Innovation and enterprise blog

09 September 2020

Meet Patricia Gurman, founder of Sweet Paper Creations and Start-ups in London Libraries participant

Add comment

We’ve all been speaking a lot more about our mental health recently. So we love to hear about businesses that are tackling mental health issues in innovative and creative ways. Enter Sweet Paper Creations: a not-for-profit business that is here to support those with poor mental health through crafting and creation. We spoke more to Patty to find out how the business came into being and how Start-ups in London Libraries has helped her to expand her vision...

'At Sweet Paper Creations, we make and sell piñatas, made from recycled materials, for any occasion in our online shop, where customers can also commission their own bespoke character.

The profits from our shop help us to deliver our “Make It and Break It” workshops, where we provide a creative outlet for those suffering from mental health issues, stress, bereavement or those helping support someone going through such issues.

As a Guatemalan who settled in Walthamstow 27 years ago, I have always made piñatas for my children for their birthdays as a way of sharing my Guatemalan cultural heritage with them, and making and breaking them together has become a family tradition.

Ice Cream Pinata

In recent years, as my eldest child (Ali) had been suffering from depression and social anxiety, we found that making piñatas together was an ideal form of therapy and an opportunity to support her through her journey. Towards the end of last year, with Ali feeling stronger, it struck us that we had stumbled upon a potential support for the growing numbers in our local community who are suffering from poor mental health, as well as their carers and families who feel as I did: inadequate, frustrated and alone.

Our “Make it and Break it” workshops give others the opportunity to engage with a creative outlet, where they can work alongside us, learn a skill in a fun environment and talk about their circumstances should they choose to do so.

 

We joined SiLL to help develop this idea and since then our business has come alive; we have developed our online shop, sold more piñatas, and delivered three pilot workshops.

From the time I met Sarah at the Walthamstow Library, I felt reassured and confident to be able to develop my ideas into reality. She listened to my ideas, helped me to organise my priorities and to develop an action plan which includes looking at ways to fund-raise in order to deliver our pilot workshops.

Attending the library events and workshops also provided me with the opportunity to learn about legal requirements and to identify new opportunities to continue my business development. As a new business with limited experience, we believe that Sarah’s support and encouragement has helped us to be where we are now.

Covid Pinata

In starting my business, I learnt a lot, like how to organise my ideas, identify what ideas can work, and how to figure out how to implement them. I also learnt the importance of recognising what I am able to do and to achieve by identifying my limitations and then seeing these as the opportunities to develop in the future.

It is important to understand that everything takes time and does not happen automatically. I learnt to give myself time to learn and develop but also to make mistakes and to learn from them.

And so, if I were to give anyone who was thinking about starting a business advice it would be: attend as many workshops as you can. There is so much that we do not know at the beginning and, even if you are already trading, there is still so much to learn.

If, at the end, you decide to wait to develop your project, or if it is not for you, you will not have wasted your time as you get to meet so many amazing people and develop new friendships, which in itself is a win-win result.

Do not be afraid. Write all your ideas on a piece of paper and mark the ones that make you feel excited and motivated. Share your vision and passion with people like Sarah, who are able to guide you through your adventure.

And to anyone thinking of joining the SiLL programme, don’t think twice! It is the best thing you can do before you start your business adventure. Talking to them really opens your eyes and helps you to avoid mistakes, even though making mistakes is part of the learning.'

To see Patty and Ali's collection of piñatas, visit sweetpapercreations.com.

For more on the Start-ups in London Libraries programme and to book a spot on one of our workshops, visit our webpage

SiLL_logo_lockups_CMYK

10 August 2020

Meet Sol Ramos, co-founder of London Basketball Nation and Start-ups in London Libraries participant

Add comment

There were a strange couple of months in 2020 where team sports were essentially non-existent. As they are slowly creeping back to normality, we wanted to celebrate one of the sports businesses who took part in our Start-ups in London Libraries programme.  Here we speak to Sol, co-founder of London Basketball Nation to find out more about her business, how it came into being and her advice for anyone else thinking about starting their own business.

