Innovation and enterprise blog

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

14 July 2020

Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups diary - The Good Slice – part 2

Hello, I’m excited to share the progress we’ve made since we last checked in. Ups, downs, turn it all arounds… It’s been a wonderful journey. Pizza in the post is nearly a go! Please take a look at our website and subscribe to our mailing list to find out when we go live.

The Good Slice stand

Calum and I haven't seen each other in person since March. We were meant to be working side by side from May through to October, hopping from festival to festival. Alas… we firmly believe that our challenges are our best teachers. We’re coming out of this stronger, with a better business in tow - thanks in no small part to the Innovating for Growth programme.

Often when problems arise our outlook can become narrow. We may focus on worrying about our own issues and have a sense that we’re the only ones going through difficulties. The Innovating for Growth programme has helped us see things from a wider perspective. Connecting with dozens of other entrepreneurs has been a joy, while the hours of dedicated service and expertise - beamed through Zoom from home to home - have equipped us with the skills needed to identify and execute on an exciting opportunity.

The Good Slice pizza

Very soon you'll be able to order a Good Slice through our website and have it arrive on your doorstep the next day. From San Marzano tomato, smoked burrata and basil to sumac yogurt, burnt aubergine, herb and sesame salad - we’ve worked to create a menu that sources local, but is truly global. And of course, as well as being healthy, fresh and sustainably sourced, every pizza will provide a meal to someone in need.

Members can choose to have pizza delivered weekly, bi-weekly, or once a month, from our ever evolving menu. They’ll benefit from free delivery and a discount. They’ll also be surprised with goodies from partner suppliers and other social enterprises. They’ll become a part of a community united by pizza and purpose. A community into which we’ll share recipes and inspiring stories, highlighting the amazing things they’re helping to achieve.

Pizza with purpose

The Innovating for Growth programme has propelled us forward in what are incredibly tough times. The advisors and consultants have inspired us, and the wonderful British Library staff have been so lovely, and so organised! Our long-term goal is to ensure all people on this planet have the nutrition they need to lead healthy and productive lives. Thank you all for helping us get there. And to anyone considering joining the programme, go for it!

Peace, Love and Pizza,
Ed & Calum

08 July 2020

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

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

 

 

 

01 July 2020

Meet our delivery partner: Centa

Centa is a long-standing social enterprise and a partner of the Business & IP Centre for over 12 years. Trading for over 36 years in central London, we support people wishing to start a business and offer existing small businesses advice and training on how to develop and grow their businesses. We are currently delivering the Get Started workshop for the Innovating for Growth: Start-ups programme, which is always well attended and well received by delegates from the feedback.

Lucan Richards

The workshop is delivered by Lucan Richards, who has 15 years’ experience as a business adviser. Since joining Centa initially as a business support officer, his business knowledge and expertise has grown tremendously whilst working on various government funded business support and mentoring programmes. Acting as the first point of call for all enquiries has enabled him to provide effective business solutions to budding entrepreneurs who required urgent help and support. This progressed to running his own business and the opportunity to better understand a client needs having gone through similar experiences. Besides delivering workshops for the last four years he still continues to provide direct business advice and business planning support, whilst to date has helped over 500 clients start in business and access over £750,000 of start-up finance. Delegates who attend the full day Get Started workshop will be able to:

  • Identify effective market research techniques.
  • Identify and quantify the market opportunity.
  • Develop competitive service/product offers.
  • Develop a successful marketing strategy.
  • Generate sales, break-even and profit and loss forecasting techniques.
  • Produce a clear business plan.
  • Understand how to raise finance from banks, investors, or other sources of funding.
  • Know where else to go to gain additional support and advice.

I attended your Get started workshop this week and just wanted to say one more time: great job! It was a really good day with a lot of valuable information. Thank you!

I have to say your session was one of the best and informative session I have attended so far.

Thank you for the time, energy and wealth of information and knowledge. We will have you to thank for a successful company launch.

Excellent presentation. Clear, concise, and informative. Very very useful for advice. Great tips to move forward.

Lucan Richards delivering a workshop

From our experience there are many common pitfalls for start-ups that the workshop tries to raise awareness of:

  • A reluctance to seek advice
  • Poor or inadequate market research
  • Lack of capital
  • Weak financial planning/cashflow
  • Over-optimistic forecasts
  • Pricing mistakes

But also highlights characteristics of a good business with growth potential:

  • Owners have previous success or experience and failure
  • Risk takers/entrepreneurs
  • Understanding the market – their customers
  • Prepared for growth – staff, capital, physical space, scalable client base
  • They keep evolving - moving forward.

We have a passionate determination for business and entrepreneurship and how it can be a means for economic improvement, wealth and job creation. And our partnership with the Business & IP Centre compliments this mission. 

22 June 2020

3-steps to get time back (and grow your business) 

Adam Slawson is lead consultant at Fluxx for Good, one of our delivery partner businesses who provide support and expertise to those attending events such as our speed mentoring. Here he gives some top tips on how to understand your customers, what you’re actually selling and how to find the time to do this..!

I don’t have enough time,’ said most of the businesses Fluxx for Good speaks to. The most common themes we’ve noticed during our conversations are, people:

  1. don’t know enough about their customers (and often think they have only one type).
  2. aren’t aware of what they are actually offering — the importance of ‘value exchange’.
  3. haven’t considered the detail of the emotional journey their customers take.

Fluxx for Good helps companies with a social purpose to grow and move forward. Helping them change direction, pivot, think differently, transform, grow, whichever verb you’d like to use. In short, helping organisations gather evidence, in turn, gain the confidence to make (important) decisions.

The tools, exercises and processes which aid decision making have a crucial kicker — they will give you time back in your day too.

Each tool used individually will help develop your business. The real power comes from combining them. Doing so will maximise time to spend thinking about the direction of your business rather than getting bogged down doing your business.

Granted, there is an irony in suggesting more things to do to give you time back but the return on investment will be manifold.

The conclusion of the exercises will be:

  • You’ll waste less time attracting the wrong customers.
  • A list of how to make improvements to your service (so the customers you do attract will be happier).
  • Plus a simple structure for your time/brain…and sanity.

Understanding your customer

The first question we often ask at the British Library is ‘Have you spoken to a customer to get feedback recently?’

