Innovation and enterprise blog

The British Library Business & IP Centre can help you start, run and grow your business

Introduction

This blog is written by members of the Business & IP Centre team and some of our expert partners and discusses business, innovation and enterprise. Read more

09 April 2024

National Siblings Day: On building businesses together with Cultureville

To celebrate National Siblings Day we caught up with Ronke Jane, who founded fashion business Cultureville in 2018 with her sister Adeola. The African-inspired fashion brand specialise in hand-crafted clothing and accessories that feature bold African wax prints in contemporary designs. Cultureville utilised BIPC Greater Manchester to get support for their business, particularly through their social media workshops, and have also been receiving mentorship on our Get Ready For Business Growth programme.

What made you decide to set up a business with your sister?

Getting into business with my sister was a very practical decision: Adeola was in Nigeria and could be really hands-on with our production team and I was living in the UK and could take charge of our distribution. Our skills were also very complimentary - I was great with the technology aspects of our business which was invaluable for digital marketing and e-commerce whilst Adeola's background as a lawyer was vital for  managing the commercial side of things, so it worked out well!

What is it like having a sibling as a business partner?

Like most things, it comes with its benefits and challenges, but for us the positives far outweigh the negatives. I get to work with my best friend which is amazing and even in the difficult times I know she will always have my back. On the flip side we spend a lot of time together which can be overwhelming and it's hard to switch off from work when we're together. Furthermore, family issues can really impact the business because they impact you both at the same time. Ultimately working together has actually brought us closer, we understand each other better and our conflict resolution has improved. 

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Is it hard to separate family time and work time?

Definitely! I'd say separating work and family time is one of the most challenging parts of going into business with your sibling, you have to make sure you're spending quality time just as siblings outside of work which can be hard because you already spend a lot of time together. 

What advice do you have to anyone who is looking to go into business with a family member?

Communication is really important, don't make assumptions on what they are thinking, feeling or doing based on your relationship - having regular meetings where you can lovingly and honestly address your grievances really help with this. Keep it professional - you may be family but work is work so don't bring personal issues into the mix. Understand that you're a team: don't spend energy fighting each other when you can spend it on pursuing your goals. 

Sound like something you could do? If you'd like to look into setting up a business with a family member, a friend or even on your own, visit your nearest BIPC and find out how they can help today.

11 March 2024

She means business: start-up tips from women entrepreneurs

We're extremely proud of all the businesses we support, but did you know that 66% of them are owned by women? Two of them recently caught up with The Gender Index to discuss their business journeys and give tips to fellow women who are on the same path.

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Kate McKenzie is the founder of Word Window, a device for parents and teachers to use when reading to children. Kate was one of the BIPC Northamptonshire SME Grant winners and has used the BIPC's resources to propel her business forward. From invaluable one-to-one sessions to comprehensive market research reports, she’s gained crucial insights to fuel her growth. With our expert intellectual property support, Kate has safeguarded her innovative ideas and met with a vibrant community of like-minded small business owners.

Kate's tips for start-ups include:

Head to your local library

"I’d gone from working full time in a college to setting up my own business. I didn’t know anything about the world out there for entrepreneurs or the help available. For me, the library was a place to get a book, it wasn’t a place where I could be signposted towards business specialists or IP experts. Most local libraries will be connected to a central library so speak to yours to find out more."

See what you can get for free

"Lots of companies will offer an hour’s advice for free. And if you need market research data, don’t just assume you have to pay for it. BIPC holds all sorts of data and resources that are free to access so have a good look through to see if they’ve got what you need. It’s surprising what information and help you can get for nothing."

Accept it won’t be perfect at first

"You can’t think too much and you can’t make it too perfect before you go for it. You have to just believe in yourself, even when it seems things aren’t working, and keep the faith."

Most importantly…

Keep quiet

"If you’re launching a new product, don’t tell anyone about it! To register your own Intellectual Property (IP), you have to declare you’ve not shared your concept with other people. Luckily I’d heard about that, so kept my idea to myself."

If you need any intellectual property support, head to your nearest BIPC.

You can read Kate's full interview with The Gender Index here.

 

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Susan Widlake was an IT Auditor with a passion for hats, who travelled the world with a sewing kit and a collection of treasures in her suitcase. After spending years learning and honing her craft, Susan hung her corporate hat and turned her passion into a business when she founded Mill House Millinery.
 
Susan's journey:
 
"Early on I went to a Start your Creative business Day at the British Library in London. That was really helpful, and if you go up the stairs at the library you’ll find the Business & IP Centre. I didn’t even know it existed! They run a whole range of courses and workshops and the majority are free or very low cost. It was an excellent introduction to starting your own business."

Use your skills

"It was a real bonus when I realised I had the knowledge, I just needed to scale it down. My background really helped me when doing things like drawing up the business plan and targeting customers and messaging. That’s exactly the sort of thing I had been auditing."

Everyone makes mistakes, and that's ok!

"I’ve also learnt that you shouldn’t be scared of making mistakes. That’s been a big mind change for me coming from an audit background where everything has to be perfect."

Find your business family

"One thing that was completely different though was networking. I was used to being in a very male orientated, and dominated, field. In hat making, suddenly I was having to network with a totally different set of people. And actually, I felt much more comfortable."

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You can read Susan's full interview with The Gender Index here.

