28 February 2021
Every quarter, Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups chooses 18 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 have been speaking to Sian, founder and director of luxury wallpaper business Sian Zeng, who is one of our latest Innovating for Growth cohort, to see firsthand the impact of the programme on her business. In this first installment of her diary, we meet Sian, hear about how she started her business, and discover how her first batch of Innovating for Growth one-to-one sessions and workshops have helped her re-evaluate her priorities.
'Hi, I’m Sian, Founder, and Director of Sian Zeng; we create innovative wallpapers and wall decorations that enchant and delight. Reproduced from original artwork, our captivating designs take inspiration from fairytales and the natural world, all with the intention of helping people bring art, nature, and imagination into their homes.
We sell a range of products to cater to different spaces and budgets, with our dreamy designs available as both classic and magnetic wallpapers, as well as our growing collection of removable wall stickers. Our magnetic wallpaper is one of our most unique products that allow users to place magnets onto their wall, like a fridge or radiator. Our cast of magnetic characters and illustrations were designed with this in mind; move our magnets across the surface of our magnetic wallpaper and suddenly it’s not just a wall - it’s the backdrop to a story. Since opening, our products have been featured in Elle Decoration, The Sunday Times and The Telegraph, and in 2019, we were awarded the honour of the Grand Prize at the Etsy Design Awards.
I started my company shortly after graduating from University and as a result, I had very little business experience. A creative first and foremost, part of me always knew there would always be gaps in my knowledge that could be a game-changer for my company. After more than a decade of growing my business organically and at a steady pace, I thought it was time to see how I could accelerate our growth whilst still maintaining our meaning. So here enters the Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme.
At the first group session with Rasheed Ogunlaru, Getting Ready for Growth, I met members of my cohort and it was so inspiring to hear their stories as well as share my own. What really resonated with me from that session was when Rasheed said something along the lines of “this isn’t about giving up the part of your business you’re most passionate about.” I immediately thought about how I had begun to outsource the creative side of things recently, becoming more of an art director rather than painter/designer for upcoming collections. This was the reason I had started my business more than a decade ago - to create unusual, beautiful illustrations for interior spaces - but the more the brand grew, the more I felt I should be focussing on other aspects. This was a big light bulb moment for me.
I really like how the course is structured, where each session leads into the next. We began with a business model workshop and then our first one-to-one session, which allowed me to really step back and see my business structure from a bird’s eye view. Then at my one-to-one with Robert Foster from Red Ochre, we delved deeply into my business structure and worked together to create a detailed plan of what to do next.
One of the main things that arose during our session was that I felt spread too thin. As founder and director of a company, it can feel like you have to not only oversee everything but do most of it too, when actually a lot of the tasks could be delegated to my team members. Robert suggested I create a delegation stack to help me categorise tasks into ones I can delegate, automate, divest or outsource. Once I’d done this exercise, I found I’d freed up lots of my time already.
As a high-end wallpaper company, we’ve always paid lots of attention to branding as it is an integral part of the quality and craftsmanship we portray. Our message has always been creating luxury, innovative and dreamy wall coverings for the home. During my workshop with ABA Design, I was presented with the personality archetypes. It was here I discovered there were more elements to our brand personality and I was able to refine it even further, making it easier for us to feed all our designs into our values.
Our archetypes were ‘the creator’, ‘the explorer’ and ‘the magician’. I always felt like creativity was integral to our brand, and with exploration, this definitely ties into the adventurous element of our designs, as well as my constant experimentation with new technologies in the design process of our wallpapers. The magician part surprised me the most but makes a lot of sense; many of our designs contain magical elements, such as a bear riding a crane or flying hands that look like birds in mid-flight.
Over the past few years, I have noticed a clear trend, where our company’s growth is directly linked to the release of new collections. As a result, I made it my priority to release collections more frequently and bring in help to facilitate faster product launches. During my product and service innovation session with Fluxx, we discussed how I could make this process more efficient. They suggested I should write down every step involved in the development of a product so I can see how much involvement is necessary from me at each step. From there, I can decide where I can bring in help, tighten up the process and minimise my workload, so it can be focussed elsewhere. This really helped me to oversee a very integral element of the business that will enable us to accelerate our growth.
I have very much enjoyed the first half of the programme and feel it has already brought tangible benefits to my business. I am more confident about the direction we need to take as a brand and how we can grow with our core values in mind. If you would like to explore our designs and keep up to date with our journey please follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.
In a month’s time you will hear from me again about the second half of the programme.
Until then, wishing you all lots of magical moments!'
08 December 2020
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.
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.
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.
29 October 2020
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.
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
17 September 2020
Julie famously founded The Cambridge Satchel Company from her kitchen table in Cambridge, with only £600, as a means of paying school fees for her children. Being seen on the arms of celebrities and bloggers such as Taylor Swift and Liberty London Girl quickly gave the brand global recognition.
