Innovation and enterprise blog

16 November 2020

Meet our delivery partner: Paul Grant, The Funding Game

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

Paul Grant

About Paul’s funding events

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

What’s covered?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who are these events for?

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

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

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

What can attendees expect?

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

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

About Paul Grant

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

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

Connect with Paul on LinkedIn.

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

20 October 2020

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

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

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

Can you tell us a bit about your business idea?

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

AleksandraHorwood%2CHappyStanceYogaTherapy

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

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

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

How did the SiLL programme help?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Stance Yoga

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

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

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

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

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

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01 October 2020

Meet our delivery partner: The House

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

Michael and Robbie

Who are Michael and Robbie?

Michael Murdoch

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

Robbie Dale

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

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

Necessity is the mother of invention.

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

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

Want to know more about the session?

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

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

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

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

Watch the two minute video to find out more.

Story Cube - 2 mins from The House on Vimeo.

Who is Story Cube for?

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

We are proud of our statistics...

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

Why should you attend?

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

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

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

Story cube benefits

In this workshop, you’ll learn...

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

Hackney Brewery testimonial

What you'll take away?

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

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

We're here to help entrepreneurs excel...

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

Who has attended and tried Story Cube?

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

Organisations we have worked with...

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

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

24 September 2020

A day in the life of… Hazel Russell, co-founder of The Wood Life Project

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Hazel is the co-founder of The Wood Life Project, alongside her husband Jimmy. The Wood Life Project manufacture beautiful, innovative, eco-friendly, practical products for the family home, with a focus on mealtimes. The product range consists of children's tableware, pet bowls and a range of boards for grown-ups. All products are manufactured in the UK and use sustainably grown and harvested wood from the UK.

Since launching to wholesale in September 2019, they now work with 50 retailers, sell via their own website, as well as through Not on the High Street and Joules.

Hazel Russel at Top Drawer

Hazel and Jimmy first sought support from Business & IP Centre Norfolk, at Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library, for help with Intellectual Property. They then went on to get further support from a Menta Business Advisor. They contributed to the BIPC report, Democratising Entrepreneurship, and were invited to the launch event at the House of Lords, hosted by Lord Bilimoria.

Life in a product business start-up with multiple sales streams means that no two days are ever the same. I have to wear many different hats; head of sales, head of finance, customer service, supply-chain manager to name but a few.
So today my day has consisted of:

5.30 Alarm. 6k run and upper body weight session. Exercising first thing is a non-negotiable for me as it helps me start the day in a positive way, where I feel great and have time to myself. This morning I listened to an audiobook, Oversubscribed by Daniel Priestley.

6.30 Get myself showered and dressed.

7.00 Get the boys breakfast and ready for school.

7.30 We leave for the drive to school. Back home by 8.30.

8.30 A quick clear up of the house (from the carnage that is left from the children!) and then I sit down at my desk to begin work.

9.00 Following up on the leads from virtual trade shows we have been exhibiting at, a new experience as we would normally be at a trade show in person as I write this. I have really missed meeting all the lovely retailers in person and the buzz that comes with exhibiting at a show. Is this the future of events like this?

The Wood Life Project dog bowl

9.30 Answering emails, engaging on social media and invoicing.

10.00 Time for a Zoom meeting with our local Innovation Centre. We are investigating ways of improving our supply chain, in particular logistics. We are passionate about ensuring our supply chain is transparent and as ethical and sustainable as possible. We are striving towards eco-excellence and will not stand still on our journey. We are also looking into what grants may be available to us, so a really useful session.

11.00 Packaging review for new product range. We are about to launch a range of boards for grown-ups and some Christmas-themed tableware for children. We are working with a graphic designer and have a lot of packaging copy to approve.

13.00 Check in with our manufacturer. We have recently become FSC and Grown in Britain certified, and we had a big delivery of certified material arrive with the manufacturer. There are new procedures in place to ensure all material is segregated correctly and recorded throughout the processing of the material, so a quick call to ensure all procedures had been followed correctly was a must. We are also beginning development on some children’s cutlery, to complement our children’s tableware range, so we discussed a number of manufacturing methods to come up with the best designs which are also efficient on the machines.

14.00 Packaging up orders, including gift-wrapping and gift tag writing (I love this part of the day as some messages are so funny and sometimes very random!). Today was a fairly quiet day for orders… The calm before the storm of the Christmas period!