08 March 2024

Write your own success story. Meet Martha Keith, our new BIPC business ambassador

Everyone's journey to entrepreneurship is different. Looking back, I realise mine began with a stubborn determination to prove that there's nothing wrong with a creative business idea and has been shaped by being a woman at every step along the way.

I've always been obsessed with stationery. The first blank page of a new notebook holds as much magic to me as the first page of a great novel: the excitement and possibility about where it will take you. I tried to start my first stationery business at age ten. It was a greeting card company with a little self-designed logo and range that I was rather proud of. As a teenager, my dream was to start a proper creative business, but my parents and teachers insisted there were better career options.

I studied hard and was lucky enough to be the first person in my small convent school to get an offer from Oxbridge in many years, which threw any chances of pursuing something creative out of the window. I read Natural Sciences at Cambridge and entered a graduate job at GlaxoSmithKline, combining my love of marketing and science. I hoped to make a difference to people, but I found that the more senior I got, the more removed I felt from being able to do so. After eight years, I was appointed a Director within the UK business. I loved the people I worked with, but hitting 30, I knew it was now or never.

I took a week off work and wrote a business plan for a personalised stationery brand, nervously walking in on the Monday with my resignation letter clutched between sweaty palms. People said I was crazy. My mum was dismayed: "you'll never make a living from selling cards", she reminded me, but that only made me more determined.

Martha Brook Founder - Martha Keith headshot 2

I'm proud that my business, Martha Brook, has grown from those small beginnings into a much-loved lifestyle brand with offices in London and Melbourne and a thriving worldwide community of stationery lovers. The early days involved bootstrapping and long hours. Many times, I've found, as a woman running a creative business, that people tend to underestimate your ambition and capability. This was at its most stark when I set out to raise our first round of investment in 2020. It's a sad fact that only 1% of investment capital goes to female-founded businesses in the UK, and spending time in this male-dominated environment really showed me why. One angel investor quipped during my pitch, "At your age, I don't understand why..." Can you imagine them saying that to a man?

It was then that I first discovered the British Library's Business & IP Centre, a fantastic free support for small business owners and entrepreneurs. Using their resources, I turned to crowdfunding and was blown away when we hit our target in 24 hours, which was a real turning point for our business.

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Also, as a woman, you have to juggle so much other 'life stuff'. A year into starting Martha Brook, I was diagnosed with endometriosis and told I couldn't have children naturally. While growing the business, I have quietly had seven rounds of IVF and four miscarriages. When my miracle daughter was born last year, I had to work out how to manage some time off and then balance childcare and CEO responsibilities.

My experiences have made me a passionate ambassador for the creative industries and women in business. I mentor other business owners, regularly speak at and run events for female founders, and was proud to be awarded Consumer Goods Businesswomen of the Year at the Great British Businesswomen Awards last year.

Since 2022, I have sat on the British Library's Advisory Council, and I am thrilled to be appointed as an Ambassador for the British Library's Business & IP Centre. I have seen first-hand the impact the Centre makes to drive economic growth and help the aspiring SMEs that need it most. 72% of the aspiring entrepreneurs that the Business & IP Centre has helped are women, 26% are from a minority ethnic group, and 10% have a disability. This is a significant impact in disadvantaged and underrepresented groups, delivering a notable return on investment of £6.63 for every £1 of public money spent.

It feels fitting that it is International Women's Day. There's nothing wrong with a 'girly' or creative business idea. Women are not less serious about their goals or dreams and are every bit as capable of achieving them. I am delighted to help widen the Business & IP Centre's reach to new audiences and champion its entrepreneurial goals.

 

Ready to kickstart your business journey, just like Martha did? Connect with BIPC for expert support and advice!

12 February 2024

Show small businesses some love

February is a month in which high street shops are adorned with hearts and flowers, and products are often tailored to reflect the theme of love. However it can be more than just a time for romantic gestures, and also a chance to treat yourself and your loved ones while also showing your local business community some love.

Below you can find a selection of luxurious products from the entrepreneurs supported by our Business & IP Centres (BIPCs) across the UK. Whether you're looking for self-care treats, or thoughtful gestures for friends and family, you’ll also help support our vibrant community of small business owners.

Give something scent-sational

perfume bottle

Sarah McCartney, who used our scale-up programme Get Ready for Business Growth, has always had a passion for making her own scents. Her award-winning fragrance, Goddess of Love & Perfume, is dedicated to Aphrodite and how she imagined the perfume she would be wearing if she descended to the North York Moors. Treat yourself or your loved ones to this luxurious perfume, a blend of all the fruit and flower materials we love best: rose, violet, raspberry, blackcurrant, bergamot and Mandarin.

Cost: £60 for 15ml,  £150 for 50ml

Where to find: 4160 Tuesdays

A sweet surprise

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Vicky Armitage used BIPC North East to research the trends in healthy eating and chocolate, and her business produces raw cacao bars made from organic and nutritious ingredients. With flavours ranging from roasted almond to orange and raw caramel, these bars create a healthier alternative to chocolate that is just as delicious. All ingredients are ethically and sustainably sourced and the packaging is recyclable, so you can give a gift that does good!

