Innovation and enterprise blog

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. 

22 June 2020

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

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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.

10 June 2020

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

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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

 

21 May 2020

Heart Street - the survival of a vegan street food business

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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!

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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.

SiLL_logo_lockups_CMYK

 

21 April 2020

National Tea Day with HumaniTea

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

Tina Chen

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

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

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

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

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

Humanitea logo

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

HumaniTea Tea Lattes

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

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

Borough Market stand

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

 

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

27 March 2020

A message from the BIPC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isabel Oswell

Head of Business Support Services

14 February 2020

The rise of flexitarians and veggie butchers

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

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

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

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

Vegan Trade Journal

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

Veggie Butchers screenshot

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

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

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

24 January 2020

New business services around the Business & IP Centre National Network

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If you aren’t based in London you can still access many of the Business & IP Centre’s resources around the UK as part of our National Network. Over 3,700 activities were delivered in 2019 and over 13,500 entrepreneurs helped outside of the Capital.

Our Centres have expanded their services in 2019 and have some exciting plans for 2020…

BIPC Birmingham

You will be able to attend new workshops and networking events at BIPC Birmingham in partnership with University of Birmingham Business School, Make it Your Business and X-Forces.

From 2020 there will be a regular series of workshops and one-to-one business advice clinics. The activities are scheduled for the 2nd Wednesday, 3rd Thursday and 4th Friday of every month.

BIPC Brighton & Hove

A new pilot Centre for 2019 and will be launching fully in 2020.

BIPC Cambridge & Peterborough

If you are a local business owner or an aspiring entrepreneur in Cambridge, you will be able to go along to regular Coffee Mornings in 2020, which offer a relaxed and friendly space to meet each other and explore what the BIPC can offer.

BIPC Glasgow

Our first Centre outside of England, BIPC Glasgow has expanded their existing offer to develop new partnerships to create an Experts in Residence programme, which includes Business Gateway, Business Advisors in Residence, Jobs & Business Glasgow, Business Advisors in Residence, SnapDragon IP: Entrepreneur in Residence, Creation IP: IP Attorneys in Residence and Gilson Gray: Legal Advisers in Residence.

A new project will launch in 2020, Making Digital Work for Micro-business, funded by the JP Morgan Power-Up fund.

The Mitchell Library

BIPC Hull

If you are looking for a one-stop business hub, look no further. Hull Central Library has rapidly expanded their business offer in 2019, bringing the Business & IP Centre, new Makerspace, new Business Lounge and an on-site café all under the same roof.

They have a busy 2020 ahead as well after securing ESIF funding for a community-led local development project to provide targeted business support to communities in the most deprived areas of the city. The team has also secured ERDF funding for the Innovate Humber project, which aims to encourage more businesses in the Humber area to participate in research and development.

BIPC Leeds

Are you a regular attendee of our Inspiring Entrepreneur events in Leeds? The team have developed a new format for their live screenings, which allows more time for networking, and features talks and a panel discussion with local speakers. That’s not all, the team have also developed several new workshops on topics including Etsy and Innovation.

In 2020, building on their partnership with the Santander Work Café, BIPC Leeds will be working with Liz Jowett to deliver one-to-one advice sessions on business planning and banking.

Leeds Central Library

BIPC Liverpool

After hosting their first Start-up conference in partnership with the Women’s Organisation in 2019, they will be holding another on Wednesday 26 February 2020.

Liverpool’s Entrepreneur in Residence, Gary Millar, is celebrating his fifth anniversary at BIPC Liverpool. In this time, he and his team of volunteer specialist mentors have advised over 1,600 individuals starting or growing a business. Gary Millar is Deputy Mayor of Liverpool & Mayoral Lead For Business & International Relations.

Gary Millar

After growing his own IT and marketing businesses, he is now co-owner of Parr Street Studios (hotel, recording studios, bars and offices).

When he launched his weekly business clinic Gary explained, “I have a passion for business and a unique understanding of what entrepreneurs and businesses can go through. My role is to listen, inspire, motivate and steer people to hopefully the right kind of support.

“It’s been a great year for business in Liverpool and we have been excited to see so many bright, enthusiastic entrepreneurs coming to see us at the library’s Business & IP Centre, in search of the boost they may need to get their business grow and under way. Interestingly they don’t just come from Liverpool but as far afield as Yorkshire and Wales! Thank you to them all for taking that bold step in reaching out for help.”

BIPC Manchester

Are you a social enterprise in Manchester? BIPC Manchester will house a second branch of the Human Lending Library®, a programme where social entrepreneurs looking for business advice can ‘borrow’ one of Expert Impact’s experts, for free, to help them solve their challenges and scale fast.

Manchester will also be launching a new lunchtime networking session on the last Thursday of every month, hosted by start-up coach Patrick Lauroul.

BIPC Newcastle

Could self-employment be for you? BIPC Newcastle has developed closer relationships with Skills Hub, a City Council project providing employability and skills support and also based in Newcastle City Library. The BIPC team, Skills Hub and other local Start-up support agencies are developing advice sessions for individuals looking at self-employment as a way back into work.

BIPC Norfolk

BIPC Norfolk has expanded their services to King’s Lynn and Thetford libraries, with Great Yarmouth launching this month. As well as expanding their locations, they have also extended their partnership programme to include the DWP Self Employment Team, the Princes’ Trust Enterprise Programme, Teachers Learning Network, People From Abroad Team (Norfolk County Council), Norfolk Enterprise Festival and Pinnacle People as well as existing partners - Menta Business advisors, New Anglia Growth Hub, Leathes Prior (legal advisors), Larking Gowen (accountancy), UEA Alumni, Economic development Team (NCC), Hethel Innovation and the Norfolk Chambers of Commerce.

