspiring people to move away from 0% fat diet culture and processed foods, and instead to use ancient nutrition as a way to heal themselves and feel well. A great example of this was our Bone Broth Bar held in January of this year, where we held a pop up for three weeks in the iconic Selfridges food hall in Central London, serving hot cups of chicken, beef and vegan broths and chatting to customers about gut health and these nourishing traditions.

Ossa Organic products and ingredients

I joined the Innovating for Growth programme, just before the pandemic hit and the world as we knew came to a halt. During this time the programme was an exceptional form of support and motivation and reminded me of the many vital practices for entrepreneurs, which help us to refocus and reprioritise our working lives:

  • To plan and think strategy in a quickly changing landscape
  • To visualise my goals
  • To be creative
  • To collaborate
  • To make time to rest

All of these now make up my primary focuses in a working week as I continually learn to be more kind and patient with myself and remember my favourite mantra, ‘You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.’

My week

My weeks are always different as I do keep a routine, but am someone who thrives in a dynamic and varied environment. I spend every day working to grow and build Ossa but make my family and my children a priority as well as myself.

Self care

I am sure there are many female entrepreneurs who are mothers that understand if you are not giving time to yourself, you will ultimately fail. Self-care gives you more energy and ultimately it is this positivity and motivation that you can gift back to your family and your business.

Once I have completed my maternity leave, I will resume my weekly routine which includes:

  • yoga three – five days per week before the house wakes up (a rare moment for stillness and inward reflection)
  • I also practice meditation and do a 10 minute breath work session or journey most days. This helps me still my mind and some of my best ideas for the business or moments of clarity to make better decisions, come in this time. I always keep a notebook close by to jot down any ideas that spring to mind.
  • I rest and recalibrate by using the sauna two times a week for 20 minutes, which promotes detoxification, gut health and digestion and gives me time to detox from the digital, putting myself in a space where it is literally impossible to check Instagram or emails.

I am a mother of three and have just welcomed our third child into the world, so I am currently on maternity leave. At such a pivotal time in a woman’s life, I have been so proud to take time out and realise what we have created in Ossa Organic.

Through my pregnancy, labour and birth (which took place at home) I sipped on bone broth and remembered how it all began. Ossa was born when I was pregnant with my first son and in search for an all-natural and organic source of nutrients for my body and found an elixir in bone broth. Hailed for millennia as “liquid gold", bone broth is rich in the nutrients from slow cooked bones including collagen, gelatin, glycine and amino acids to help seal the gut, strengthen immunity and much more. It was then I realised that there was nothing readily available and that it was time to share an alternative away from processed fast foods and bring these ancient nourishing traditions to supermarket shelves. Now, five years after launching, as a new mother I am able to enjoy the product that my body really needs during this pivotal time of rest and recovery.

Ossa Organic products and ingredients

Living my own brand

It has been so powerful for me to live my own brand over the lifetime of the business. I started looking into ancestral nutrition as a way of life seven years ago when I was pregnant with our first child. Ossa Organic was born five years ago, and since then, my team and I have worked weekly to inspire others to make their gut health a priority and to learn about bone broth and natural, organic and traditional foods. We share more on our blog.

My team and I have become experts at working remotely, considering the current times. We work on two team meetings a week which can be one – two hours long. We spend time looking at our micro and macro goals and then give each team member dedicated tasks.

As a female entrepreneur and a mom, the power of a strong team behind me is everything. To have trust and support from people who understand and grasp your business, gives me strength as a CEO and allows me to focus more on what I want to achieve for the business.

I work five days a week and start very early, as I am an early bird. I like to finish work by 15.30 to be able to collect the children, and on days this is not possible, I know I can make this time when I need to. This is vitally important to me.

I also spend a portion of time each week reading, researching, and discovering new ideas and trends in the way of health, mindfulness and biohacking. All these areas relate to Ossa and help keep me at the cutting edge and inspired.

I am most recently very interested in regenerative farming and soil health as all this links to the microbiome. Having left a corporate job where I was a Partner in a large firm in the City of London, I have spent two years out of that world and immersed in my own business where I have had the pleasure of being able to design my own life. The power of having control over how you work, allows you to create a life that suits your best interests. I believe this way of living has made me more productive and more inspired in both business and everyday life.

29 October 2020

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

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

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

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

Two cheeseburgers being held

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for now and Let Your Taste Buds Travel!

James and Kevin

20 October 2020

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

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

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

Can you tell us a bit about your business idea?

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

AleksandraHorwood%2CHappyStanceYogaTherapy

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

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

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

How did the SiLL programme help?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Stance Yoga

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

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

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

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

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

SiLL_logo_lockups_CMYK

 

12 October 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A hand placing a label onto a bottle

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

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

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

Evolve moisturizer in cardboard packaging

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

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

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

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

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

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

01 October 2020

Meet our delivery partner: The House

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

Michael and Robbie

Who are Michael and Robbie?

Michael Murdoch

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

Robbie Dale

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

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

Necessity is the mother of invention.

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

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

Want to know more about the session?

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

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

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

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

Watch the two minute video to find out more.

Story Cube - 2 mins from The House on Vimeo.

Who is Story Cube for?

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

We are proud of our statistics...

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

Why should you attend?

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

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

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

Story cube benefits

In this workshop, you’ll learn...

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

Hackney Brewery testimonial

What you'll take away?

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

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

We're here to help entrepreneurs excel...

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

Who has attended and tried Story Cube?

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

Organisations we have worked with...

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

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

30 September 2020

How the BIPC can help you Reset. Restart

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

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

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

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

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

Mothers Ruin Gin Palace building

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

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

Mother's Ruin gin bottle on bed of botanicals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hazel and her husband Jimmy

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

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

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

The Wood Life Project children's plates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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