To celebrate Julie's upcoming event, Kitchen Table Talks: adapting to the times with Julie Deane OBE, in partnership with Santander, we caught up with her to find out more about her business journey, and why every business should have a dog for company.
Championing the self-employed cause
Julie’s monumental start-up success from “a cup of tea and a big idea” to a globally recognised brand is living proof that anyone can set up a business they’re passionate about from their kitchen table. Throughout her rise to business success, Julie’s philosophy has always been to champion aspiring entrepreneurs, believing that everyone should have a chance to take control of their own destiny and achieve their life goals.
“Personally, self-employment changed my life,” said Julie. “There are over 4.5 million self-employed people in the UK and there are now more possibilities to set up as self-employed. People can now create opportunities for themselves – they now have options.”
Whether it’s getting a brand new product to market, securing investment for a potentially ground-breaking invention or simply spreading the word about your available services using social media, there are now more ways than ever to achieve your self-employment ambitions.
Julie has now had to come back to where it all began, her kitchen table, when Cambridge Satchel Company's office closed during the pandemic, she realised that founder stage Julie may have had better ways of working than now. "I’ve rediscovered the necessity of making decisions quickly and not overthinking. The clarity of focus when undisturbed has been good when reflecting on how best to move forward. There are fewer distractions and more hours, reclaimed from commuting, but how did I separate life from work? How did I shut off when the house is filled with work reminders? I have some questions I’d love to run past the first year founder me!"
The importance of work/life balance is also key, especially when it comes to pets. "I can do without most things, my dogs don’t fall into that category. The garden has never looked better and the dogs have never been happier – those are the balances that have kept my spirit high."
Overcoming limited budgets with creativity
With such a small starting budget, Julie had to be extremely creative in raising awareness of her new business. Julie admits she was a self-proclaimed “queen of the free directory listing”, utilising as many local resources as possible to get noticed, such as regional newspapers, fashion and lifestyle editors and business directories. In fact, it was her innovative relationship-building with fashion bloggers and lifestyle editors that would eventually propel the brand to the next level.
In 2010, Julie was contacted by fashion bloggers in the United States, who were desperate to wear her satchels to New York Fashion Week. This massively increased the exposure of the brand, and having the satchels on show on the laps of front row fashionistas caused quite a stir. This culminated in Bloomingdales stocking the satchels in the iconic 5th Avenue store in New York – quite a meteoric rise from Julie’s quiet Cambridgeshire family home.
The importance of staying true to your roots
Perhaps the really impressive aspect of the global growth of The Cambridge Satchel Company is that the brand has continued to remain close to its roots. Julie has been the brand guardian throughout the years, using social media to maintain close relationships with customers and building the human aspect and relatability of the brand.
Julie’s first company photo shoot of her product range even featured her own children as models. This proved to really resonate with customers, especially given that Julie’s children were such a significant factor in the company’s creation.
Julie cites her greatest achievement in business as being able to scale the business globally whilst staying true to who she is.
“We’ve taken investment, and it would be very easy to step back and potentially get too big for our boots but we’ve remained the same company essentially – we have a direct relationship with our customers and want it [to stay that way],” she said.
When stores had to close due to lockdown, these roots proved once again to be key to success. "The Cambridge Satchel Company was born on the internet. Our customers and following were built online and so from that perspective it’s always been a strength we feel we have. During lockdown though, there was an increased need to reach out and help customers with browsing, product advice and customer service through all online channels. I even recorded videos in the garden for some customers to answer queries."
This has also led Julie and her team to reassess and not be afraid of changing decisions made previously. Her current three priorities for the company are:
- Communication is on the priority list every week – yes, the team is smaller but that doesn’t mean it’s easier to make sure we’re all on the same page. Remote working has some benefits but does challenge communication and the maintenance of team spirit.
- We have used this time to reflect on who we are as a brand and what sets us apart from competitors. The next step is to action these thoughts – this week we have already commissioned a new look photo shoot.
- I’m looking to simplify our offer. Currently there is a large range of styles, sizes and colours, so an overwhelming amount of choice. Simplicity is king and during these times when we are operating with a smaller team we need to get back to basics.
Guard your intellectual property with your life
One of the biggest challenges Julie faced in the early stages of building up her business was protecting her intellectual property. The company’s first factory and manufacturer actually attempted to steal her original designs to create an imitation product.
Julie, however, soon learnt from her naivety, and opted to set up her own manufacturing facility in Leicester and operate using non-disclosure agreements when working with third parties, which helped her protect her brand.
In the space of just twelve months, Julie discovered 330 fake websites that claimed to sell her satchels – some even displaying an imitation trade mark. Fake profiles had also been set up on social media channels claiming to be The Cambridge Satchel Company and selling counterfeit goods.