‘We are London Basketball Nation Ltd. We organise basketball tournaments and events related to the sport.

The business came into being after years of unsuccessful attempts to find where to play amateur basketball in London. We started in 2018 with the experience of being unsatisfied customers who could face a challenge. The CEO of the company (and my husband) is the coach of an amateur basketball team. I spent some of my weekends at basketball courts watching games but also listening to almost everyone involved in the activity complaining about the poor quality of the service they were getting. They were paying to do something they loved during the scarce free time they had, and they were having a terrible time! This concern was shared not just by players but by staff working for existing organisations.

What first started as a chat about how bad things were, ended up in more serious talks about how much better things could be, and we took the matter in our own hands. Having experience in the amateur sports sector and a multidisciplinary team on board was really helpful. We got the support of two experienced officials that have been giving valuable insight from day one.

The London Basketball team

I have a background in Management and I get easily bored.  I was motivated by the challenge but also by the potential results.  Seeing people doing what they love and making that possible is very satisfying. As someone who has several hobbies herself, I can also identify with our customers.

There was little to no information available online about related services so we conducted some research, talking to other teams and players about what they wanted. They were all looking for the same: good venues, but above all, sensible people behind the activity. We thought of offering an “all-inclusive” format (fixture, staff, venue, etc) – from the players’ perspective, they then just had to be there and do what they do best.

We set up a company (just in case “it worked”) in March 2019 and organised a short tournament in June that year to test the waters. Teams decided to give us a chance and we ended up organising a 7-month tournament for adult men (18+) afterwards. We are looking forward to expanding our reach and have not only more teams but also a Women’s division. We celebrated our first year as a company in March 2019.

I found out about the SiLL project thanks to a British Library newsletter around September 2019 and registered for the ‘Get ready for business’ workshop that was taking place in December. My SME Champion, Loretta, got in touch with me to know a bit more about the business and I shyly accepted a meeting. She talked me through the Business & IP Centre services for new businesses. I was amazed by the number of resources and support given to entrepreneurs.

SiLL helped us see the organisation as a business rather than something to do on weekends. It provided us with key insights and added value to our service.  This is my first experience as an entrepreneur and I had to learn a lot about legal and financial aspects of a business in the UK, as well as networking; social media… you name it! There is a lot of information out there, so much that it can be not just overwhelming, but also misleading. The SiLL project served as a guide.
I would have loved to have known about the project from day one as I think it would have saved me tonnes of time and work.

Two teams at a London Basketball Nation event

Coronavirus has, of course, been a huge challenge. With people not being able to gather in groups and the basketball courts being closed, we have been forced to stop our operations during this period. It really is just me and my husband running the business alongside other jobs right now, and so we have had a real split focus over the past months.

However, it has given us some space to focus on our brand and the digital aspect of the business. My husband is a web developer and he was able to dedicate time to work on the website and to bring more functionalities on board. We are also currently working on LBN Courts, a portal to find and rate outdoor basketball courts. We think this will help players to get back in shape - both physically and mentally - whilst encouraging people to make the of their local facilities (and that way, diminishing the use of public transport). The portal will not only show the location of courts, but it will allow players to rate their features, and to organise training groups - always according to the latest government advice of course.  

I consider myself extremely lucky to be part of the Greenwich business community. Loretta’s insights and support are invaluable. She is a connector, she puts together ideas to create new things, and people to make them come to life. She is always happy to have a one-to-one to talk about the progress of the business, and she makes sure I keep up to date by sending training and promotion opportunities. Not to mention she has such good energy! I am deeply thankful for her support.

A basketball game at a London Basketball Nation event

I have learnt so much from starting up my own business – the main one being that everything takes at least double the time and the money than you expected/calculated, especially admin work! Reaching people is not as easy as it sounds, especially when you’re new in the game.