<insert blank face> (not every time but — certainly more often than is advisable)

Customers hold a lot of information which is simple to gather, and when turned into insight is an essential aid in serving them better. If you don’t do this, your competition will — if they are not already. So, it’s important to define who your customers are — and who they are not.

Exercises & Tools:

  • Interview customers. It needn’t be overwhelming, aim for ten in the first instance. Keep the questions open-ended, don’t ‘lead the witness’ — let them do most of the talking and if you can, video them (people often say one thing while their expression says quite another).
  • Survey as many customers as you can — begin with your friends’ friends and their friends (via email and social media). Keep the questionnaire short and remember, no leading questions. We want honest answers.
  • Customer (user) research tips from Fluxx.

Output: The industry term is Personas: Characters created from real insight. See an example below, online examples here and more detail of how to create one here.

Neutral navigator

Note: It’s likely you’ll have more than one customer persona e.g. people that buy from you (e.g. neutral navigator, frequent buyers, one-off buyers…), people that supply you, and so on. It important to also remember that your team are ‘customers’ of your business too — internal ones — if they aren’t happy, your customers are unlikely to be.

Value exchange (what you are actually selling?)

If you think you sell a product alone, you’re mistaken. You implicitly sell a range of value exchanges throughout the experience of your product, and in turn, service.

Business model canvas
© Strategizer

At the centre of the Business Model Canvas is value propositions — and there’s a reason it’s positioned there. It shows the exchange between what a customer wants/needs, and the service you offer (why a customer would hand over their hard-earned cash). It’s so important, it has its very own canvas. See below.

Value proposition canvas
© Strategizer

Exercises & Tools:

  • Value proposition canvas — Start with the customer profile circle — think about what happens in your customers’ lives, what are they trying to achieve (not just in relation to your product — think wider)? Then do the other product (value map) square — in general, what could happen to make your customers lives easier? How then, can your business help with that?
  • For more on this, see How to use the Value proposition canvas in more detail

Output: A deeper understanding of your customers and more detail of what you’re offering to make their lives better (and make you money).

The (emotional) Customer Journey

You have defined your customer(s), and you know more about what you are actually selling. The next step is to map out the journey each persona takes through your service. ‘You don’t sell a bed, you sell a good night’s sleep.’ It’s an old cliché, and it’s fundamentally true. While the product is of key importance, it’s the comfort and security the customer feels that ultimately makes the sale.

Sales only happen when there’s an emotional step change, for example:

I desire something > I gain confidence in your product > I’m convinced to purchase > I love using your product/service > I’m happy to purchase again (I tell all my friends how great it feels to use it).

A customer journey map is a timeline of value-exchange opportunities. The reason to map your customers’ journeys is to break down your service into bite-sized stages. Then you can look at how to enable improvements at each stage (your to-do list), and change each customer’s emotional response towards being happier. As you increase the chances of your customer wanting to progress from stage to stage, you ultimately improve their overall experience.

Exercises & Tools:

  • With your team, map out the stages of your entire experience: think about a person who has never heard about your business (someone who’s ‘cold’) from initial contact (discovery), to point of purchase, after purchase care, through the service you provide, customer care, and beyond. What does your customer want/need/desire at each stage? Is it a positive or negative experience? How can your service enable an exceptional, frictionless service (make them ‘hot prospects’)?

Output: An even deeper understanding of your customers and a to-do list (enablers backlog) of service improvements.

Next steps..?

Ask the next person you see about your product/service for some feedback and build from there. The above might sound like a lot but if you break it down it’s not. Keep the customer at the heart of your business and taking those steps will give you time back to spend on the growth of your company. If you discover you need to grow in a different direction exercises 1. and 2. can be used to sense check desirability (combined with experimenting, using a Minimum Viable Product method) before investing in making any, perhaps vital, changes.

Adding structure to your day to carve out even more time… To undertake your to-do list from all the work above, structuring your day will help.

Fluxx uses the Agile structure in our projects — because it works. It gives structure, allows for surprises and builds team communication. Lack of communication is the cause of a lot of problems in most businesses. Agile isn’t complicated, and you can read about the Agile manifesto here.

There are subtleties within Agile that, with an understanding of the basics, help. Any Agile aficionado will tell you, that understanding them in greater detail will serve you well. For the purposes of this article, we consider one important aspect of Agile, the meeting structure. It’s something which can be applied to a business with ease — after all a business is just a big project!

The structure is cyclical: one cycle is made up of a sprint, a sprint planning meeting, daily stand-ups, and a retrospective meeting — each is equally important and shouldn’t be overlooked. The bonus here is that these are the only doing meetings you need.

The diagram below shows how these cycles fit together, and also how this tool helps bring together the steps in this article. That’s because each cycle is fuelled from the doing backlog — the to-do list you created — but also a thinking backlog which would come from your strategic mission and vision plus the roadmap you’ve created to get there. If you don’t have those, they will be needed to be done first.

  • A sprint is a set period of time work will happen in. It can vary according to your needs but they tend to be a week or two weeks (however for a small business a month might work well). Test and learn what is best for you.
  • A sprint planning meeting happens once a sprint, at the end of one/start of the next. They last around thirty minutes and ‘do exactly what they say on the tin’. From the backlog(s), you plan what you’re going to commit to doing in the next sprint.
  • A daily stand-up is a work-day meeting that happens each day. They help productivity and communication because people verbally commit to stuff and the team knows who’s doing what. They are quick, around fifteen minutes. The team literally stand-up around their to-do list (see KanBan board — Trello is a digital KanBan board. Although I’d recommend a physical one, mirrored, if necessary, by Trello). In Daily stand-ups each person, in turn, answers these three questions:
    1. Yesterday I did…
    2. Today I’m doing…
    3. I have these blockers (things that are preventing me from doing what I need to do)…

How might this play out?

Over sprint cycles, as a team, you move your to-do-list /enablers backlog from to do, through doing, to done.

Note: In a daily stand up meeting don’t go into detail around points, have a brief clarifying chat, if more is required have the conversation afterwards. They are short for a reason (no-one likes meetings).