Cost: £4 each (10% off if you buy 4 or more)

Where to find: Meraki cacao

Wrapped up in elegance 

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Get Ready for Business Growth participant Rory Hutton's products are perfect if you're looking for some luxury. Rory is an award-winning, Cambridge-based artist, print maker, and historian. Drawing upon many inspirations, including architecture, theatre, opera and dance, his collections of silk scarves are testament to the strength of his passion for beautiful things and creative flair. With designs inspired by Shakespeare's First Folio and beautiful manor gardens, these scarves hold a timeless beauty that will add a touch of elegance to any outfit. 

Cost: £45 - £200

Where to find: Rory Hutton

Good enough to eat 

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Amarachi Clarke completed our Innovating for Growth programme (which has now been succeeded by Get Ready for Business Growth) and used the BIPC resources to research the chocolate market. After teaching herself to make chocolate at home she learned that the bean-to-bar quality chocolate could be much better than that available in the mass market, even than perceived luxury brands. From a selection of tasty chocolate bars to Belize cacao infused gin, Lucocoa offer high-quality, delicious products that will make the perfect gift.

Cost: Chocolate bars start at £2.75

Where to find: Lucocoa Chocolate

12 January 2024

2023: Our business journey continues

As we embark on another exciting year at the Business & IP Centre, we are looking back at just some of the highlights from 2023, both for the Centre and among our network of users, supporters and partners. From the launch of our Democratising Entrepreneurship 2.0 report to the opening of more BIPCs across the UK, it certainly was a busy year!

The London Network continues to grow

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January saw the launch of Start Up Wandsworth in York Gardens Library, who also opened another business hub in Putney Library later on in the year. This is part of our BIPC local offering that brings our business support services to the heart of five London boroughs, also including Bromley, Greenwich, Lewisham and Waltham Forest.

Start-Up Day never goes out of style

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Start-Up Day returned in February with events taking place across the National Network. This jam-packed day consisted of speed-mentoring, informative talks, free IP support and networking opportunities aimed at helping creative businesses thrive in the arts and culture sector. We finished off the day with our Inspiring Entrepreneurs - The Changing Face of Fashion event at the British Library, in which a panel of industry experts, including Patrick Grant, discussed the latest trends in the fast-paced fashion industry.

Kickstart Your Business is born

kickstarting the london economy launch event

In February we also launched Kickstart Your Business, our programme designed to deliver grass roots business support and expert advice in libraries across London through two-days of free workshops, supported by JP Morgan. We delivered over 30 workshops in 2023, and we look forward to continue to support entrepreneurs across the capital this year.

Championing women in business

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We celebrated International Women's Day in March across our network of libraries. BIPC Devon launched their 12-week Women in Business programme, delivered by Devon-based Business Women to empower others to realise their full potential and pursue their dream careers. Our Inspiring Entrepreneurs - Disruptors and Influencers event took place at the British Library and focused on the 2023 Women's Month theme of Embracing Equity; topics discussed included shifting the image of women in business, and how we can best embrace and encourage diversity and inclusion in business for colleagues and peers from marginalised communities. 

Success for the National Network 

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In April several of our National Network BIPCs, made up of 22 regional and 90 local BIPCs across the UK, secured additional funding from UKSPF, ensuring they continue to be a vibrant hub of support to small businesses until March 2025. Entrepreneurs and innovators in various regions can count on continued access to resources, expertise, and opportunities provided by their local BIPC, find yours.

 Serving up more events

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Our Inspiring Entrepreneurs - The Business of Food: From Farm to Fork event took place in May, as part of the British Library’s Food Season celebrations. We were joined by culinary experts Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones MBE, The Black Farmer, and Thomasina Miers OBE, founder of Wahaca, who discussed emerging trends in the food industry, the changing image of food on the high street and the ways we can be more sustainable with our food choices.

Honouring women's enterprise 

women enterprise week event

We held an event in June to honour National Women's Enterprise Week, led by our ambassador Alison Cork. The panel discussion featured four exceptional women we have supported throughout their entrepreneurial journey - Cultureville, #ChalkandBlade, Pageful Productions and Skin Solace. They shared their first-hand experiences, discussing the realities, benefits, and challenges of being women in business and provided invaluable insights to empower other women navigating similar journeys. We are immensely proud to have supported not only these extraordinary women but also over 92,000 individuals since 2020. Among them, 63% are women, 32% of whom were from a Black, Asian and ethnic minority and 13% disabled - reflecting our commitment to fostering gender equality in entrepreneurship. 

Double celebrations

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July gave us lots to celebrate as the British Library turned 50, and we launched our independent Democratising Entrepreneurship 2.0 report at the House of Lords. The report shows that Department for Culture, Media and Sport funding between April 2020 and March 2023 has helped grow our Network from 13 to over 100 libraries. 

Art meets business

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BIPC Liverpool City Region teamed up with Liverpool Art Fair throughout the summer in support of businesses in the art industry, in which they held Entrepreneur in Residence Clinics and hosted a number of events which gave support and advice to artists and others in creative industries. The 6-week exhibition culminated with an interview with BBC Radio Merseyside’s Claire Hamilton and Faith Bebbington, nationally renowned sculptor who is living with cerebral palsy and has survived cancer. She has since become a BIPC Liverpool client, and we have provided her with one-to-one support on her legal contracts and marketing. 