However, it has also given me lots of advice that I would p[ass onto anyone else thinking about starting their own business:

  • Do your research: know the market, the customers and the competence.
  • Someone has already done it: maybe not exactly what you are thinking about doing, but someone has already walked the steps to set up a business. Someone has already made the mistakes and reached success. Use it and share it.
  • Be organised and have a plan: Having a plan, even a vague one, and keeping records of things you want and what you are doing to get them is really helpful. It’ll keep you focused, and with time it’ll give you information to analyse and understand what happened and why, and identify what can be improved.
  • Be responsive: reply to everything (emails, calls, social media messages, etc) as soon as possible.
  • Do not assume anything. It is better to talk about things rather than thinking they are a certain way. Ask for confirmation, repeat things, write down dates and meeting notes.
  • You can’t make everyone like you or what you do, and there’s no point in trying to do it. Focus on providing a good service and listen to feedback, let your actions speak louder than words.
  • You can’t control everything. Deal with it.
  • You can do much more than you think.
  • Just start!’

Find out more about London Basketball Nation.

If you’re interested in joining the online Start-ups in London Libraries webinars and workshops, you can find all of the information at bl.uk/SiLL.

SiLL funder logos - ERDF, Arts Council and J.P. Morgan)

 

06 August 2020

The beer lover’s guide to the perfect IP brew

Add comment

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

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

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

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

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

Brewing breakthroughs with technology

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

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

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

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

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

Patent for William Painter's bottle sealing device

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

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

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

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

Brewing up an awesome beer brand

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

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

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

Bass beer logo

 

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

But beer brands rarely demure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beer that creates a first impression.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Affligem beer bottle

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

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

The secret bit behind the beer magic.

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

The answer is disarmingly simple; keep it a secret.

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

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

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

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

Four cheers for IP

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

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

24 July 2020

How Innovating for Growth is helping business throughout the crisis

Add comment

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.”

Since 2012, we've supported over 520 businesses

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.”

Since 2012, 50% of scale-up businesses have been female led

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.”

Since 2012, over 500 jobs have been created

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

Meet Ahmad Baracat, founder of Baracat Bros and Start-ups in London Libraries participant

Add comment

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.

App screenshot for blog 2
App screenshot for blog 2

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.

AhmadBaracat_Profile_Picture

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 we created in 2 weeks to help people learn about food, was featured on ProductHunt (the go-to platform for launching new products): https://www.producthunt.com/posts/foodology

To take a look at Baracat Bros' games, visit https://www.baracatbros.com/

To read more about Start-ups in London Libraries and our workshops, which are now all taking place online, visit bl.uk/SiLL.

SiLL_logo_lockups_CMYK

 

 

 

16 June 2020

A week in the life of… Rachel Jones, founder of SnapDragon Monitoring

Add comment

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.

SnapDragon team

Groundhog Week... 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 til 6am, 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 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.

Edinburgh's blossom

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).

Rachel's dog at the bottom of Arthur's Seat

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. 

View from Arthur’s Seat

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.

21 April 2020

National Tea Day with HumaniTea

Add comment

With National Tea Day taking place on the 21 April, we caught up with Innovating for Growth: Mentoring alumna, Tina Chen, about her business HumaniTea, a tea beverage social enterprise that supports wellbeing and sustainability initiatives.

Tina Chen

As a Taiwanese-American living in London, Tina was inspired by Taiwanese bubble tea and British tea drinking culture and decided to create the UK’s first plant-based tea lattes. Prior to launching HumaniTea, Tina worked as a Technology Consultant, performing project management activities for large-scale software implementations. After consulting for three years, she began her MBA journey at Imperial College Business School, where she honed in on innovation, social impact, and sustainability modules. Tina shares, “With my love for a quality cuppa and my desire to make a positive impact on society, I made a career switch from IT to just tea and incorporated HumaniTea in December 2018.”

Tina used the British Library’s Business & IP Centre (BIPC) to search for consumer research reports on the tea market, including Mintel and Euromonitor, which are available for free to Business & IP Centre users. “The market research reports provided me with valuable information about market size that would have taken me months and large amounts of money to gather if I only conducted primary research. Through secondary research, I learned about market trends for ready-to-drink tea, plant-based milks, and low-sugar soft drinks.”