  • A retrospective meeting happens directly before the Sprint planning meeting. Again about thirty minutes. Its job is to look back at how the last sprint went and to make things better. Its purpose is to encourage team communication and discuss what they think they should Drop (stop doing), Add, Keep doing, and Improve on, or DAKI for short.

Exercise & Tools:

Write your DAKI’s, in secret, on Post-Its (use one for each (and the same colour helps)). Once a team has exhausted their ideas group the Post Its, then openly discuss each one. The goal is for the amount of DAKI’s to reduce over time. Try it for four sprints, test and learn (that’s the point).

The last thing to add is a structure to know who’s doing what (to avoid duplication). A RACI matrix (the last acronym, promise) is a list showing what needs to be done operationally to keep your business afloat and who is Responsible (going to do it), Accountable (head’s on the line for it), Consulted (about it), Informed (about the outcome i.e. they don’t need to consult on it they just need to know the outcome).

Exercise & Tools:

Make the list of day-to-day operational tasks with your team vertically, list the team horizontally and put an R, A, C, I against each action. Discuss the overlaps (there will be some) and push for clarity — generally a single letter under each name for a given task (although a person can be R and A). Note: not everyone needs a letter, just means they aren’t involved in that task.

Next step..?

Talk to your team and suggest using this structure for four sprints. The trick is to do it enough until a habit is formed — ease and repetition are key to that. Share the responsibility of who drives the flow of the meetings each sprint. Remember it’s a structure to aid communication — to know who’s doing what- not the time to do the things. Keep the meetings as brief as possible — a habit will form and things will improve.

16 June 2020

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

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.

10 June 2020

Meet Salma Attan, founder of Bushwood Bees and Start-ups in London Libraries participant

Last year, Salma Attan decided it was time to turn her hobby into her livelihood and started her beekeeping business Bushwood Bees. She maintains hives on the roof of the East London Mosque, making honey and other bee-based products from her local source. On top of this, Salma offers paid beekeeping courses to beginners and provides guidance to experienced beekeepers. Here she discusses what convinced her to make that transition to business-owner, where the Start-ups in London Libraries' workshops fit into her journey and how she is dealing with the impact of COVID-19 on her business.

Both myself and my husband had been hobbysist beekeepers for 10 years. It got to where our hobby had expanded to the point that it felt like so much more than that. I had been appointed Essex Bee Health Officer, I had been teaching and mentoring new beekeepers as well as raising healthy local colonies of bees through our local Epping Forest Beekeepers Association.

Salma at the entrance of her hive

Now that my children were older, the idea of starting up a business seemed more realistic. I also seemed to have more and more friends, family and neighbours knocking on my door wanting a few jars of honey and asking why I don’t sell online or have a shop! So there was certainly the demand, but was this enough to risk a start-up business? I didn’t think so. Honey was not going to pay the bills! However, the question naturally came up: why not use my skills for myself? And get a wage out of it? I have always been an advocate of beekeepers sourcing locally reared bees rather than importing, so it just made sense that I should supply this growing demand for buying local. This was far more of a motivation than anything else.

In the early stages of asking myself “Is this really such a good idea?”, I took part in the Start-ups in London Libraries workshops which made me realise that, actually, it was.  The plan was sound, I had the beekeeping skills to execute the practical aspects of my idea and with the SiLL workshops I could focus on the practicalities of starting up a business.

The one area I seemed to have zero skills was technology! This is where Sarah [the Waltham Forest Business Champion] was a great help. She was happy to meet and give me plenty of ideas on how to get started. Sarah also let me know about where to get further free help to improve my use of social media in terms of business promotion – this is something I’m still learning but less anxious about. Sarah also gave me really good ideas for improving my business plan. It was helpful to have someone with fresh eyes looking at my ideas. She was willing to help put a pitch together, gave really practical advice and was able to give me fresh perspective on parts of my plan that I would not have had otherwise. After talking to Sarah, I settled on the name Bushwood Bees and registered my business under this name, an exciting first step after all the ooing and umming!

I set up my 'Beekeeping Experience Days' on both Eventbrite and Airbnb. I also agreed dates with the East London Mosque about hosting my Beginner Beekeeping Courses and listed them on Eventbrite. The website with the online shop was also set up and although it did take considerable time, eventually all my courses/experiences and website went live. 

Bushwood Bees beekeeping course

I also decided to give some free beekeeping talks in order to promote Bushwood Bees and all that was on offer. We worked with the council to arrange a schedule of workshops and talks, including family/child friendly workshops every day of the May half term at a different Waltham Forest Library.

Then came along COVID-19 and everything had to be cancelled. All the talks and workshops, the courses and experience days suddenly came to a halt. I did wonder if this was possibly the worst year to start a business! But this was clearly something I had no control over so no point complaining. It was a case of concentrating on what we could do in the business. Fortunately, as bees are livestock, the lockdown rules meant I was obliged, and indeed encouraged, to continue beekeeping. This meant I was able to take orders for rearing and selling colonies of locally produced honeybees. This has not been to the same capacity as it would have - had the courses been running, obviously the bulk of new customers would have come from those we would have been teaching this year - but I can't complain. 

The other silver lining of the lockdown rules is the number of new honey customers I have gained. With regular grocery shopping becoming so difficult, it seems many people were looking online and locally for buying produce. After a few mentions on Facebook our lovely local community realised there was local quality honey on their doorstep. As the Ucraft have an Ekwid shop attached, customers could order and pay online and then collect from my doorstep during their daily walk or grocery shop. I was able to provide a completely contactless service and many of these customers helped to spread the word about Bushwood Bees.

Salma and her husband at their hives on the roof of the East London Mosque

Some of the talks we had planned have moved online, including one that was meant to be in Leytonstone Library. This seemed to work well and raised awareness of the business. We've also put up videos of myself and my husband beekeeping and sharing little tips and tricks for the beekeeping community. As my husband is also a beekeeper we are in the very fortunate position to be able to film each other beekeeping without breaking lockdown rules. This has also allowed us to continue offering support through our local beekeeping association and we have had further sales through this voluntary role.

In terms of my advice for anyone thinking of starting a business, make sure you have the support of your family! I could not have taken the first steps without the support of my husband. Think through your idea carefully and realistically. Then go for it.