Our BIPC local turns one

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September marked the 1st anniversary of our BIPC local in Lewisham. To celebrate we ran an out of home awareness campaign, supported by Lewisham Council, with over 50 outdoor placements to promote the BIPC services in Lewisham. We also published this blog where we caught up with our Lewisham business ambassadors and heard about their journey with us.

Black History Month celebrations

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To celebrate Black History Month in October we hosted our seventh Inspiring Entrepreneurs event of the year: Saluting our Sisters, honouring Black women in business. Our panel of visionary women shared their journeys to success, how they overcame challenges and discussed the evolving business landscape. We ended the evening with a fireside chat with Sabrina Dhowre Elba, CEO, Model and Activist. 

The National Network expands

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In November BIPC Nottinghamshire opened a business hub in Nottingham Central Library, and enjoyed a launch event to celebrate their new space. Our interactive map also went live this month, which allows users around the UK to locate their nearest BIPC: you can find yours here.

BIPC takeover

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Throughout November and December we ran a large scale out of home campaign in London to promote our overall BIPC services at the British Library and the Kickstart Your Business workshops taking place in our London Network libraries. This involved advertisement at bus stops, underground and rail stations, and other outdoor placements across the capital.

Wrapping up the year

winter market

We ended the year on a festive high with Winter Markets taking place in some of our libraries around the UK. This featured local businesses coming together to showcase and sell their products just in time for Christmas. We also curated our annual BIPC Festive Gift Guide, sharing gift ideas from small businesses around the UK who have used BIPC services.

13 December 2023

Celebrating small businesses this season

This festive season discover a variety of delightful Christmas gifts from the entrepreneurs supported by our Business & IP Centres (BIPCs) across the UK. From handmade crafts to one-of-a-kind creations, each item carries the hard work, dedication and passion of individuals who have embarked on the journey of entrepreneurship. We shine a spotlight on the extraordinary accomplishments these small businesses have achieved with the support of their local BIPC.  

By choosing something from our featured gift guide, you’ll not only surprise your loved ones with a gorgeous gift, but you’ll also support and celebrate our vibrant community of small business owners.

Let it shine  

Thanks to Her - Christmas product

One business who received support from BIPC Leeds is Thanks to Her. Eliza attended their Start-up Leeds programme, a series of workshops focused on the foundations of starting and running a business. Their sterling silver jewellery is not just a gift; it's a heartfelt tribute to the extraordinary women who inspire and uplift us. Each piece of jewellery is specially selected to symbolise the special bonds you share, with opportunity for personalisation. All adorned with beautiful Thanks to Her gift box and gift bag for the ultimate gifting experience that recognises and celebrates the women who make our world brighter, kinder, and more beautiful.   

Cost: £16.95-£44.95  

Where to find: Thanks to Her   

Elevate Your Accessory Game 

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Fed up with fast fashion? Elle for Leather was created to offer good quality, stylish bags without the designer price tag. With the planet and the slow fashion movement in mind, Elle for Leather only use top quality raw materials, with a classic aesthetic and are handmade and built to last. Emma’s business was supported by BIPC Leeds and attended their two-day creatives workshop, covering all aspects of running a creative business, from choosing the right platform to protecting copyright. 

Cost: Prices of products vary, belts start at £35 and bags range from £100-200  

Where to find: Elle for Leather  

All that glitters  

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Lily & Roo (who used our scale-up programme Get Ready for Business Growth) was founded in 2018 by Brittany Preston from her kitchen table, with a vision to create timeless everyday jewellery, made & sourced responsibly. The majority of pieces they create are made to order and hand-crafted in London with recycled precious metals, and designed to capture a special moment or emotion. This Christmas, their range of new personalised and pearl pieces make meaningful gifts, designed to be treasured.  

Cost: £55-£300+  

Where to find: Lily & Roo  

Wrap up warm  

Squirrel Scarf

Embrace your love for nature and style by gifting your loved ones this festive, eco-friendly scarf this Christmas. Made from 95% recycled faux silk satin featuring the stunning Formby red squirrel, this design was created from original watercolour art by artist Rebecca Christian, whose business was supported by BIPC Liverpool. This scarf is the perfect addition to any winter wardrobe and uses British manufacturing and sustainable materials.  

Cost: £45   

Where to find: Rebecca Christian  

Give the gift of a Christmas tipple  

Wine Chateau

Wine Chateau are one of BIPC Northamptonshire’s Kick-Start grant winners. Be part of their journey, and discover the unparalleled craftsmanship of Milestii Mici Winery, holding a Guinness World Record for the largest wine collection in the world. Give this exclusive gift set featuring two exquisite wines: a luscious Chardonnay, showcasing a perfect blend of fruity and floral notes, and a rich, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon, with its bold flavours and elegant finish. Elevate your gifting experience with this exceptional duo that embodies the essence of Moldovan winemaking excellence.   

Cost: £26.61  

Where to find: Wine Chateau, Cabernet Sauvignon, Wine Chateau, Chardonnay   

Pure festive joy 

Poinsettia & bird www.mayajoy.co.uk

Mayajoy, a home and lifestyle brand, has been supported by BIPC Devon through their Woman in Business programme which aims to empower women to realise their full potential and pursue their dream careers through upskilling, coaching and business resources. Mayajoy  has an incredible range of products that would make ideal Christmas gifts. The Christmas Poinsettia and bird festive tea towel is hand painted in Maya Lawrence's Devon-based studio and digitally printed and manufactured in the UK to limit waste.  Their handmade affirmation velvet zip pouches feature Mayajoy's slogan, metallic lettering, water repellent lining and a contrasting gold zip and come in navy, olive and blush.  