The Wood Life Project Christmas tablewear

14.30 Post Office run for all of the day’s orders. Luckily, we have a very patient post-mistress!

15.00 School run. I love picking the boys up from school and hearing all about their day. They have adapted really well after having nigh on six months off school and have had their first full-week back at school.

16.00 Back home and time to prepare the family meal.

17.00 Family mealtime. A really important part of the day for us as a family. We love having this time to connect with each other.

18.00 Family time.

19.00 Bedtime for the children.

20.00 Sometimes I will log back on and finish off any work, but mostly I try to relax with my husband and switch off.

22.00 Bedtime.

15 September 2020

A week in the life of… Peter Hill, founder of Petvictus

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This month's blog follows Peter Hill, who in 2018 appeared on BBC's Dragons' Den and won an offer of investment for his inventions, Pedaldish: The Lunchbox for Pets and Katfone: The Ultrasonic Whistle for Cats. Peter used BIPC Birmingham to get advice on registering his trade mark. Since then, Peter has gradually reduced his day job hours and this week he's got a big decision to make...

Peter Hill in a factory with Pedaldish

As well as the product side of my business, I’ve developed a series of lectures, team games and skills workshops to guide people through the core skills needed to start a new business. This summer, I have a decision to make: do I sell my inventions and focus on public speaking? This is the week I made my decision.

Monday 10.00. Wake up. As a night owl, I’m rarely asleep before 01.00. A product order came through, last week, for 210 Pedaldishes and 500 Katfones. I said I’d ship the order this week, without having double checked that I’ve got the stock ready, and the clock’s ticking. I might have to spend today assembling Pedaldishes from parts, to make up the order.

13.00. The warehouse guys are being amazing. We’re just six products short, so with a quick bit of assembly and a quality check, the shipment is ready to go.

16.00. I email the warehouse the shipping documents and confirm with the customer the order will be with them on Thursday.

17.00. I log off the computer feeling I’ve forgotten something. I haven’t, but being a one-man band, I’m always asking myself whether I’ve missed anything.

19.00. The weather is getting hotter. I go for a country walk and make plans for next weekend. Coronavirus restrictions have lifted in Wales and I’ve made plans to go camping.

Daily score: Usefulness: 75%, Enjoyment: 30%

Tuesday 11.00. I still have a part-time job at the local council. My trade is as a community worker. This is less glamourous than being an inventor and entrepreneur but it has a guaranteed income, and is much more interesting than handling stock shipments. I’m now working from home; Skype is my only means of interaction with my colleagues. It’s a rubbish substitute for real contact.

Daily score : Usefulness: 50% Enjoyment: 60%

Wednesday 16.00. The Library of Birmingham's BIPC has asked if I’d be interested in doing some more business presentations. The most enjoyable parts of my business have been conducting lectures, team games and skills workshops.  Since winning investment on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den, I’ve been in demand as the most minor level celebrity you can imagine. I spend today designing a new business team game around eggs. The teams have to buy materials to protect an egg, which is then thrown out of the window. The team who protect their egg, and spend the least amount of money win; this is great for teaching planning and budget management, but I need to think about health and safety.

Daily score: Usefulness: 65% Enjoyment 70%

Thursday 15.30. I get confirmation the shipment, I sent on Monday, has arrived. I quickly cut and paste an invoice and email it. My thoughts turn to the weekend ahead and my greatest passion: the outdoors.

18.00. One of the great things about being in business, is that you network and hear about new ideas and products. This February, I found out about a product called Tent Box. It’s a solid frame pop-up tent which fits onto a roof-rack. With one fitted on top of my car I now have an instant place to sleep in isolation, even if the campsites are not open.

22.00. The car is packed and my kayak strapped down on the roof.

A view over a north Wales tidal estuary

Daily score: Usefulness: 40% Enjoyment 40%

Friday 6.00. I discover there is a 6am, as well as a 6pm! I’ll tell someone when I’m more awake; for now the beaches, rivers and hills of North Wales are calling.

14.00. I park on a pathway on the edge of a deserted tidal estuary, Snowden in the distance. Checking the tide times, I can see how far the water will come tonight. As long as I park up at high tide, I’ll have 12 hours without the risk of being carried away. Having been in self-isolation since March, I’m finally in true isolation. My phone is turned off. And my thoughts switch on.