I've also learnt that things do not always run smoothly! I expected things to go wrong (and they did sometimes) but told myself it’s all part of the journey and an opportunity to improve.

And hasn't 2020 been an example of that?! It has been an unprecedented year and a completely different turn of events in terms of my business plan. Planning is one thing, reality is something else altogether! But we have a lot of hope for 2021.

To read more about Salma's business and visit her online shop, click here.

For more on Start-ups in London Libraries and our upcoming online workshops, visit bl.uk/SiLL

SiLL_logo_lockups_CMYK

 

01 June 2020

Meet our delivery partner: Expert Impact

Expert Impact curate the popular Profit With Purpose events, which regularly feature founders of businesses trading for an environmental or social purpose explaining how they launched and scaled.

The quarterly series of evening panel discussion events aims to provide business insight for new social and ethical enterprises and encourage existing businesses to seize opportunities to become more socially and environmentally conscious.

Profit With Purpose events are for those interested in how business can be good for both people and planet. Usually half of the event time is given over to the audience to ask questions.

Discussions usually take in the following topics;

  • Motivation and experience required to run a social enterprise
  • Startup finance and support available
  • Market research and networking
  • The challenge of making social enterprises sustainable
  • How to measure the social impact of the work

Some of the social enterprises who have participated since 2018 include Rubies in the Rubble, which uses discarded food to make condiments as a way of reducing food waste; Change Please, a coffee company that trains and employs homeless people as baristas (both former Innovating for Growth participants as well), and Ovo, a green energy supplier.

Expert Impact created the Human Lending Library® which is now an in-house programme at the Business & IP Centre where leaders of social enterprises and charities looking for business advice can ‘borrow’ a business Expert, for free, to help them solve their challenges and scale fast. Hundreds of social impact leaders have benefitted from this service to date.

There are many reasons why social entrepreneurs seek advice but common enquiries include business development, governance, strategy, raising investment and marketing and public relations.

Most of the Experts have started and scaled businesses that have gone on to become very successful. Some of the Experts are serial entrepreneurs, having started and then sold several companies.

There are more than 50 Experts available, including the founders of Pret-a-Manger, The White Company, Carphone Warehouse and Mumsnet.

Expert Impact panel discussion

The Experts represent a full spectrum of business experience across different sectors including tech, retail, marketing, public relations, publishing and more.

For more information on the Profit With Purpose series, the Human Lending Library or Expert Impact, please contact Lee Mannion, Head of Communications, Expert Impact.

26 May 2020

A week in the life of… Rowena Howie, founder of Revival Retro

This month's week in the life of follows Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups alumna, Rowena Howie, founder of Revival Retro, a London boutique reviving 1920s to 1940s glamour in its vintage-inspired and reproduction outfits and footwear. Her diary takes place during the week everything changed and includes details of what's happened since. Here's Rowena...

You never know what’s coming next when you run a small business. Least of all a global pandemic!

I’ve been asked to write ‘a week in the life’ of a small business owner. The week I shall describe was both life changing and, actually, nothing out of the ordinary. Responding to challenges, overcoming problems, finding a path to a better future is in our entrepreneurial DNA.

Rowena Howie, founder of Revival Retro
Rowena Howie, founder of Revival Retro

Tuesday 10 March was one of my favourite kinds of day: I got to be creative, I was at the culmination of a project and we were getting ready for launch, it was exciting. I would be working with a group of talented and highly skilled freelancers. I’ve worked with many of them for years as I value and admire them. As we all know each other, it’s less tense and more fun, the stakes are still high on a photoshoot, we have to get the shots we need but the team knows what’s expected and I know I can rely on them to deliver.

During the first three hours of prep, as hair and make up starts on our models for the day and the photographer, runner and I set up, we fall in to our usual easy rhythm of chat. This time, however, there’s a new hot topic Coronavirus.

This is the week when everything changed, awareness, attitudes, actions. It was before the government announced any lockdown plan it is essentially when Coronavirus changed from something everybody talked about as affecting other people to the realisation that this would change our lives, our businesses, our behaviours, our economy.

That Tuesday we talked about the video that had just been released exposing how bad the situation was inside Italian hospitals. We talked about what had been happening in China. I explained how this was going to affect our supply chain and how this might affect our Autumn/Winter collection and therefore the work that we might be able to collaborate on in six months time. My team were impressed that I had even been interviewed for The Sunday Times and Radio 4 Today programme about this.

Model in Revival Retro outfit

All of our talk was of a distant and remote problem, one that didn’t really seem to affect us directly. I asked the team lots of questions, what do you think? Is this a threat? What are people’s perceptions vs reality? No-one was worried, except me, and mine wasn’t fear it was endless questions with no answers.

As a business owner you need to be working several steps ahead, planning, preparing ready to bend and flex, willing to change which path you take as long as you keep your destination in sight. On that Tuesday the shoot was fun and forward looking. We sanitised our hands, fist bumped rather than hugged and followed the current advice. We were productive and positive about the collection and the campaign launch, everyone thought the garments I had designed and made were fantastic, everyone imagined they would sell really well.

Wednesday was a busy day with a long to do list. Events like photoshoots are all-consuming and you can’t get anything else done. So, my inbox was full, I had breakfast and lunch engagements and there was a trade show that I would need to get to (I was still in normal buying mode). I even had a date planned that evening, a rare prioritising of personal over professional life that I was still managing eight weeks after enacting a new year's resolution.

Our award-winning boutique is ‘not just a shop’ it is the heart of a community, it is a place where you are welcomed, where we connect people, products and passions. As such my bricks and mortar shop is my pride and joy, it’s also a place where I can get very little work done! Being in the shop is fantastic for collaborating with the team, getting feedback from customers, and working on joint projects but it’s the worst place to be when I need to plough through a to do list.

The Revival Retro Boutique shopfront

I’m a perfectionist and an ideas person and I only have to raise my head from my laptop to see something that could be done, to catch a voice through an open doorway to remind me or suggest something to me. Being in the shop, even the back office, just adds to everyone’s to do list! On this day, I had headed to a local co-working space for some solitary and silent work production. There was still lots to do for the upcoming launch. Getting everything prepared to go live in our online shop by the Friday deadline meant I had to help make this happen whilst staff in the shop were busy receiving stock deliveries in the boutique and processing these ready for the shop floor.