“We enforce our trade marks aggressively and have fake websites shut down,” she added.
“At MarkMonitor meetings I am surrounded by household names, far bigger than us. We have to join together to defend ourselves but it is a huge drain on resources.”
Intellectual property infringement is no laughing matter; it can cost you thousands. However, you can get all the information and guidance you need to protect your ideas and creations here at the British Library at our regular workshops and through advice clinics.
Work with honesty and integrity
The Cambridge Satchel Company has quickly become a brand that people can believe in across the world and this has led to global success. This is particularly the case for China, which is now the business’ second-largest territory for sales. Even Prince William paid a visit to a festival in Shanghai which housed Julie’s very own ‘Great Wall of Satchels’.
Julie has used the recent months to think about the brand in a more meaningful way. "We recognised that this was the time to stop, pause and reflect on exactly why we deserve to exist and survive. What we offer that’s of value and sets us apart. Those fundamental questions led us to recognise that we needed to rediscover the brand in a way and be bolder. The project has brought so much excitement and clarity – definitely the most defining, valuable solution."
Julie has been deservedly heralded as a true British business success story and was acknowledged by the former Prime Minister, David Cameron who asked her to lead an independent review of the UK’s self-employment landscape. The resulting report outlined 10 recommendations for the Government’s consideration that would support the growth of the self-employed community in the UK. This included increased use of libraries and enterprise hubs.
The Cambridge Satchel Company’s inspirational story is a fantastic example of how one great idea can spiral into a global business success. As Entrepreneur in Residence, Julie shares her own expertise and experience to help users of the Business & IP Centre achieve their own self-employment ambitions. Kitchen Table Talks: adapting to the times with Julie Deane OBE is on Tuesday 22 September, 10.30.
09 September 2020
Meet Patricia Gurman, founder of Sweet Paper Creations and Start-ups in London Libraries participant
We’ve all been speaking a lot more about our mental health recently. So we love to hear about businesses that are tackling mental health issues in innovative and creative ways. Enter Sweet Paper Creations: a not-for-profit business that is here to support those with poor mental health through crafting and creation. We spoke more to Patty to find out how the business came into being and how Start-ups in London Libraries has helped her to expand her vision...
'At Sweet Paper Creations, we make and sell piñatas, made from recycled materials, for any occasion in our online shop, where customers can also commission their own bespoke character.
The profits from our shop help us to deliver our “Make It and Break It” workshops, where we provide a creative outlet for those suffering from mental health issues, stress, bereavement or those helping support someone going through such issues.
As a Guatemalan who settled in Walthamstow 27 years ago, I have always made piñatas for my children for their birthdays as a way of sharing my Guatemalan cultural heritage with them, and making and breaking them together has become a family tradition.
In recent years, as my eldest child (Ali) had been suffering from depression and social anxiety, we found that making piñatas together was an ideal form of therapy and an opportunity to support her through her journey. Towards the end of last year, with Ali feeling stronger, it struck us that we had stumbled upon a potential support for the growing numbers in our local community who are suffering from poor mental health, as well as their carers and families who feel as I did: inadequate, frustrated and alone.
Our “Make it and Break it” workshops give others the opportunity to engage with a creative outlet, where they can work alongside us, learn a skill in a fun environment and talk about their circumstances should they choose to do so.
We joined SiLL to help develop this idea and since then our business has come alive; we have developed our online shop, sold more piñatas, and delivered three pilot workshops.
From the time I met Sarah at the Walthamstow Library, I felt reassured and confident to be able to develop my ideas into reality. She listened to my ideas, helped me to organise my priorities and to develop an action plan which includes looking at ways to fund-raise in order to deliver our pilot workshops.
Attending the library events and workshops also provided me with the opportunity to learn about legal requirements and to identify new opportunities to continue my business development. As a new business with limited experience, we believe that Sarah’s support and encouragement has helped us to be where we are now.
In starting my business, I learnt a lot, like how to organise my ideas, identify what ideas can work, and how to figure out how to implement them. I also learnt the importance of recognising what I am able to do and to achieve by identifying my limitations and then seeing these as the opportunities to develop in the future.
It is important to understand that everything takes time and does not happen automatically. I learnt to give myself time to learn and develop but also to make mistakes and to learn from them.
And so, if I were to give anyone who was thinking about starting a business advice it would be: attend as many workshops as you can. There is so much that we do not know at the beginning and, even if you are already trading, there is still so much to learn.
If, at the end, you decide to wait to develop your project, or if it is not for you, you will not have wasted your time as you get to meet so many amazing people and develop new friendships, which in itself is a win-win result.
Do not be afraid. Write all your ideas on a piece of paper and mark the ones that make you feel excited and motivated. Share your vision and passion with people like Sarah, who are able to guide you through your adventure.