In the UK, the soft drink sector is booming with sales valued at £15 billion. The flavoured milk drink and milk alternative sales are valued at £538 million, ready-to-drink (RTD) coffee sales are valued at £146 million, and RTD tea sales are valued at £23 million. Tina explains, “Consumers desire organic RTD tea with low sugar or health benefits. There is an expected increase in the range of RTD tea, like matcha and kombucha, as consumers search for heathier alternatives to RTD coffee and energy drinks. In fact, 1/3 of UK adults think cold tea is a good alternative to other soft drinks.”

As well as the health benefits (all her flavours Matcha, Earl Grey, and Rooibos, contain low sugar and calories, exclude preservatives, artificial flavours, or any additives), ethical sourcing and sustainability are at the heart of HumaniTea. Their teas come in paper bags from Fairtrade, organic farms, oat milk is used instead of dairy as oat milk is one of the most eco-friendly milks available and making one cup of tea requires less water usage and releases less CO2 emissions than making one cup of coffee.

Besides performing market research, Tina also attended several events at the BIPC, including the monthly Inventors’ Club special food edition. “During these events, I exchanged networks with fellow entrepreneurs and gained knowledge on intellectual property, especially trade mark protection.”

Humanitea logo

However, registering her intellectual property hasn’t been a straightforward process. Four months after filing for four trade marks in December 2018, Tina received a cease and desist letter from the soft drink producer Schweppes. Now in a cooling off period until late 2020, Tina has gone on to file for a fifth trade mark and has successfully crowdfunded over £10,000 through the NatWest x Crowdfunder Back Her Business Programme. This will allow Tina to scale-up manufacturing and pursue a rebrand with the newly filed trade mark, HumaniTea. “Showing humanity is displaying compassion and kindness towards others, so as a social enterprise, we felt the name HumaniTea really embodied our business selling tea lattes to make a positive impact on society and the environment.”

HumaniTea Tea Lattes

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, HumaniTea lattes were available at Imperial College London and farmers’ markets, like Borough Market. “As we possessed an offline presence, new social distancing rules meant that we could no longer trade at our main points of sale. We are using this time wisely to develop our brand image with a professional designer and prepare for production with a contract manufacturing partner as we scale-up from commercial kitchen production.”

Tina continues to engage with consumers via the brand’s social media platforms (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn). “In unprecedented times with unknown outcomes, I’m doing my best as Chief Tea Officer to form contingency plans and remain both realistic and optimistic at the same time. In 2020, we plan on manufacturing our vegan tea lattes in a factory and delivering all the pre-orders of our tea lattes and HumaniTea merchandise that we received through our crowdfunding campaign. We will continue our discussions with retailers and distributors and hope to bring our tea lattes to supermarkets, universities, office canteens, and online environments in the near future!”

Borough Market stand

Tina has also participated in the BIPC’s Innovating for Growth Mentoring Programme. “I was matched with a fantastic mentor Sam Duong, the CEO of Ming Foods, who helps guide and motivate me through his 16 years of experience in the food manufacturing industry. Through our mentoring relationship, I have gained so much knowledge on manufacturing, contracts, supply chain, sales, margins, cash flow models, and team management. Discussing with my mentor my company goals and desires for scaling-up my start-up, I feel confident about my business decisions with strong foundations in place. Sam challenges me to think beyond the present and prepare for the future, allowing me to grow and develop my entrepreneurial skills and focus on my goals. At one of our mentoring meetings, I visited Ming Foods state-of-the-art factory, where they produce duck pancakes and bao buns that are sold both domestically and internationally. I am inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit of Sam and the success of Ming Foods and have truly benefited from the Innovating for Growth Mentoring Programme. I aim to also grow HumaniTea and achieve UK-wide and international sales and bring the drink that’s good for humanity to our global community!”

 

To find out more about the Innovating for Growth: Mentoring Programme, visit our website. You can also book on to our free IP and business virtual one-to-ones with the BIPC reference team. Book your slot here.