I was so engrossed and hammering through the list I almost forgot the trade show and had to rush over Marylebone for the final hours of the show. I ordered fabric samples for the next collection and addressed a difficult situation with a trusted supplier where they had delivered 300 metres of inferior fabric, which had not been returned at point of delivery but already been made in to garments. There’s no clear resolution to this it depends on your relationship and your negotiating skills.

It was on the whole, a pretty good day.... Until everything fell apart! Late in the afternoon the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, had delivered the Budget and despite the intention to help businesses mitigate any impact of Coronavirus my small business had effectively been excluded from help. The criteria for business rates relief had been based on the open market rent valuation of your premises not turnover, not number of staff, not profitability. A measure that was intended to help small businesses was being withheld because of the cost of doing business in London.

I’ve learnt over the years that toddler type tantrums can be helpful and cathartic but should be conducted away from the eyes of all employees, customers and pretty much everyone so the next 24 hours didn’t go as planned. Despite all the deadlines, this was a disruption I didn’t need but it wasn’t just the rates relief, this challenge was representative of many of the problems you encounter as you grow and scale and take bigger risks and manage bigger overheads. However, I find that metaphorically ‘throwing your toys out the pram’ can bring clarity as you mentally knock down everything and start again. When you know what’s important and what is of value it is possible to look more objectively at what you can do without, what you can change and what to focus on.

Thursday Sometimes fresh new ideas occur but mainly I believe that with a business that has been going a certain amount of time, that has a strategy and knows its purpose, that you come out with a sense of resolve and focus.

I had created something I was proud of, that the team believed in, that initial feedback had shown customers wanted. This was the future, my own range of products, our first summer collection, consistency in our range, exclusivity rather than price competition, better margin, we decide delivery to market, we have greater control over a whole range of commercial factors that will benefit our future viability and profitability.

Everything was back on track for the launch of our new collection.

Model wearing Revival Retro outfit

Friday Today I would send out wholesale linesheets, I would prepare for a sell-out private launch party for customers on Sunday, everything needed to be ready to put the whole collection live online for e-commence sales on Monday. We also needed all the photography from Tuesday’s photoshoot retouched and formatted to create the visuals for web and social media along with product shots for the webshop.

90% of production had been delivered and was being prepped for shop floor by the team. We were ready. Months of work had brought me to this point. But the news was changing.

Saturday In three days the coverage of Coronavirus had amplified, changed its tone and pace of reporting, the news of what had been affecting other parts of the world now seemed very much closer to home, the threat was real, the evidence credible, the tension palpable.

Whereas the discussion on Tuesday had seemed to place peoples perception of the problem at maybe a three out of 10, Wednesday, plus the budget, had moved it to four, reaction to the help (or lack of it) announced in the budget and new data had raised it to five by Thursday. Now difficult questions were being asked everywhere with obviously no satisfying answers from government or experts making it a seven out of 10, as I shopped for prosecco and cake at the supermarket on Saturday.

My launch party was tomorrow and despite the media frenzy it looked like everybody was still enthusiastic to come.

Sunday As I journeyed through empty streets to the shop to set up, I passed a newsagent and I saw the headlines. I stood still, I took stock, I saw that everything on this grey March morning was different now. People would be scared, people would stay home, people would not be buying new clothes, people would not be responsive in the way they would have to our lovely photographs, they would be distracted by bigger issues and thinking about protecting their near and dear. It didn’t matter how much work I had done to get to this point.

A couple of hours later the apologies and cancellations started to come through, people couldn’t or wouldn’t make the event. That Sunday seemed like the day where the true extent of the pandemic revealed itself to the UK. As people spent the day at home and consumed the media it seemed to sink in, we began to realise the implications of how this was going to affect us. Questions still didn't have answers yet but we began to plan and prepare mentally. A change happened.

Some people did turn up to that little party, some of our most loyal customers and as I expected, they did love the collection and we did get some sales. More importantly though, between the reasons given for peoples absence and the chat over tea and cake with some of our most enthusiastic supporters I was able to take a measure of how my business might be affected in the coming weeks and months.

Everything and nothing happened on that Sunday. But I could take the resolve I had found on Thursday to direct my response to this challenge. I would use the insights I had learned from customers on Sunday. I would gather my team on Monday to discuss and then help focus our response. I needed to direct everyone on how we would overcome problems so people didn’t lose heart, I would find a pathway through this to ensure there is a future for our much loved small business post pandemic.

Model wearing Revival Retro outfit

Monday It was a quiet day with virtually no customers. There was still work to be done with the online launch of the collection, but we were already wise enough to what was coming to hold back stock and revise our plans.

I received a call from my full-time member of staff, they had symptoms. Updated Government advice made it clear Charlotte would be distancing for the next 14 days and suddenly what seemed like ‘just a cold’ carried a weight of worry, a concern for our colleague and even more questions about our safety, our work, our lives.

It’s important to remember that your business is nothing without people. Quite simply, tending to the mental and physical needs of employees is, I believe, of paramount importance. Those of us in work that day talked and I reflected on priorities.

Tomorrow I would not require any staff to come to work and I would run the shop tending to any customers who happened to come. I would consider our next steps and wait for a much anticipated announcement from the Government at a new daily evening information broadcast that was about to start.

My week in the life ends there. It feels like a lifetime ago, so much has happened since.

One of the reasons I work with the British Library is my passion for innovation. Some people think innovation is purely technical/digital or product development but it’s not it’s just as important to your business strategy. A resilience measure, it can be about understanding change happening around you and being able to pivot accordingly, changing your processes and practices to overcome challenge. The Business & IP Centre have asked me to add to my week in the life to tell you what happened next…

One week later

In just one week sales had fallen away to virtually zero but despite this vacuum the pace had quickened. I immediately began to review all cashflow forecasts and financial planning for the year. I updated the business and marketing plan and wrote a contingency plan. I knew all of these documents would be required if I were to apply for funding and I needed to focus my mind.

I was also mindful of the needs of my staff right now, lockdown hadn’t been announced yet but I decided to close the shop to the public because the news was now concerning everyone.