Cost: Teatowels are £14 for one or £25 for two, Velvet pouches are £20 

Where to find: Mayajoy  

‘Tis the season to sparkle 

Delmora necklace

Using gold, recycled sterling silver and stainless steel, Delmora offers a collection of unique and meaningful jewellery pieces that will add some luxury to your gift-giving this year. They have a Recycling and Repair Service, meaning you can reduce personal waste of unwanted or broken jewellery, as well as ensuring your beloved accessories remain in perfect condition. For a more personal touch, you can also engrave your gifts: from dog tags to necklace pendants, ensuring no-one is left out this festive season. Founder Judy is a business ambassador for our BIPC Local in Bromley. 

Cost: Prices of products vary, with jewellery ranging from £18-£150 

Where to find:DELMORA®

Give the gift of inspiration 

Authentic worth publishing

Esther used our Start-ups in London Libraries (SiLL) programme to help build her business, Authentic Worth Publishing, which helps creatives, authors and business owners authentically share their stories and turn them into published books. Covering topics ranging from identity and self-confidence to grief and moving forward, Esther has published a variety of books that could be just what your loved ones are looking for this Christmas. Esther is now a business ambassador for our BIPC Local in Lewisham.  

Cost: Books range from £10-£19.99  

Where to find: Books by Author Esther Jacob

Make Christmas dreams come true 

Naila lavender sachet

Naila is a business ambassador for our BIPC Local in Waltham Forest and her best-selling, handmade lavender sachet is the ideal gift to offer some calm to the chaos of the festive season. Made from aromatic dried UK grown lavender, this product provides a long-lasting aroma perfect for calming and relaxing practices. You can also explore Naila's wide range of other products, including handmade cushions that can add some comfort to your celebrations this year.

Cost: £12.50 plus postage (will come gift wrapped) 

Where to find: Naila Ahmad London

Get creative at Christmas  

Sweet paper creations

Sweet Paper Creations are a not-for-profit business who support their local community through their Mental Matters piñata workshops, and are also business ambassadors for our BIPC Local in Waltham Forest. Add some festive fun to your celebrations with their winter piñata DIY kit that provides fun for all the family. Choose from a range of seasonal designs and gift something memorable this year. 

Cost: £25 

Where to find: Sweet Paper Creations 

Winter warmers 

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Up ’N’ Mellow’s delicious, ready-to-eat nut and fruit porridges are a unique gift this Christmas. Their Instant Peanut porridge is a rich and creamy blend of Ground Peanuts and Oats with a warming and fragrant selection of spices and is a great source of protein and fibre, suitable for vegans. Up ‘N’ Mellow attended a range of in-person and online sessions with BIPC Norfolk, including networking and social media webinars, as well as attending one-to-one sessions with their IP specialist to understand the importance of protecting their intellectual property to kick-start their business.  

Cost: £1.65 

Where to find: Up 'N' Mellow  

Build your own gallery 

Lucy and Sycamore Gap

Lucy Pittaway used our scale-up programme, Get Ready for Business Growth, to grow her business. Lucy’s award-winning vibrant and colourful art makes a fantastic gift idea for art enthusiasts and those seeking unique presents, offering a touch of delight and charm. Mounted prints are versatile, easy to display, and add a pop of colour to any room.  

Cost: from £75.00 

Where to find: Lucy Pittaway

Unlock a world of creativity  

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Get Ready for Business Growth alumni Matthew Wright and Melvin Wright created Playpress because they wanted to help children create new stories with toys that were affordable and eco-friendly. The sets are designed for children to follow instructions, build and play out stories, time and time again. They range from sets for 3-6 year olds such as the Gruffalo, up to the challenging Tower Bridge or Space Station, delivering lots of challenge for 7-11 year olds. They are easy to store and post and they even have Christmas sets or stocking-sized toys! 

Cost: £5.99-£17.99 

Where to find: Playpress Toys 

Save the planet one gift at a time 

Xmas polar bear model

Bare Kind used Get Ready for Business Growth to help scale their business. They are on a heartfelt mission to make a difference for animals, one pair of socks at a time. They proudly support various global animal conservation and rescue organisations, uniting fashion with compassion to create a better world for all and each purchase of bamboo socks contributes 10% of the profits towards the protection of the animals featured on the socks. This year Bare Kind are bringing you animal-saving socks with a Christmassy twist, the perfect stocking filler or secret Santa gift! 

Cost: £7.95-£12.95 

Where to find: Bare Kind 

25 October 2023

Sonal Keay: A Silk Road to Business Growth

Every quarter, the Get Ready for Business Growth programme carefully selects 25 high-growth creative businesses to embark on an exciting journey. This initiative, funded by the Arts Council England, is specifically designed to empower entrepreneurs to re-evaluate critical aspects of their business, from marketing strategies, innovating products/services to the entire business model.

We had the pleasure of chatting with Sonal Keay, the brilliant mind behind This Is Silk, who has recently completed this transformative program. Sonal graciously took us on a compelling journey, sharing the inspiring story behind her business's inception and her ambitious vision for its future.