And to anyone thinking of joining the SiLL programme, don’t think twice! It is the best thing you can do before you start your business adventure. Talking to them really opens your eyes and helps you to avoid mistakes, even though making mistakes is part of the learning.'
To see Patty and Ali's collection of piñatas, visit sweetpapercreations.com.
For more on the Start-ups in London Libraries programme and to book a spot on one of our workshops, visit our webpage.
10 August 2020
Meet Sol Ramos, co-founder of London Basketball Nation and Start-ups in London Libraries participant
There were a strange couple of months in 2020 where team sports were essentially non-existent. As they are slowly creeping back to normality, we wanted to celebrate one of the sports businesses who took part in our Start-ups in London Libraries programme. Here we speak to Sol, co-founder of London Basketball Nation to find out more about her business, how it came into being and her advice for anyone else thinking about starting their own business.
‘We are London Basketball Nation Ltd. We organise basketball tournaments and events related to the sport.
The business came into being after years of unsuccessful attempts to find where to play amateur basketball in London. We started in 2018 with the experience of being unsatisfied customers who could face a challenge. The CEO of the company (and my husband) is the coach of an amateur basketball team. I spent some of my weekends at basketball courts watching games but also listening to almost everyone involved in the activity complaining about the poor quality of the service they were getting. They were paying to do something they loved during the scarce free time they had, and they were having a terrible time! This concern was shared not just by players but by staff working for existing organisations.
What first started as a chat about how bad things were, ended up in more serious talks about how much better things could be, and we took the matter in our own hands. Having experience in the amateur sports sector and a multidisciplinary team on board was really helpful. We got the support of two experienced officials that have been giving valuable insight from day one.
I have a background in Management and I get easily bored. I was motivated by the challenge but also by the potential results. Seeing people doing what they love and making that possible is very satisfying. As someone who has several hobbies herself, I can also identify with our customers.
There was little to no information available online about related services so we conducted some research, talking to other teams and players about what they wanted. They were all looking for the same: good venues, but above all, sensible people behind the activity. We thought of offering an “all-inclusive” format (fixture, staff, venue, etc) – from the players’ perspective, they then just had to be there and do what they do best.
We set up a company (just in case “it worked”) in March 2019 and organised a short tournament in June that year to test the waters. Teams decided to give us a chance and we ended up organising a 7-month tournament for adult men (18+) afterwards. We are looking forward to expanding our reach and have not only more teams but also a Women’s division. We celebrated our first year as a company in March 2019.
I found out about the SiLL project thanks to a British Library newsletter around September 2019 and registered for the ‘Get ready for business’ workshop that was taking place in December. My SME Champion, Loretta, got in touch with me to know a bit more about the business and I shyly accepted a meeting. She talked me through the Business & IP Centre services for new businesses. I was amazed by the number of resources and support given to entrepreneurs.
SiLL helped us see the organisation as a business rather than something to do on weekends. It provided us with key insights and added value to our service. This is my first experience as an entrepreneur and I had to learn a lot about legal and financial aspects of a business in the UK, as well as networking; social media… you name it! There is a lot of information out there, so much that it can be not just overwhelming, but also misleading. The SiLL project served as a guide.
I would have loved to have known about the project from day one as I think it would have saved me tonnes of time and work.
Coronavirus has, of course, been a huge challenge. With people not being able to gather in groups and the basketball courts being closed, we have been forced to stop our operations during this period. It really is just me and my husband running the business alongside other jobs right now, and so we have had a real split focus over the past months.
However, it has given us some space to focus on our brand and the digital aspect of the business. My husband is a web developer and he was able to dedicate time to work on the website and to bring more functionalities on board. We are also currently working on LBN Courts, a portal to find and rate outdoor basketball courts. We think this will help players to get back in shape - both physically and mentally - whilst encouraging people to make the of their local facilities (and that way, diminishing the use of public transport). The portal will not only show the location of courts, but it will allow players to rate their features, and to organise training groups - always according to the latest government advice of course.
I consider myself extremely lucky to be part of the Greenwich business community. Loretta’s insights and support are invaluable. She is a connector, she puts together ideas to create new things, and people to make them come to life. She is always happy to have a one-to-one to talk about the progress of the business, and she makes sure I keep up to date by sending training and promotion opportunities. Not to mention she has such good energy! I am deeply thankful for her support.
I have learnt so much from starting up my own business – the main one being that everything takes at least double the time and the money than you expected/calculated, especially admin work! Reaching people is not as easy as it sounds, especially when you’re new in the game.
However, it has also given me lots of advice that I would p[ass onto anyone else thinking about starting their own business:
- Do your research: know the market, the customers and the competence.
- Someone has already done it: maybe not exactly what you are thinking about doing, but someone has already walked the steps to set up a business. Someone has already made the mistakes and reached success. Use it and share it.