Revival Retro staff

Communication was vital; with staff, with suppliers, with other business owners. Understanding the landscape, not just our own experience, was vital to navigating our way through it.

Two weeks later

Chancellor Rishi Sunak had made further announcements and I moved swiftly to furlough all our part-time staff to save jobs long-term. I had defaulted on my rent and my landlady hadn’t answered any of my proposals. Business had dropped off a cliff edge, including web sales. People were stockpiling and on a long list of discretionary spending, fashion comes last in people’s priorities when all they will do is stay at home.

I had decided not to launch the entirety of the new collection, the demand simply wouldn’t be there to achieve sales through and seeing future gaps in my supply chain I figured it was better to hold back stock and release some items as new in Summer 2021.

Lockdown had been officially announced and I was working from home trying to access finance. Major problems with the new Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) had brought about press opportunities and I appeared on all the major new channels, radio and print media about the plight of my small business.

Three weeks later

Getting nowhere fast with my CBILS application I couldn’t see how the business could even make it to the end of the month (April).

I think it’s important to note the toll on the mental health of small business owners: Not only is this your dream obliterated due to something beyond your control, but there’s also the responsibility that people’s jobs and livelihoods rely on you, if you care about your customers then failure seems like failing them too. It’s a lot to carry, whilst at the same time having no money to pay yourself, support your family and keep a roof over your head.

Still determined though and still believing in the long-term potential of the business, I’d brought one member of staff back to work and we were working on future facing projects. I was also actively networking online and participating in all kinds of small business support zoom calls, webinars and online learning.

In one of these calls I heard about the Pay It Forward Crowdfunder campaign and that Sunday, unable to enjoy a scheduled day off as all of this is whirring around in my head, I decided to map out what that might look like for us.

Four weeks later

I’m very proud that we have so many loyal repeat customers. I work exceptionally hard to create a fantastic experience at Revival Retro and build genuine relationships with our customers, not just automated interactions.

Going the extra mile and encouraging my staff to do the same had paid off.

We had launched our Crowdfunder and in week one had already raised more than £12,000 for our small business. It was incredible!

It wasn’t just the money either, alongside the pledges were endless messages of support, promises to come back and shop with us, love for what we do and why we are important to people. This got me through an incredibly tough time and I am immensely thankful.

Customers were happy to buy vouchers now to redeem later, which turned around our cash flow position. Followers and fans were all too happy to champion our brand. People far and wide donated anything from £5 to £500 to save a high street hero much loved by many.

Model wearing Revival Retro outfit

Seven weeks later

By the end of April we had met and exceeded our £25,000 Crowdfunder target. Our small business was saved (particularly as we were excluded from Government grants and the CBILS loan money was still not available). We were able not just to meet payroll and necessary obligations, but pay what we owed to other small business suppliers and plan for the future.

The success of the Pay It Forward campaign for Revival Retro was transformative. We would not be in the position we are today without it. Many small business owners have asked my for tips on how they might run a successful campaign and I’ve written a blog about this which you can read here.

From resilience we can now begin to look to recovery. I am encouraged that our customers see us as “not just a shop” which offers opportunity as we shape the future of the brand. It’s going to be more important than ever to innovate for growth.

21 May 2020

Heart Street - the survival of a vegan street food business

Evie-May Ellis, founder of vegan street food business, Heart Street, who used BIPC Norfolk to help start-up her business, gives an honest insight into her business during lockdown...

Evie-May
Evie-May, founder of Heart Street

I never enjoyed cooking. Ever.

As part of my home education development, my Mum would often encourage me to take interest in ‘hands on’ activities but I was having none of it. I was never happier than when I was curled up with a notebook, planning a million and one random projects that I believed would be "the next big thing." One of my favourite projects was organising and leading garden tours around Mum's flower beds and our fishpond. The guest list usually included the local vicar and a myriad of elderly ladies with names straight out of the murder mystery programmes my Mum enjoyed watching in the afternoons.

I loved planning, but I never liked cooking.

Food dominated my upbringing, being a symbol of love and affection from both my Mum and my Grandparents. Sundays and special occasions were for incredible roasts laid on by my Nan, with the best cuts of meat and endless silver dishes filled with roasted spuds, Yorkshire puds and multi-coloured veg. When Mum went to work, and my sister and I would work on our studies (and multiple viewings of Sister Act), she would always fret about there being enough food in the house, despite the fact she had stock piled enough to survive a zombie apocalypse.

Skip forward 10 years and you will find me handing out dishfuls of homemade chilli, feeding the array of lovely customers that visit my street food stand, Heart Street, and spreading the message that food is one of the greatest joys in life. This is just one of the amazing privileges that have come my way since I launched the business in April 2019.

I always knew I wanted to run my own business. From the garden tours to my Open University Business Degree, I loved to organise and execute plans and to learn about the processes of ‘business’. Even during my, much misplaced, desire to be a performer I always knew what I really wanted was a cabaret club or a dance troupe. Something I created and that embodied my passions.

Working my way through a number of jobs (recently revealed during a Zoom quiz, that number is 25), I fell in love with hospitality and worked my way to management. During this time I became vegan and started triathlon training. This combination fuelled my love for food as I saw how it could make me stronger and fitter. Plus, vegan cooking is amazing!
With my passion for planning, my restlessness in employment, my love for and connection to food and my ability to cook pretty decent vegan fare, it was inevitable. The natural development was to quit my very well paying job, take all my savings and get into debt to launch a very niche street food business in rural Norfolk.

Heart Street menu

Although I run Heart Street by myself, I never would have been able to get this far without the amazing support of my friends and family and the resources available to me through organisations including NWES and BIPC. I had frequently attended NWES workshops with various business ideas, none of which were viable. But in 2018 I attended a one to one meeting and pitched the idea of Heart Street.

You know, this could work.”

Those words stayed with me, through putting together a wildly optimistic business plan and receiving my start up loan, and I knew I would finally achieve running my own business.

NWES helped support the entire start-up process and provided me with information on the BIPC and the amazing services they offered. There was a wealth of support and contacts to offer advice, and many courses available — I specifically participated in any social media focused training. The most beneficial interaction came from a one-on-one with an accountant during my first year of trading — without that meeting, which was completely free through BIPC, I would never have financially survived my first year, let alone ended with some sort of profit!