27 March 2020

A message from the BIPC

Add comment

British Library from Pullman Hotel (Credit Tony Antoniou) resized
Photo credit: Tony Antoniou

Since 2006 our doors have been open to everyone.  Throughout this time our mission has remained constant: to help businesses to innovate and grow, and to diversify and democratise entrepreneurship across the country through our free and low-cost support from our base at the British Library, and, more recently, across ten London boroughs and our national network of BIPCs.

Like you, only a couple of weeks ago we were also looking ahead to scaling-up and developing our services, with a central government investment in the regional expansion of business support via libraries, enabling us to reach both the high street and rural areas. Now, like you, we are adapting to the new and changing patterns of our lives. In these unprecedented times, we, at the British Library and our partner libraries, find ourselves spread out in our own homes and unable to offer our normal face-to-face support.

But opportunities remain. Technology keeps our network of libraries working together with our expertise and resources pooled. It also keeps us connected with you and, during this time, we are providing many of our normal workshops as webinars, and free online one-to-ones will soon replace walk-ins and meetings. We are also working on developing content that is relevant to these unique and uncertain times. Please do make sure that you are following us for the latest updates, including additions to our schedules and our offering. As you will have seen in the news over the past weeks, the business landscape is changing at a rapid pace and we, along with our service delivery partners, are working to be as reactive as possible to the impact these developments will have on small businesses.

An extremely important  group in our community are the fellow advisors and presenters who work with us, running the workshops and events. I’d like to use this moment to personally thank all of them, especially as we  look at transforming our services together, to ensure we can continue to offer our support during this period.

More so than ever, we know how important it is for us to stay connected with our users and to provide support through the training and mentoring that we can still offer you. Our doors remain open – in the virtual sense for now -  and we’ll listen to you across social media and through our helplines to inform what it is you need us to be in the coming weeks and months.

We remain committed to the success of new start-up businesses using our services, as well as the well-being of the courageous entrepreneurs who lead them.  Despite the multiple hurdles ahead, we will  be here to help you keep your ambitions alive.

Isabel Oswell

Head of Business Support Services

14 February 2020

The rise of flexitarians and veggie butchers

Add comment

The Vegan industry is booming. Many people are changing their diet for any number of reasons from diet and health to environmental factors. According to a recent Mintel report (which is free to access in the Business & IP Centre) a rise in flexitarians has aided the success of the meat-free market, especially amongst the younger consumers.

The report shows 34% of meat eaters are reported to have reduced their consumption in the last six months, giving a recent boost in sales of meat-free foods (UK Meat-Free Foods Market Report 2018/19).

With Veganuary having recently ended, I thought what better time to present my findings on this dynamic market and continue the conversation. Having recently acquired a new role within the Business & IP Centre, I was keen to get right into it and creating an industry guide that highlights useful databases, publications and websites on key industries seemed the best way about it. I chose the vegan, vegetarian and free-from market after seeing a demand for it whilst on the reference desk and was surprised that there wasn’t already an industry guide created on this topic. It was one of the biggest emerging markets and it seemed a great idea until I ventured forth and realised why there wasn’t an industry guide on it already.

I started with the Cobra database looking for Business Opportunity Profiles (BOP) that would be useful for anyone looking to start, run or manage a small business. This is a useful database that holds hundreds of how-to guides, reports, factsheets and even small business ideas to get you started, which you can also access for free in the BIPC. But there were no leads there specifically for vegan start-up businesses. I did however manage to find a BOP on Dieticians and Green Grocers and a Mini- Business Opportunity Profile (MBP) on the Vegetarian/Vegan Restaurant and Vegetable box scheme. Not as much as I would have liked, but it was a start. The Small Business Help Books, located by the entrance of the BIPC, proved even harder, only finding general titles on How to run a sandwich and coffee shop and Starting your own Speciality Food Business and Jonathan Self’s book Good Money, which was an account of the authors own experience of a successful ethical business start-up. Maybe the market research statistics would prove more fruitful...