"I’m Sonal, Founder of This Is Silk, a company that harnesses the healing and renewal properties of Silk for our skin and hair. I started the business with silk pillowcases in 2018 after experiencing these healing powers for my own rare skin condition and in 2022 we launched silk skincare and haircare after working with a leading cosmetic scientist.

A headshot of Sonal, the entrepreneur in front of a brightly coloured painting

It represented a personal and professional highlight for me to be back at the British Library for their Get Ready for Business Growth programme, because I had spent many happy hours researching there when I first started the business.

Our youngest daughter had just been born and every spare hour was dedicated to research and reading about Silk. It was at the British Library that I first poured over dermatological and scientific literature detailing the use of Silk as a wound-healer and it was through a mentor there that I’d obtained a start-up loan to start the business.

Five years after that time, This Is Silk was now the UK’s most awarded silk company, winning prestigious beauty industry awards for ‘Best New Luxury Skincare Product’ for our Silk Overnight Oil, coveted Beauty Bible awards and more. When the application for the programme caught my eye, we had just finished working with a leading university to develop a proprietary silk protein. As a sole, largely self-funded founder with no prior business or corporate experience, it is critical that the decisions I make to deploy our precious resources are well thought through and researched, especially on the cusp of scaling the business.

a hand dipping into a pot of moisturiser

So when I found out I had been accepted onto the Get Ready for Business Growth programme I was overjoyed - it felt like I was coming back home. It was a tough deep dive into both the business and into my own strengths and weaknesses and I took something very valuable and very personal to the business away from all the sessions with the experts. I will implement at least one headline recommendation from each of the experts.

Some of those sessions opened my mind up to possibilities, some emphasised the urgency of making changes and others gently corrected conventional thinking and challenged the status quo.

One of the best things I learned was about myself. There is a lot said about authenticity in the industry, and I had always assumed that as I had come to the power of Silk through my own, painful skin condition that that was the end of the matter. But Mike Waller, Professor of Design & Innovation at Goldsmiths University, helped me to realise that what I had done, and what I feel most comfortable doing is innovating. I am obsessed with the science of Silk and what it can do for our skin and hair, and that is my ‘happy space.’ Mike made me realise that the ability to innovate is a rare thing and that I should comfortably inhabit this space and that the multiple awards the silk skincare has won is a sign I am good at it. So I should make the most of it! To that end, I am hiring to free up more of my time to focus on this.

Mike also encouraged me to use lateral thinking when approaching issues in the business. We are in the middle of applying for B Corp certification and Mike had some incredible ideas about how to weave social good into the company’s foundations.

Another wonderful expert, Uday Thakker, urged me to focus on export and PR as significant levers for growth and I am treating his advice as a business plan to be actioned. Silk has traditionally always been an internationally desired product (the ancient trading routes known as the Old Silk Roads are so called because Silk was desired so much it crossed continents to reach its devotees) so looking abroad, especially in countries that already have an understanding and appreciation of Silk, whilst I build that education here in the UK.

This Is Silk serum

Suzie Campbell urged me to keep a very close eye on my numbers, especially during a growth period, and to keep an open mind for the right investor, who would suit both the business and me and I received excellent advice from Andy who reminded me to communicate everything I know and love about Silk not only to my customers but also to retail buyers at trade shows.

This is an amazing programme I would recommend to anyone looking to scale their business. The roster of experts there take their time to research and analyse your business and their 121’s are stuffed full with incredible advice and the support from Rosie and the team is wonderful.

It is now for me to implement all of this advice and I will report back from the next stage of business growth. I hope to do the programme and the experts proud."

 

Applications for the next intake of our Get Ready for Business Growth programme are now open, if you'd like to get involved email us at [email protected]

12 September 2023

BIPC Local Lewisham's one year anniversary

This month we are celebrating the one year anniversary of the Business & IP Centre Local in Lewisham. Building on the legacy of Start-ups in London Libraries (SiLL), our previous programme in partnership with local boroughs that helped many start-ups throughout the capital, our BIPC London Locals makes this support a permanent offering. Over the past year Lewisham Libraries have played a major role in supporting over 100 aspiring entrepreneurs and businesses in the borough through expert led workshops, one-to-ones and networking events. We are proud that since opening, they have welcomed people from all walks of life, including 67% women, 73% from a Black, Asian and ethnic minority background and 13% who are disabled, demonstrating the BIPC's commitment to diversity and inclusion.

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'I thoroughly enjoyed supporting businesses on a local level through SiLL, and I am proud that Lewisham Libraries continue to build on the positive working partnership with the British Library to deliver business support, developing exciting and dynamic ways to engage and provide the community with information as proud members of the BIPC network. Through BIPC Local Lewisham's business forums, one-to-one support sessions and digital market research tools it has increased access to resources for local businesses and residents. This success will continue to grow the local business support offer and expand reach for an inclusive economy. As we celebrate BIPC Local Lewisham's first anniversary I’m proud of everything that’s been achieved in the past year and I'm looking forward to what’s coming next.' - Mark Berbeck, Principal Business Officer at Lewisham Council

Meet our BIPC Local Lewisham ambassadors

These are business owners based in the borough. Some of them benefited from business support during SiLL, as well as BIPC services in Lewisham and the British Library, and we are now passing on their experience to local entrepreneurs. 