I was lucky enough to speak at the BIPC Kings Lynn Hub about my experience as a budding entrepreneur, a truly lovely experience and just one of the many amazing opportunities I have had over this last year. I cannot express enough the importance of organisations like this for hopeful entrepreneurs, especially in such rural areas!

All of that seems years ago now, the energy and excitement of setting up my business sits in stark contrast with the daily worry and feeling of loss that COVID-19 has brought looming over 2020.

This year was due to be big for Heart Street. I had doubled my bookings, reinvested profits to grow the stall and cemented several private events. My reputation was growing and there wasn’t a single weekend in the year I wasn’t due to be out on the stall.

Heart Street food stall

But like many other people across the country, and indeed the world, the pandemic brought everything to a smashing halt. Cancellations started dripping in and then flooded my inbox. Phone calls had to be made, accounts had to be looked at, ambitions and dreams had to be put to one side.

This was about survival.

Considering the horrendous occurrences that are appearing every day on our TVs, newsfeeds and radio stations it feels selfish to focus on what could seem such a minor inconvenience. But my business, as with many small business owners, has been a lifetime of dreaming, planning and hard work. It is the epitome of everything I care about, a culmination of love, kindness, childhood memories and my life experience rolled into something I am so incredibly proud of and I adore.

To have all of that teetering on the brink of collapse is incredibly hard.

But that is one of the risks of running your own business. And that’s when you have to dig really deep and remember why you wanted to do this in the first place. It won’t be the first time you have to do it, and it won’t be the last.

Heart Street food

Starting your own business is not something to be taken lightly, freak global pandemics aside there are so many hard times involved, far more than I ever imagined. Financial concerns seem more prominent, you will work harder than you ever have, and surveys show 58% of small business owners suffer with mental health issues caused by isolation.

It is incredibly hard, but one of the best things you will ever decide to do.

So, my advice to anyone wanting to set up their own business? Be realistic. Think long and hard about if you are willing to risk financial security and free time for a potential pipe dream that may not even work? What would you feel if you don’t go ahead? Disappointed? Relieved?

Talk to as many people as you can. Get advice from organisations such as BIPC and make the most of any classes, webinars or online information they can provide. Knowledge is power! Talk to those who run their own businesses, whether they are in your field or not. Business advice books only get you so far and they won’t be as brutally honest with you as an owner who is down to their last penny!

Most importantly, remember why you are doing this. To be your own boss isn’t enough. What really makes this part of who you are? What message do you care about spreading? Who do you want to be in this world? Because that is what will keep you focused and hopeful through the roughest of times.

As for me and Heart Street, well; COVID-19 has definitely done a good job of derailing us but we are getting back on track. Researching grants and schemes and doing a little bit at a time to try to survive this storm. Survival is the key term here! Many of my street food pals have launched into delivery services, and they are proving rather successful, but this hasn’t been an option for me at this stage.

As such a fledgling business, with less than a years’ trading under my belt, I need to focus on survival and that means being conscious of cash flow. At this moment in time even buying stock would be too much of a financial risk.

Heart Street food

So for now, I am just here, at my desk, in my little office, surrounded by newspaper cuttings, congratulation cards, recipe notes and a calendar full of black crosses.

And I’m doing what I’ve always done — planning.

19 May 2020

Happy Birthday Start-ups in London Libraries!

Earlier this month, Start-ups in London Libraries - our programme designed to take business support out to high streets across London - turned one year old. We originally launched the project on 2 May 2019 at City Hall with an event chaired by our BIPC ambassador Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon and with a keynote speech from Deputy Mayor for Business, Rajesh Agrawal.  Our ambassador, Tim Campbell MBE, who joined our panel discussion on the launch day, summed up the aim of the project: "everyone should have access to this business information and support. Libraries are not only books. They are about connecting people, social mobility, making a real change and impact on people's lives."

Since that day last year, over 1200 aspiring and early-stage entrepreneurs have received support from our team in local libraries across 10 boroughs and have begun to change the face of entrepreneurship across the capital.

Of course, given the current circumstances, we will have to delay our official celebrations for our first birthday, but we couldn't pass up on this opportunity to celebrate some of the incredible early-stage entrepreneurs who have taken part in the programme and become part of the fabric of SiLL. Read on for just some of their stories...

Salma

Photo by Jessica Chia - Salma in her beekeeping outfit
Photo: Jessica Chia

Salma turned her hobby of 10 years - beekeeping - into a successful business. Her company, Bushwood Bees, sells honey, bee-based products and hosts beekeeping experiences at one of her hives on the roof of the East London Mosque. During this period of lockdown, they have been running digital tutorials and demonstrations of beekeeping on social media and continuing to sell their products online.

It was the strong ethos behind her own beekeeping hobby that spurred her to take the leap: "I have always been an advocate of beekeepers sourcing locally reared bees rather then importing so it just made sense that I should supply this growing demand for buying local. This was far more a motivation then anything else."

She used the Start-ups in London Libraries programme to ground her business idea and get it up and running, particularly in terms of technology. About her one-to-ones with our Waltham Forest Business Champion Salma says "Sarah also gave me really good ideas for improving my business plan. It was helpful to have someone with fresh eyes looking at my ideas. She was willing to help put a pitch together, gave really practical advice and was able to give me fresh perspective on parts of my plan that I would not have had otherwise."

"The workshops are immensely helpful when it comes to developing your business ides. The Start-up Champions are great, they have real knowledge and can steer you in the right direction. And if they don’t know, they will they to find out!"

Ahmad

Ahmad Baracat

Ahmad's educational app company, Baracat Bros is going from strength to strength and his product, Foodology has recently been featured on ProductHunt, the go-to platform for launching new products. Designed with the aim of fostering learning through their interactive and engaging nature, Ahmad now has two products - Foodology, which focuses on educating children about nutritional value in foods and Bubblo World, designed for preschool-aged children.

He said about his experience with Start-ups in London Libraries: "I came out of the workshops with actionable advice like how to access funding, how to create a business model canvas and where to find resources to continue learning... 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."