16.00. I’m walking along a deserted sandy beach. I invented my last business team building game here, maybe I’ll find inspiration again. After walking in the surf for two miles, passing one person, I’ve come up with an idea for my egg dropping team building game; what if I tell the participants, the week before, what the game is? The really astute ones can go online and look up the best ways to protect an egg and maybe even practice. This will show how valuable prior knowledge and experience is when approaching a business task. I begin to wonder if I sent an invoice for the last order of Pedaldishes and Katfones? My inspiration, like the sun, is falling.

20.00. I’m sat by a river with a coffee made in the local pub. Dyslexia means that I rarely read books, but since the invention of Audible.com, I can listen to the world’s finest literature. Today, I’m listening to the autobiography of comedian Eddie Izzard. I gave up hosting my own stand-up comedy show to invent products. Maybe I should combine the two and focus just on business presentation.

23.30. With the high tide come and gone, I pop open my roof top tent, modified since purchase with every gadget and comfort, and drift asleep on the four-inch memory foam mattress to the sound of the waves.

Daily score: Usefulness: 35% Enjoyment 85%

Saturday 8.30. Worried that I might be breaking some obscure by-law, I wake up quickly, compress down my tent and watch the rising sun. Today I can walk, kayak and swim, with my phone switched off and no one to speak to.

18.00. With a day spent on the beach and trekking into the hills, I wonder if I should focus my efforts on being a business speaker 100%; it feels like the right direction.

21.00. I may have miscalculated the tide. With the water rising I’m in danger of being flooded. Always have a plan B: I can retreat to higher ground. The tide licks the car wheels, and finding them not to its taste, retreats. Time to relax again and watch the sky turn every shade of blue to black.

Peter Hill with his kayak on a river

Daily score: Usefulness: 5% Enjoyment: 90%

Sunday 16.00 With the risk of rain forecast, I make my way home, via a night-stay in Shropshire at my parents’ house. I walk through the pine woods and cross the place where I first thought up the name Katfone. A wholesaler has emailed me an offer to buy the brand, and the remaining stock. My designer wants to run with Pedaldish. Maybe it’s time to move on.

Daily score: Usefulness: 20% Enjoyment 70%

Monday 11.00. I drive to the River Severn outside Shrewsbury and kayak 12 miles, downstream. I always imagined, when I didn’t have to work full-time, that I would spend my Monday mornings on the river. In the last four years, I’ve managed it three times.

21.00. I’m back home. I have a name for my new venture as a business presenter: Peter the Speaker. I’ve bought the .com and drafted a logo. Now all I have to do is agree to sell Katfone and walk away. I’ll leave it until tomorrow or maybe the day after…

Daily score: Usefulness: 20% Enjoyment 80%

09 September 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Ice Cream Pinata

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

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

 

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

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

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

Covid Pinata

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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10 August 2020

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

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

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

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

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

The London Basketball team

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

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

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

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

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

Two teams at a London Basketball Nation event

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

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

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

A basketball game at a London Basketball Nation event

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

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

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

Find out more about London Basketball Nation.

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

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

 

03 August 2020

Meet our delivery partner: Mark Sheahan

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Mark is the Business & IP Centre’s Inventor in Residence, as well as the President of the Institute of Inventors & Patentees (a registered charity), Managing Director of Compgen Ltd (Licensing) and Proprietor of Plasgen Design (Product Design). He is also Chairman of Morgan Goodwin Ltd (Online Trading Platform) and Ambosco Ltd (IT Development). He’s also a  Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and Vice Chairman of the Round Table of Inventors (CTRI). Here’s a bit more information about him and how he can help you at one of his Ask an Expert sessions…

Mark Sheahan

I’m an experienced business owner with a demonstrated history of working in the inventing, business mentoring and licensing industry. My specialities are in business planning, invention, entrepreneurship, manufacturing, plastic injection moulding, packaging closure technology, intellectual property and licensing. 

One of my inventions, SqueezeopenTM, won me the accolade of Inventor of the Year in the UK and the top Grand Prix Award at INPEX in America. The product is an easy open and close plastic container.  

My Ask an Expert sessions are confidential, free one-hour meetings and are aimed at inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs. I suggest, to get the best out of the hour that they bring everything they can bring to the meeting, particularly samples, working or not, drawings and patent documentation, if applicable.