- Be organised and have a plan: Having a plan, even a vague one, and keeping records of things you want and what you are doing to get them is really helpful. It’ll keep you focused, and with time it’ll give you information to analyse and understand what happened and why, and identify what can be improved.
- Be responsive: reply to everything (emails, calls, social media messages, etc) as soon as possible.
- Do not assume anything. It is better to talk about things rather than thinking they are a certain way. Ask for confirmation, repeat things, write down dates and meeting notes.
- You can’t make everyone like you or what you do, and there’s no point in trying to do it. Focus on providing a good service and listen to feedback, let your actions speak louder than words.
- You can’t control everything. Deal with it.
- You can do much more than you think.
- Just start!’
If you’re interested in joining the online Start-ups in London Libraries webinars and workshops, you can find all of the information at bl.uk/SiLL.
06 August 2020
Since Babylonian times, humans have been in search of the perfect beer brew. The brewing business today is a testament to the originality and passionate dedication of its forebears.
Each generation has created beers that have inspired the next while building a major industry.
Beer and commerce are an easy blend but what’s the one key secret to brewing success? Earning from your brewing creations by protecting the Intellectual Property that made them.
If you have developed a novel invention to brewing, a unique brand or a secret brew that gets people at the bar talking, then Intellectual Property is something you should invest in to reap the rewards you deserve.
Here are four different forms of intellectual property every new brewer should consider.
Brewing breakthroughs with technology
The sheer size and volume (literally) of the brewing industry means that it’s constantly innovating. So it’s not surprising that there’s some pretty clever technical innovation happening around the brewing and bottling process too.
If you’re a keen inventor, find out what some of the big problems that need ‘fixing’ in brewing today and ask ‘could you engineer a solution’?
If so, you’ll soon encounter the remarkable world of patents. A patent is an exclusive right granted to the maker of invention. It is a form of Intellectual Property that protects technical innovations. The innovation is eventually made public in exchange for the owner having a monopoly on the idea for a period of time (usually 20 years).
My favourite example from a past brewing patent is the story of William Painter. You may not have heard of him but without doubt you will have benefitted greatly from his invention, the ‘Crown Cap’ bottle top. Or in patent speak, ‘a bottle sealing device’.
William Painter was an accomplished inventor with a keen commercial eye. His devised a way to effectively seal a bottle of beer to prevent it from going flat. This involved a sealing disk topped with a metal cap. The advantage too was it could be opened easily. Perhaps you’ll recognise this from the patent image below?
We’re still using the same basic technology on bottled beer and soft drinks today.
In 1894, when Painter was granted his patent, there was no shortage of bottle sealing devices but his particular patent (US468258) ensured bottling could be mass produced, increasing supply and meeting demand from a very thirsty public.
Painter himself went on to found the Crown Cork and Seal Company and quickly developed manufacturing technology to enable his patent’s potential to be fully realised. The company was immensely successful and is trading today as Crown Holdings Inc.
The lesson here is that if you find the right problem with the right solution and obtain effective Intellectual Property protection with a well drafted patent, it can be a significant advantage in a highly competitive market place.
Brewing up an awesome beer brand
Beer has personality. It has unique characteristics all to its own particular brew. It has heritage and modern edge with everything in between. Local, global, national. There’s a beer brand to suit every taste.
There are thousands and thousands of them. And a registered trademark for each.
You may have heard of the beer brand Bass. That brand has heritage, and is also UK trademark number UK00000000001 from the 1st January, 1876. The registered trademark is still in force today and no doubt worth more than every penny of the original registration fee!
The Bass brand also benefitted from what we nowadays call product placement. It’s not too discreetly featured in the French artist Édouard Manet’s famous, “A Bar at the Folies-Bergère”.
But beer brands rarely demure.
You can do this too. There’s a database of existing marks to check your own mark is original and to help decide what classifications of trade to choose.
Because it’s not uncommon for beer brands to produce all manner of merchandise and marketing material, so why not maximise the reach of your trademark by applying in a number of different trademark classifications?
With so many beers on offer, the beer brand you want to brew will need to be your unique identifier. Your trademark is, to put it simply, the legally registered name and/or image of your brand. It protects you by preventing others from blatantly copying or ‘trading off’ your good name and reputation. If you find yourself in that unenviable situation (and plenty have), the registered trademark is your comeback to cease and desist unfair imitation.
It also represents the incredible value of your brand. And because your trademark is your intellectual property, you can sell it or licence it to whomever you choose. It’s what will earn your reward in the future for all the thousands of hours of hard brewing.
To discover more about patents or trademarks, visit our website.
Beer that creates a first impression.
To own a registered design is to have rights over the appearance of a functional object that can include colour, shape or even texture. The form is what creates its appeal as a marketable object, instantly recognisable.
As one form of Intellectual Property, registered design is worth considering. Especially if you’re producing a beer product that wants to be distinctive.