Warda

Loretta and Warda in Woolwich Library

While studying speech therapy, Warda noticed how much of it didn't take into account culture and family background. Aiming to change the one-size-fits-all that she was witnessing, she started Language Waves, providing a fully-accessible and culturally diverse speech therapy service. Since registering her business (after taking part in the Start-ups in London Libraries workshops) she has been able to trademark her training manual, been awarded several funding grants to help further her business and received multiple top notch testimonials for her work. 

Her local SiLL Business Champion, Loretta, helped her through the start-up stage: "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. 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."

You can read more about Warda and her SiLL experience here

Charlie

Charlie Boyd

Charlie Boyd’s business, Firm Feet, focuses on various sessions to achieve movement and connection with your own body: "I recognised that movement was something I required for healing and liberating myself. I love dance and the type where I could feel as free as possible and let go. So I designed a session drawing on my qualifications and experiences that I knew worked for me so would surely help others." Her focus is on improving mental and physical health through movement and she has recently pivoted to develop audio sessions for people to use during this time of heightened anxiety (also designed with the aim of lessening people's screen time!)

Discussing her one-to-one advice sessions with the Waltham Forest Champion, Sarah, she says "Sarah has been instrumental in helping me gain clarity on moving forward and valuing myself. She always goes above and beyond supplying me with important documentation and hints and tips. I would say to anyone to not hesitate going to speak to your latest representative, there are only things to gain by doing so."

Sol

LBN crop

Sol and her husband are big fans of amateur basketball and her husband even coaches a team. Trying to rectify the poor experience of amateur basketball tournaments they were experiencing, they started London Basketball Nation. After setting up their company "just in case it worked", Sol organised a short tournament in June that year to test the waters. Teams decided to give them a chance and a 7-month tournament followed. They celebrated their first full year as a company in March. Sol says "we are looking forward to expanding our reach and have not only more teams but also a Women’s division." 

"Start-ups in London Libraries' helped us see the organisation as a business rather than something to do on weekends. 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; networking; social media… you name it! There is a lot of information out there, so much that can be not just overwhelming but also misleading so the SiLL project served as a guide. I would have loved knowing about the project from day one."

Usman

Usman, founder of Haven Coffee

Haven Coffee is a socially-conscious coffee company. Each cup of Haven Coffee bought supports refugee communities across the UK, providing barista training for refugees building new lives for themselves in the UK. The Haven team also organise events to promote refugee artists and creatives. Usman, the founder of Haven, has recently introduced a virtual coffee scheme allowing customers to purchase a coffee in advance. And many of their events, including their art exhibition have moved online. 

Usman took part in our first round of workshops and has received support from our Waltham Forest Champion, as well as from TERN (The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network).

Oz

Oz, founder of The Scissors of Oz

Oz is the proud owner of The Scissors of Oz, a creative hair and healing Hub in Peckham. Her ethos goes beyond hair, providing a space for other womxn to test business ideas in collaboration with her and her space, exchanging skills and running workshops. A fundamental part of the business's ethos is 'breaking stigmas of conventional pursuits of “beauty”.

Oz is preparing for re-opening when she is able to and explains "my next step for our relaunch is to introduce more sustainable ways of hairdressing , use of products and services. I'm aiming to look into new ways of reusing items for environmental benefits and sustainability, as well as running workshops to empower people through hair."

She used Start-ups in London Libraries in Southwark saying "the SiLL project has given me the confidence and support every new business owner needs especially if you are going at it alone. My mentor Dean is very understanding and experienced and he is there to guide me with every step I take. It’s nice to have someone by your side who really cares about getting you to where you want to be."

Channing

Channing Cloirec

As a 21 year old with English as a second language, accessibility was a key consideration for Channing Cloirec when taking part in any sort of business support programme: "I'm not well-placed to start any business without experience in the UK. SiLL is the best way to find exactly what you need with reactivity. Without SiLL I wouldn't have been able to realize the formalities of the company."

Channing's car export business, Channing's Shining Cars, is continuing to grow and develop. Since registering in July 2019 he has built a healthy profit margin, and displayed impressive growth of his business, including recently selling his 15th car! His new venture is called Pops n Bangs, a car lottery. 

Aleksandra

Aleksandra Horwood

After being made redundant, Aleksandra was looking for ways of using her practical skills and passion for yoga into something that could provide a salary. Focusing on our ever-increasing older population, her idea was to create a specialised yoga and meditation programme to improve the quality of life for this demographic. She wanted to create a different environment for older yoga lovers, making it less intimidating, more welcoming and focusing on exercises that would help specifically with mobility. She has recently adapted her business, Happy Stance Yoga, to offer Zoom sessions for older isolated people to help with fall prevention and ensure they are getting their daily exercise.

And just a few weeks ago, Aleksandra ran a stretching and meditation session for our SiLL team to help us during this high-pressure time, so we can testify to her ability as a guide!

She says: "I attended all the SiLL workshops and it was breath-taking how in no time I learned about all the practicalities so I could move on and test my business idea. So many people have ideas, but they do not know there is a treasure box in the reach of their fingertips. It is free and highly professional, effective and tailored-made for each individual, each business idea." 

Moses

An example t-shirt from Moses' collection - Carib Brit

Moses launched his Greater BRiTs campaign at the Start-ups in London Libraries Greenwich Christmas start-up market, which took place at Woolwich Library last year, after taking part in the core SiLL workshops. "These two workshops gave me invaluable information on the support available to business start-ups, most of it free of charge. As a result of information I received from the workshops, I was able to successfully trademark and protect my BRiT logo."

Moses explains: "the Greater BRiTs campaign came about as a positive response to heal a divided Britain from the feeling of general anxiety about the future of the UK post the Brexit referendum.  The British people have the creativity, inventiveness, energy, perseverance and resilience to see Britain thrive." Moses developed Greater BRiTs with the mission of "celebrating Britain's Unity, Inclusivity and Diversity". Moses has designed a BRiT t-shirt with over 300 customised messages to reflect the diversity of the British lifestyles, personalities, professions and communities.

We may not be currently in your local library but the Start-ups in London Libraries workshops are now all online. Visit bl.uk/SiLL for all the information and to register for the next round of free webinars. 

This programme is run in collaboration with ten London boroughs: Bexley, Croydon, Greenwich, Haringey, Lambeth, Lewisham, Newham, Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.

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