Vegan Trade Journal

The EMIS Database which offers company information and sector research on the top emerging markets proved the most effective with reports on the Global Dairy Alternative Products Market (2019-2024), Global Meat Substitute Market (2018-2025) and Global Gluten-Free Food Market (2018-2025). You can access all of these reports for free in the BIPC. Additionally, Mintel a widely used market intelligence agency on consumer and lifestyle markets provided a broad range of useful consumer trends reports such as Attitudes towards Healthy Eating, Lifestyles of a Generation and Free-from Foods. But I wanted to find more alternative product reports on the UK market.

Veggie Butchers screenshot

Global Data’s Veggie Butchers report although not a recent report, could provide vital insight into meat alternatives (sausages, kebabs, mince etc.). I knew ‘niche’ industries would be difficult and I was happy to find useful content within the broader realm of veganism, vegetarian and free-from foods. But I was determined to dig as deep as I could and using various key word variations I was able to discover useful reports to add – I was especially excited to find a report titled Veganism on the Upswing on EMIS, and Passport proved very useful with reports on Vegetarianism and Other Meat-Restricted Diets and excitedly a report titled A new vegetarian boom is in the making. It seemed I was able to extract key reports that would prove useful for anyone wanting to venture into this industry and I was very happy that the Vegan, Vegetarian and Meat alternative space in terms of market research was on the rise and I look forward to seeing this go from niche to mainstream in the near future.

Meron Kassa, Business and IP Reference Specialist at the Business & IP Centre London

Meron has worked at the British Library for over six years, working in several other reading rooms including Maps and Manuscripts, Asia and Africa and Rare Books and Music before landing a role within the British Library’s Business & IP Centre last year as a new member of the team, where she delivers reference work and will soon be delivering 1-2-1 business advice clinics, as well as workshops and webinars on a regular basis.

25 November 2019

Meet Warda Farah - owner of Language Waves and Start-ups in London Libraries participant

Add comment

Warda Farah is a speech and language therapist. Her company, Language Waves, has a particular interest in providing a fully-accessible and culturally diverse speech therapy service. She has recently taken part in the Start-ups in London Libraries programme in Greenwich. 

Warda had done the research, confirmed her business idea (speech therapy that was accessible to everyone who needed it and, most importantly, took into account culture and family background) was solid and sought-after and registered her business. The next step was to tie the various ideas she had for Language Waves together to form a future-proof plan and ensure she could achieve her ambitious vision. And so she participated in the Start-ups in London Libraries programme to help her get her business idea off the ground: ‘It helped me to develop my scattered ideas into a coherent business plan. I was able to figure out how I could package my approach, get a better understanding of my target audience and most importantly how I could monetize my idea.' 

The Start-ups in London Libraries programme is comprised of workshops which guide participants through the complexities of starting up a business, registering your company, protecting your intellectual property and conducting research. Off the back of these, Warda and her business partner, Joan-Ann were able to trademark their training manual. SiLL participants can also get one-to-ones with their local borough Champions who can offer specific advice. Warda said her one-to-ones with Greenwich Champion, Loretta, were among the most eye-opening experiences on her business journey: ‘I see her when I’m at different stages of the business. Her feedback helps me plan, focus and set realistic expectations for myself. Also, her belief in my business has motivated me as she has brought out the best in me.’

Warda with the SiLL Greenwich Champion, Loretta
Warda with the SiLL Greenwich Champion, Loretta

As part of Start-ups in London Libraries, Greenwich have developed a strong business community, with a network that meet once a month to brainstorm and share knowledge. Warda says: ‘I think it’s a really exciting time, I meet lots of people who want to start their own business and I always refer them to the SILL programme and Loretta. This is because it’s so accessible well set up and you know that you are getting advice and support from people who know what they are doing.'

'A lot of people do not know where to start but the Start-ups in London Libraries programme is very clear, you just need to put the work in. You have to be strategic, specific and focused and not give up. The people that I have met at the Greenwich Network so far all seem very motivated and it’s great to be around this energy. I’m excited to see how everybody’s business does.’