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'When I first came across the SiLL offer in Lewisham and attended one of their workshops for aspiring entrepreneurs I was lucky to meet with other aspiring business owners, engage with them and find out more about their businesses. It was a great opportunity to network, expand and build relationships with each other. Fast-forward and I am now a Business Ambassador for BIPC Local Lewisham and my business Authentic Worth Publishing continues to increase in legacy, awards, influence and inspiration for creatives, authors and business owners to authentically share their stories and turn them into published books.' - Esther Solomon-Turay, founder of Authentic Worth

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'The workshops we attended through SiLL helped us take the right steps to position ourselves for success. Ongoing access to business support and networking opportunities through BIPC Local Lewisham has expanded our coaching business's reach, allowing us to connect with a diverse client base and share our expertise more effectively.' - Jennifer McLean and Fiona Wedderburn-Graham, founders of Amaze Associates

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'BIPC Local Lewisham has provided such valuable support for my business over the last year. Through my work as one of their Business Ambassadors I've been able to connect with a wide range of other local small business owners, who I wouldn't otherwise have had the opportunity to meet and it's great to know that thanks to their network of libraries across the borough, access to meeting rooms and other business resources is always available to me in a convenient location, whenever I need them.' - Hannah Drakeford, founder of Hannah Drakeford Design

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'BIPC Local Lewisham has helped me build awareness for my business, Buddies for All, throughout the Borough. I have been able to access the various services they offer such as the Cobra database and GrantFinder, which has definitely been beneficial for my business journey. Buddies for All has also benefitted from being promoted on the BIPC website as well as being featured on their bookmarks, posters and flyers.' - David Bourroughs, founder of Buddies for All

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'BIPC Local Lewisham has me helped connect with other inspiring business owners and community project founders pan-London, and has also provided vast business resources such as financial planning tools as well as finance to do various activities with the book club. The funding we received from the BIPC also helped 4 of the boys complete an aviation short course, followed by flying lessons.' - Mel Nichols, founder of CHAYSES BOYS BOOK CLUB

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Part of our National Network, now in over 100 regional city or local libraries around the UK, our BIPC London Locals are based in Bromley, Greenwich, Lewisham, Waltham Forest and Wandsworth, and we aim to have 10 boroughs offering BIPC services through their high-street libraries by 2025. Whether you’re just starting out or looking to develop your business, they offer tailored support, free resources, training and events, both online and in-person to help you on your journey. In addition to that, you can take advantage of two days of free workshops that will give you the insight and skills to kick-start your business, supported by JP Morgan.

You can find the BIPC Local in Lewisham in their hub libraries in Catford, Deptford, Downham and Lewisham. They're free to join and open to everyone, so come by and say hello!

24 August 2023

BIPC Oxfordshire – helping young people to succeed in business

It’s been a whirlwind year for our Business & IP Centre (BIPC) Oxfordshire. Although it’s still relatively new, we’ve already supported over 1,500 people with their start-ups and ideas, and all of our hard work was recently recognised in the form of an award from Libraries Connected.

We’re delighted that our work helping young people in enterprising activities and supporting them into business has been recognised by Libraries Connected - a membership organisation representing the public library services in England, Wales and Northern Ireland - in the form of the Children's Promise Award. 

BIPC Oxfordshire receiving the Children's Promise Award from Libraries Connected
BIPC Oxfordshire receiving the Children's Promise Award from Libraries Connected

Of course, the BIPC doesn’t only support young people, but we’ve been particularly focused on younger generations here in Oxfordshire, partnering with local and national organisations to nurture their ambitions, and give them the skills to build their enterprise.

For the past two years we’ve been partnering with Oxfordshire Young Enterprise to host the end of year showcase. Last year alone, we had 75 students from 14 schools all over the county attend a special learning event where they pitched, exhibited and were interviewed on their projects.

We’ve additionally hosted individual school visits, including those for children special educational needs. This includes introductions to resources including our free market research databases including COBRA, which provides how-to guides on starting hundreds of different types of businesses.

For people making the first steps into business, we appreciate there can be barriers to accessing the knowledge that is mostly gained from experience. Having the tools to navigate the market is critical in so many sectors, and being able to offer access to some of these is something that makes us unique here in Oxfordshire. This is also why we’re also looking at cross-organisational approaches to link up with colleagues in Target Youth Support services to help young people who may not ordinarily have this access to get involved and gain skills they need, while also signing them up to benefit from a library membership more widely.

Beyond this, we’ve also been looking at how we can support companies or help people to create companies that support young people in education, wellbeing and other related activities.

Among the organisations to benefit from our services is GetFED. GetFED provide barista and business training for young people at risk of exclusion and exploitation. Through bespoke training sessions, the organisation supports young entrepreneurs with the basics of running a small business, developing barista skills and even project managing their own events.

Tim, founder of GetFED
Tim, founder of GetFED

The Drone Rules is another organisation that has been working closely with the BIPC. This unique organisation provides education for individuals and educational providers on all things drone-related – a technology that will be no doubt of interest to a lot of people.

William, founder of The Drone Rules
William, founder of The Drone Rules

BIPC Oxfordshire is certainly opening the doors for many young people and we hope we can continue to tap into the undiscovered skills of many more.