For example there are many distinctive shapes of beer bottles that are themselves an identifier for the brand just as much as a trademark is.
And this is not only something for new beer brands striking out to get noticed, registered design is used by older established brewers as well.
Affligem, is a beer brand with an astonishing heritage, coming close to one thousand years of brewing history. But a brand with such pedigree still values other Intellectual Property assets, even if the taste of its brew is so famous.
They too have a registered design on their classic bottle shape.
If it’s something a thousand year brewer would have, why not consider it as a new brewer?
You can register a design with the Intellectual Property office and the Business & IP Centre runs regular webinars on it. See our upcoming webinar schedule.
The secret bit behind the beer magic.
If you’ve spent hundreds of hours in the quest of brewing perfection, and you think you’ve found it, what’s the best way to protect it from the rival brewer next door?
The answer is disarmingly simple; keep it a secret.
Don’t underestimate the importance of keeping trade secrets in the brewing business. Plenty of brewers rely on it.
A proper definition of a trade secret is a technique, process, formula or method of creating something that has commercial value and is known to only a limited number of persons. It is often kept secret through the use of legal agreements (such as employment contracts) or non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).
Unlike all of the other forms of IP mentioned, this is known as an unregistered right. Meaning you don’t have to register the secret with a governing body. It is yours to keep and the length of time is how long you want the secret to be kept.
A good trade secret is also good for the brand. It helps create a mystery around the product and keeps people guessing to how it was made.
Four cheers for IP
These are four forms of Intellectual Property every beer lover and maker should consider. You can pick and choose which of these works best for you. Maybe all of them. It’s all up to how you innovate, create and ultimately protect your most valuable asset, your own unique IP brew.
Jeremy O'Hare is the Business & IP Centre's Information Expert. You can find more information on intellectual property and the Business & IP Centre's upcoming events, by visit bl.uk/bipc.
24 July 2020
For the first time in the programme’s history, Innovating for Growth has taken place entirely online. Participants can now have virtual one-to-ones with our external consultants, ‘meet’ each other in online workshops. It’s not only the way the programme is currently being run which has pivoted due to the current crisis, the goals of the businesses taking part have also changed, some struggling to keep going, many changing the way they operate, others trying to keep up with the demand their product or service has seen increase.
We caught up with our delivery partners to find out first-hand how they can support Innovating for Growth businesses and why now might be the best time to apply for the programme…
Red Ochre – Growth strategy
“For the majority of businesses we’ve seen during the pandemic, there had been a stop or slow down in trading. However, there is a lot of positivity. For many there is an improvement in the situation, others are exploring new opportunities and others can see a positive change when various sanctions are lifted. In every case the initial panic has been allayed by the input from the consultants.
“We can help businesses identify what can they do in the short term, how to prepare for more changes in the midterm, provide someone to talk to, someone looking outside in, someone giving a wider perspective to help build resilience and sustainability.”
Meta Value – Financial planning
“We can help businesses be resilient and adapt and help figure out a model to make it all easier and less dependent on them (a common problem). We can also help stabilize the business and identifying the right model so they can then grow or consolidate.
“We can also help with grants, which might not be relevant for all businesses, but the option is available.”
Newable – Innovation
“It’s sometimes daunting or difficult to take the time in a business owners’ busy schedule to spend time to work on the business, rather than the day to day fire-fighting. This programme is a great way to discuss and confide in experienced professionals obstacles or opportunities they might be facing.
“We can also highlight the wealth of other resources available with the BIPC which might be relevant to your business, such as the free market research reports and programme of webinars.”
ABA – Marketing and branding
“We’ve seen a real mixture of those fighting to survive and those who are paddling frantically to keep up with demand or change in circumstances. Regardless of where they find themselves, the reality is (i) they were all having to deal with changing circumstances, not a static landscape; and (ii) they all needed – and I’m sure benefited – from having an expert, outside perspective on the state of their business, the state of the market, and the possible ways forward.”
BRIFFA – Intellectual property
“The businesses we’ve supported since the start of the crisis were looking at how to protect their IP whilst they ride this storm and adapt to new working conditions with the lockdown conditions rather than consideration of future prospects. We also found that some of the candidates had been considering or attempting to try and adapt their business to be digital and needed to understand on how to protect their IP online along with following compliance with GDPR and other commercial aspects like terms and conditions and registering of domains/trade marks. We can help with all of this, so whatever intellectual property query you may have, the programme will be able to support you.”
Whatever concern you and your business may be facing, Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups can support London-based businesses to pivot, diversity, plan their finance and adapt in these challenging times with £10,000 worth of free, tailored advice. Visit our website for more information about the programme or to complete our qualifying questionnaire.
08 July 2020
Ahmad is the founder of Baracat Bros, an app company that builds games with hidden educational value. He took part in our Start-ups in London Libraries programme and is part of our SiLL community in Greenwich. We spoke to him about his business and his Start-ups in London Libraries journey.