I see my role as nurture and clarity and try not to be judgemental in anyway. In fact, I like seeing people as early as possible, even with half-baked ideas/inventions. As, all too often, they take a wrong path and spend time and money unnecessarily. 

My first question in the meeting is normally about the idea/invention itself, as it does not matter how well you do everything else, if it does not work or has a major flaw/s the project is likely to fail. As an engineer, I can generally spot manufacturing problems and advice accordingly. Another area I like to explore with entrepreneurs is whether it is the best solution, being either cheaper or better, ideally both.     

Once I am happy with the idea/invention and only then I will move on to the business side, e.g. intellectual property position and strategy, business model, manufacturing, sales and marketing and, if applicable, licensing. 

It is very easy to get overwhelmed with advice, so you end up not knowing what to do next. I try and give that clarity and re-motivate anyone who comes to see me to take those steps.  

To book a session with me, click here.

29 July 2020

A week in the life of... Olivia Thompson, founder of Akila Dolls

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Olivia Thompson is the founder of Akila Dolls launched nine months ago after Olivia left her full-time job in a law firm to become a carer for her then seven year old daughter. It was on a shopping trip with her daughter, Amira, that they both noticed the lack of diverse and disability dolls in the high street shops. With only a few savings Olivia began work on the doll illustration, packaging and concept book. During a global pandemic and homeschooling her daughter in June 2020 she successfully raised £6,000 through a crowdfunding platform to begin the manufacturing of the doll prototype. In the early stages of the business, Olivia used Business & IP Centre Leeds and one of their IP sessions.

Akila Doll

Monday I love waking up on a Monday knowing that I’m working for myself and doing something I am really passionate about. No more rushing out the house before 7am trying to get my daughter to her childminders house before I start work. My daughter is now at an age where she can generally sort herself out in the morning. We’re currently coming out of a three month lockdown due to COVID-19, so my daughter has been at home since March. I try to get started on work by 9am each morning, using my dining table as my work desk. I always start my day by checking my work emails and seeing what appointments or commitments I may have that day. After responding to some emails I post on my social media accounts my morning motivation quote and check my notifications. I receive an email from Leeds City Region Enterprise arranging a meeting for next week to discuss innovation support so I can develop my product further. My work day ends at 3pm as my daughter has her piano lesson at 3.30pm

Tuesday Work again starts at 9am after getting my daughter ready for the day. I post on my social media every morning with a motivational quote and any new updates I may have for my followers to keep them updated on my business development. I usually plan my posts ahead, so that I can keep organised. I reply to any comments or messages I may have received. This helps gives my businesses page maximum exposure and to also stay connected with my followers. My daughter has an appointment at 10.30am with our family support worker Mel, after not seeing her in over four months it’s lovely to get back into our routine and have a good catch up. It’s also important for Amira to start getting out of the house and socialising with other people. She had a lovely morning painting and telling Mel all about her upcoming birthday. I spend the afternoon researching fabric manufacturers in the U.K. Myself and my friend Sophie designed an exclusive range of fabric swatches a few months ago for the dolls clothing and accessories.

Akila Doll

Wednesday The day starts like every other day, unfortunately Amira is not having a good day. After calming her down we go on a trip to the park and anything work related is put on pause until she’s in bed. It’s times like these when she really needs me and I’ve got a busy work schedule I have to prioritise what’s more important, obviously that’s Amira.

Thursday Today I have a meeting booked in with student from Leeds University who is doing her masters dissertation on nascent entrepreneur facilitation in the black Caribbean community in the U.K. We had a lovely talk discussing social capital access for black entrepreneurs and whether its use has seen elevations in ones entrepreneurial success. I finish my day having a meeting with my website designer Shaun.

Akila Doll

Friday On Fridays I plan the Instagram and Facebook schedule for the week ahead. Instagram is becoming a big part of my business, within the last three months I have almost 600 followers. I check my calendar for the week ahead and make sure all my meetings are scheduled in. By planning ahead it makes my life a lot easier, especially with Amira’s autism, you never know whether a day will be good or bad. Tonight is an extra special night for me as I am finally able to go out and celebrate all my achievements these last few months with my best friend Chloe.

Weekend Once the weekend arrives it’s time to spend time with my daughter and family. We enjoy going on drive to the countryside, and just switching off. Anything work related will wait until Monday.

01 July 2020

Meet our delivery partner: Centa

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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.