If you want to find out more about the work of BIPC Oxfordshire visit their website or head to the Centre, you can find them on the second floor of the Oxfordshire County Library in Oxford, with Locals in Bicester and Blackbird Leys Libraries.

Ryan Johnson – BIPC Engagement and Marketing Manager at Oxfordshire County Council

22 August 2023

An innovative history of the historic patent collection at the British Library

Sir Isaac Newton, once said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” A few generations after, the Newtonian revolution in physics along with other discoveries of the time heralded in a new age of innovation, engineering and industry. Patents are the primary records of that step process in innovation. They’re a fascinating and invaluable ‘time capsule’ of brilliance (and occasional eccentricity).

Today, the British Library’s historical patent collection has become a world leading collection of historical IP documentation; not only from the UK, but from over 150 countries worldwide. No other collection at the Library captures better the progress of technology and commerce from the early 17th century to the present day.

And now, the British Library’s Business & IP Centre also sits on the shoulders of this gigantic treasure trove of patent, design and trademark information. In fact, it’s almost 170 years since it was first made available to the general public as the Library of the newly formed Patent Office. It really is a library within a library. The history and development of the collection offers us an intriguing insight into how much this information was prioritised managed valued, for researchers then as it is now. One report, by the US Commissioner of Patents in the 1860s described it as a ‘technological library unequalled by anything in America’.

I believe it still is.

The Alexander Newton statue outside of the British Library

Why a patent library?

From a practical point of view, a patent library is an essential part of being able to find (and provide evidence) that a new patent application is indeed an innovative step on what’s preceded it. One can view the history of these patents almost like a family tree of technical steps and developments, each building on the other.

Hot off the heels of the Patent Law Amendment Act of 1852, establishing what we know as the Patent Office (the Intellectual Property Office today), came the Patent Office Library. It opened on the 5th March, 1855. Its formal title was ‘The Library of the Great Seal Patent Office’. To be clear, there were patents and records of them before 1852, managed by Court of Chancery, but the nucleus of the library were 388 books from Bennet Woodcroft, the Superintendent of Specifications and Indexes, and 707 books from Richard Prosser, an engineer closely associated with the Act.

The site was on 25 Southampton Buildings, off Chancery Lane. A site it would occupy in various forms and alterations until the 1990s. In 1891, due in part to an increase in the number of visitors to the Library, plans were drawn up to rebuild the entire site. This was undertaken in stages between 1893 and 1912, with the Library moving to temporary accommodation in 1898. A full library service was maintained during this time. The new Patent Office Library was designed in the cathedral style of library architecture by Sir John Taylor.

Patent office

War and Post-war

The Library continued to offer reading room services during the First World War, albeit with reduced hours and staffing levels. Visitor numbers predictably fell. And with the later onset of the Second World War, the library experienced a few near misses from incendiary bombs and a V1 flying bomb in 1944.

All during the war years, the need for a comprehensive scientific and technological network in the UK was apparent. And post-war, while widespread support was seen for a national library of science and technology, there was considerable debate on whether the British Museum or the Patent Office collections would form the basis of the new library. The debate was settled in 1959, when a Working Party on the issue recommended the new library should be based on both collections, and put under the control of the British Museum Trustees. And this, in hindsight, was what took it a step closer to the custodianship we have today.

In April 1966, the Patent Office Library formally transferred from the control of the Board of trade to the British Museum and became the National Reference Library of Science and Invention, (NRLSI Holborn division). In the late 1960s it was decided that there was a need to create better links between the UK’s major lending and reference libraries. To that end, the National Libraries Committee was formed in 1967, which recommend the creation of a national library system in 1969.

The British Library is founded

And so, the British Library was created on the 1st July 1973 as a result of the British Library Act which was enacted in 1972. Under the Act the following institutions were administratively combined to form the British Library: the library departments of the British Museum (including the NRLSI), the National Central Library, and the National Lending Library for Science and Technology.

The NRLSI was renamed the Science Reference Library upon joining the British Library and then in 1985 it was restructured to become the reference arm of the Science Technology and Industry Division (being renamed the Science Reference and Information Service (SRIS) in the process).

The British Library under construction

1998

The next most significant turning point was the opening of the St Pancras site of the British Library and the rehousing of the patent collection. The collection had its own floor (level 2 where the Newsroom currently is). But it wasn’t until 2006 that the Business & IP Centre as we know it today was formally opened. It was a unique opportunity to merge two distinct, but related collections; business & intellectual property under one umbrella. And so came a physical alteration to the space that included meeting rooms and the well-used networking area space.

All this was with an aim to offer a comprehensive range of resources, workshops events and services to support small businesses from the first spark of inspiration to forming and growing their business. Inspired by how the New York Public utilised its Science, Industry and Business collection it was a model that resembles how the Centre operates today at the British Library and now across a national network of over 20 Business & IP Centres.

But today, there is a very special merger that’s not only about business and intellectual property. It’s connecting the past with the present. Our current intellectual property advice and expertise would likely not exist were it not for the historic patent collection. So as we look ahead to what a tumultuous 21st century could bring, it’s somehow reassuring that the firm anchor of the past will continue to guide the innovators, problem solvers and entrepreneurs of the future.

Woman in the BIPC reading room at the reference desk, being helped by a member of staff

 

Co-written by Jeremy O’Hare Research and Business Development Manager at the BIPC and Steven Campion, Subject Librarian at the British Library