Tell us about your business. Why did you start it up?
We believe games offer a unique channel to deliver educational messages and foster learning because of their interactive and engaging nature. Yet, many of the popular mobile games are designed for entertainment purposes and the educational games on the market lack engagement and the fun factor. We wanted to address that. We try to create edu-games, which are fun, engaging and educational.
We rely on academic research in the Science of Learning field, which uses cognitive-science research on how students learn, and uses that knowledge to offer practical actions to improve teaching, to guide the design of our games.
From a personal perspective, we believe that working in a corporate environment is not for everyone and, for us, starting up a business was a viable option to gain more freedom over which problems we wanted to solve and how to approach them.
How did the SiLL project help you in setting up your business?
I attended 3 sessions as part of the programme and it helped me gain the needed confidence to set up my business. The workshops also really helped to equip the attendees - I came out of the ‘Get ready for business’ workshop with actionable advice like how to access funding, how to create a business model canvas and where to find resources to continue learning.
What was the most helpful part of the SiLL project for you?
Meeting like-minded people who were trying to build their own businesses. It was eye-opening to see the diversity of their backgrounds as well as their business ideas.
Loretta [our Start-ups in London Libraries Greenwich Business Champion] is building a business community for people who want to pursue their own businesses and need the practical knowledge and the support network to do so successfully. I really believe that such communities are invaluable for anyone building their own business.
What advice would you give anyone looking to start up a business?
Make sure to invest time in building a circle of like-minded people, it really helps when things get tough and you need people to share your experiences with.
I really can’t stress enough having a support network that understand what it takes to start a business and how to navigate the space. I would highly recommend going to the Start-ups in London Libraries’ workshops as they will equip them with a support network and practical advice on how to start a business in the UK.
I would also highly recommend preparing oneself psychologically and mentally that building a business takes time and that there are usually no shortcuts to getting it to be profitable other than putting in the hard work.
What are the key things you have learnt while starting up your business?
When you are starting a business, the main way to think about it is how you are solving valuable problems for customers - the main way to figure out such problems is to actively talk to customers and potential customers. Once a valuable problem is identified, it becomes relatively easy to iterate on a potential solution.
What’s next for you and your business?
A few days ago, Foodology, a game Baracat Bros' created in 2 weeks to help people learn about food, was featured on ProductHunt (the go-to platform for launching new products)
16 June 2020
Rachel Jones is founder and Head Dragon at SnapDragon Monitoring in Edinburgh. SnapDragon delivers online brand protection, seller insights and market intelligence to brands around the world. Rachel founded SnapDragon based on her experiences of defending her first creation the Totseat – a washable squashable highchair for babies who lunch – from counterfeits. The British Library's Business & IP Centre played a significant role in the market research undertaken for both businesses. Most recently Rachel was the first Entrepreneur in Residence at BIPC Glasgow, based at the Mitchell Library. SnapDragon is the recent recipient of a Queen’s Award for Innovation 2020.
It’s the first week of May. My favourite month. Usually. Awoken by insistent birdsong at 4am after yet another sporadic night of what could only be defined as a snoozing. Might as well get up. Husband is dressing, in preparation for 5am call to Singapore. Dog peed, fed enough to tide her over till 6am, a mug of welcome tea and a couple of hours work before breakfast and a rigorous walk. My makeshift ‘office’ is a corner of our sitting room, sandwiched between well-thumbed texts and an ancient sofa of memories. My desk, an extended (vertically) dressing table inherited from my late mother, which previously housed small geological specimens, now with ergonomic investment to help 100+ hour weeks.
We’re in lockdown. The middle? Still the beginning? Either way, the hell persists. One day we were in the office, the next was a work from the home trial. Not one technical hiccup. So we didn’t go back. We’re incredibly lucky. We are healthy, there’s food in the fridge and there is work to do.
But I’m a lousy mother currently and this bothers me. Greatly.
A recent catch up call with a close friend, thankfully not on Zoom, has wrenched my jealous heart. Furloughed happily on a lovely salary, painting the house, gardening furiously, enjoying having University-aged offspring at home and imagining retirement. Other friends struggle valiantly on: juggling working and childcare, home schooling and life as single parents, life in a flat, responsibilities for the vulnerable, loathing their living companion/s, not enough money or patience to go round. And those in the middle, silently weeping with responsibility weighing heavily on hearts and mind. At the front line of caring, mending, selling, delivering, collecting, working to keep the economy going. Mouths to feed, and not just their own.
Livelihoods of many many families lying firmly in their laps.
I’m one of the latter. Not brave enough to be a front-line carer, but working day and night to keep a business afloat (and ignoring my family, I’m sorry to say, while I do so). I am horrible to live with. My team of 26, of whom I am inordinately proud, need their salaries, motivation, and sanity and our clients’ businesses need us to keep them profitable. I will not let the virus get the better of me.