And so are we!

Q&A with Warda:

Can you tell us a bit about how your business started? What inspired you? 

I won a Lord Mayor Scholarship and studied Speech and Language therapy at City University. It was during this time that I noticed the lack of diversity in the profession. 95% of speech and language therapists are from white middle-class backgrounds which raises the issue of therapy not being tailored to take culture and background into account. This is a profession that has to represent the diverse population it serves in order to be effective and, from what I could see, this wasn’t happening. I was extremely surprised that there was no discussion of how to make speech and language therapy services accessible and culturally diverse, so I began my research.

It is clear and evident that there is a cultural mismatch between therapists and BAME clients and instead of labelling parents and children as hard to engage we should be reaching out them and being innovative with how we deliver our interventions.

We have three key aims that we are working towards:

  1. A world where a child’s ethnicity, socioeconomic status and parental background is not a barrier to receiving quality speech and language therapy assessment and intervention.
  2. We want the wider public to have a better understanding of what a communication difficulty is and the long-term consequences this can have on the child, family and their community.
  3. We would like the speech and language therapy workforce to represent the diverse population it serves.

You are a young entrepreneur - what have been the benefits of this and what are the challenges?

As a young person, this is probably one of the best times to start a business - there are so many pots of funding and support that is available to young entrepreneurs. You have to be willing to look around, go to events and find out what support is available to you.

In addition to this if you are lucky enough to still live at home and not have any dependents you can focus solely on your business with fewer distractions. 

However, the downside to being a young entrepreneur is that I think Millennials like myself are so used to instant gratification that we may be impatient with how long it can actually take to get a business off the ground and making money. This is why realistic expectations are so important and reviewing of your business plans and goals should be a regular occurrence. 

In my own personal experience being a young black woman in business has at times been incredibly tough, I feel like I have to really sell and prove myself to show that 1) despite my age I have the experience , 2) despite my gender I can be just as tough as the men if not tougher, 3) despite the fact I may face bias based on my ethnicity I do not let it stop me. 

You have to learn how to use people's assumptions and negative stereotypes of you to be your USP.

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

Start now. I know a lot of people who feel that all of the conditions need to be right before they begin their business but I believe an entrepreneur is a person who sees an opportunity and goes for it. Time waits for no man and there is no such thing as perfection. When we began Language Waves we made lots of errors which helped us fine-tune our processes, better understand our audience and even developed our thinking. We are still making errors but we see them as learning opportunities.

I would also say don’t start a business because your main aim in life is to be a millionaire. There is a long and arduous period when you are working hard e.g. going to meetings, negotiating contracts, networking, creating content and you are not financially compensated, in fact, you can be worse off than when you had a 9-5.

During this period remember that you are setting the foundation and groundwork for your business. Many people overestimate what they can achieve in a year and underestimate what they would’ve achieved in 3 years, this is the long game so be patient and continue to work through the pain.

What would you say to anyone thinking about starting up a business?

Join the SiLL programme - it's what made me feel like I could really start and run a business

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

A couple of my most valuable lessons have been:

  • Your customer and ideal client is key, you need to know the needs, likes, dislikes and habits of this group to ensure you target your product at them.
  • Know your value and do not be ashamed to talk about money. Your specialized knowledge is what people will pay for.
  • Make decisions quickly and be slow to change them. Joan-Ann and I have the saying “lets sleep on it and discuss in the morning”.
  • Quantum leaps exists, do not be scared of them. Sometimes opportunities will arise which you feel you are not ready for, just do it you will surprise yourself.

To find out more about Language Waves visit https://www.languagewaves.com/

For more information on Start-ups in London Libraries, visit bl.uk/SiLL

The Start-ups in London Libraries project is generously supported by the European Regional Development Fund, J.P. Morgan and Arts Council England.

Start-ups in London Libraries (SiLL) project partners. From left to right: JP Morgan Logo, Arts Council England Logo, European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) Logo, along with Business & IP Centre London and the British Library logos