SnapDragon Monitoring fights fakes online. We identify and remove infringing products from online marketplaces, social media sites, and websites. We use intellectual property (IP) to remove the fakes and fakers. Copyright – words and images – trade marks, design rights and patents. It’s cheap and efficient. Four minutes to remove a link from, say, Amazon, with the correct IP to prove originality. Why bother? At best, fake products cause disappointment. Less brilliantly, serious harm. Take brakes or beauty products and you can be scarred for life. Meanwhile those profiting from the sale, fund drugs rings, prostitution, drug trafficking and worse. And the brands being ripped off? All too often suffer in silence. As can their customers.
Fakes are no longer the domain of luxury goods. And with COVID-19, according to Europol, sales of online fakes are already up 400%. The uninitiated, forced into remote shopping, are being too easily scammed and need help. Week two of lockdown saw 50% of our much-loved client base, most of which are SMEs, pause their subscriptions. We couldn’t blame them. Supply chains were stuck in China. Shops were closed. Staff furloughed. Income non-existent. But sales of fakes proliferate, so there’s the moral dilemma of knowing our technology is much needed versus the financial dilemma that we all need to eat. It turns out, there’s really no choice. Half the team is furloughed to stretch the budget. Those part-time, juggling childcare and home schooling, the first to appreciate the option of being so. I vow (silently) to ensure a working from home allowance rewards the committed for future adventures (and paying the bills of course).
This morning, pre 6am, I meet yet another iteration of the weekly cash flow forecast. I hate Excel but thankfully our FC is amazing and he makes the spreadsheets sing. Today’s priorities are projections, our weekly leadership team meeting, one of the thrice weekly whole team updates (key points from which are circulated by email to everyone); understanding the new funding options being launched today and applying for whatever is appropriate, following up an enquiry about supplier validation for PPE (which has become a core competence suddenly); ensuring bright, sparking new inventors aiming for crowdfunding have considered what intellectual property they should register and recommending the British Library, the Intellectual Property Office and the European Intellectual Property Office as excellent resources.
An office visit is mandatory: to collect the mail and to run the taps (to avoid legionella and ensure compliance with our landlord’s edict). It’ll be nice to have an additional excuse to get out, other than the dog. Will check in with various mentees, not least those gathered as part of my Entrepreneur in Residence-ship at BIPC Glasgow last year. Life for some is not at all easy and it’s really important that entrepreneurs who live alone are not feeling even more isolated than usual. Then there are our Board papers to circulate, although I suspect the Board is rather tired of my updates, and others’ Board papers to digest for the voluntary boards of which I am part, for later in the week. Groundhog Day should still be only a film.
The highlight will be planning, at some point, deliveries to each and every one of the team to celebrate next week’s announcement that SnapDragon is to receive a Queen’s Award for Innovation. We plan a Zoom party with miniature bottles of fizz delivered to all. Tech businesses are very rarely awarded this accolade. The thought of being able to make this award public spurs me on.
The team celebrate a delighted email from an Australian client as to the efficient identification and removal of a frightening number of fakes professing to be his product. Someone has a birthday and is enjoying the cake I had dispatched from the local baker, who has pivoted from corporate to home deliveries. We discuss topics for the weekly Lunch and Learn, and issue covert instructions for an online gathering at 6pm the following week, eluding the rationale.
Somewhere there needs to be time to wave at the long-suffering family, eat, ignore eight feet of clean washing (I measure it vertically), drink tea, brush my teeth and send virtual hug texts to family and friends. I miss the hugs. Mustn’t forget the food run for isolating next door neighbour. Sanity, such that it is, is necessitated by the dog’s need for a vigorous stride up Arthur’s Seat (Edinburgh’s extinct volcano) after breakfast, or round the local golf course, thankfully currently free of calls of ‘fore’. The blossom, birdsong and oddly-coconut-smelling gorse provide all to brief opportunities for the odd deep breath. There isn’t an empty minute. At midnight, I stick a ‘thank you’ note on the dustbin for the refuse team, as no one felt up to drawing a rainbow.
Postscript Second week of June
SnapDragon Monitoring, the proud recipient of the Queen’s Award for Innovation, is on track. Most of the Dragons are back from furlough working, at least from their kitchens, and planning holidays – which lightens my heart.
The ergonomic investments in the sitting room have proved their weight in gold. The family has nearly forgiven me (the pile of washing has not).
The business is, almost, overwhelmed with work and positivity: those who paused their services came back much quicker than anticipated, so the counterfeiters are no longer winning; there is a stream of new clients to onboard; the team is happy and healthy; we are planning a socially distanced, super-safe and supportive working environment in the office; the tech sprint is ahead of target.
And my spreadsheet is singing. Onwards.
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