BIPC Northamptonshire

The BIPC has expanded its offer of regular workshops and experts in residence one-to-ones to Kettering Library as well as Northamptonshire Central Library. Graphic designer appointments and business finance advice will be coming soon.

BIPC Nottingham

There are some big changes for Nottingham and new internal images of the proposed new Central Library, including the best children’s library in the country, have been revealed by Nottingham City Council, with the public being offered the chance to offer their views on the plans.

BIPC Nottingham is hoping to include a Business & IP Centre in the proposed new library. More details including a video flythrough are available here.

BIPC Sheffield

Do you need techniques on mindfulness to help manage wellbeing issues which come from being an entrepreneur? A new workshop has been added to their programme, Mindfulness for Entrepreneurs.

BIPC Worcestershire

A new pilot Centre for 2019 and will be launching fully in 2020.

17 January 2020

How to start a business in 2020 if you don’t know what to do?

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Anshul, founder of Academic Underdogs, started his business after recognising his desire to help people who had experienced similar problems to him and how much he enjoyed seeing the impact his work had on his customers. Since he began his business, Anshul has graduated from our Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme and has continued to grow his offering.

Academic Underdogs books

“What business should I start if I don’t know what to do?” and “How do I start a business with no money?” are two of the most common questions that land in my inbox.

Before starting my own business, Academic Underdogs, I also asked the very same questions to many successful entrepreneurs, but their answers left me feeling inspired but lacked the detail that I needed to take action.

Unfortunately, many of them were so far along their entrepreneurial journey that they couldn’t really remember those critical decisions they made in those early days, weeks and months.

I don’t blame them as after all, according to decay theory, we all tend to forget details in our short-term memory and only remember headline events in our long-term memory.

Thankfully, I recorded my decisions and every step I took in those few months in a journal and summarised them for you in this post.

How my business idea developed

On A Level results day I walked into college optimistic and hopeful. Standing in line, my teacher licked her fingers, flicked through the sheets and handed me my results.

D D D U

…Brilliant!

I joke about those grades now, but at the time they really really hurt. There was nothing I wanted more than to perform well and get into a decent university, but those four letters shattered my dreams.

For the first time in my life I didn’t feel like getting out of bed, and I’d just lie there for hours with a stream of negative thoughts running through my head. My parents had to physically pull me out to go downstairs and eat.

Looking back, it was probably a short spell of depression.

Little did I know then, but failing my A Levels and experiencing this trauma was a huge blessing in disguise. Without it, I wouldn’t have built the business I have today.

No one, not my parents and teachers, anticipated what would happen after receiving my dismal results. In a moment of random luck, I met someone who had been in my shoes a few years earlier. After a short conversation with him, something in my head changed and I felt quite confident that I could improve. I couldn’t articulate why that happened, but it did.

Somehow, the sting of those bad grades combined with direction from this older mentor created the perfect conditions for change. I created a written plan on how I was going to secure the grades I needed to get into university. Plans and goals were nothing new to me and I’d made plenty of them before without acting on them. But this time it was different.

Many of my bad habits went out the window and I became more productive. My understanding of topics improved the more I worked, grades improved and belief system completely changed. A year later I walked into college on results day and walked out with straight As. Many of my module marks were above 90% and I had secured a place at a top university. It was one of the biggest turnarounds my teachers had ever seen.

Then, at university I went on to achieve first class honours and an award by the dean of students for achieving one of the highest degree scores in my year group. Lots of people achieve good grades, though right?

My achievements may not seem that special to some, especially those who got As and A*s on their first go. However, for a kid who had low self-esteem and was told to consider other options at the age of 17, achieving these grades felt like coming back from 6-0 down to win the champions league final!

How I turned the idea into reality

Three years passed since I graduated, and I was working at a proprietary trading firm in London. My job involved taking speculative bets in the financial markets, and later, programming software that traded various futures contracts like the German 10-year Government Bond, EUROStoxx 50 and FTSE 100.

After one horrific month where I lost several months of profit in a few days, I took a couple weeks off to execute an idea that I’d been sitting on since school. I wanted to help students who had failed their A Levels.

My initial idea was to start a blog, then after word vomiting 5,000 words into Microsoft Word, I realised how much I had to say on this topic. After teaming up with my best friend, this ‘side project’ eventually became a full-blown book called How to ACE Your A-Levels.

How I got my first customer

Filled with grammar and spelling mistakes, we published the book on Amazon as an eBook and waited.

Two days later we got our first sale and a few weeks later, we got our first review…

Amazon review for Academic Underdogs

This changed everything.

I wasn’t sure if the book would actually be valuable to anyone, up until this point. Louise’s review was the first indication that I was on to something. I hadn’t spent a penny on the venture so far, but now with proof of concept, it was time to invest.

How I launched my first marketing campaign

My target market spent hours scrolling through social media every day. So, I discarded all the marketing strategies that had nothing to do with social media marketing, like offline advertising using leaflets.

After creating a list of online marketing strategies, I systematically tried each one until I found one that worked. Facebook at that time had a very engaged user base in the UK, and over 300,000 17 year olds used the platform. Delivering paid ads here offered the best rate of return, but my campaigns didn’t achieve the sales numbers that I wanted.

This is when I decided to create a video campaign to promote How to ACE Your A-Levels. But there was a problem. Agencies were quoting me £2,000 - £5,000 to create the video. By searching around, I found a DIY animation software called Sparkol Video Scribe that you could use to create whiteboard explainer videos. Using this tool, I created this video…

The audio was rubbish (recorded it on my phone), it looked a little amateur and had a spelling mistake – but it worked!

My story resonated with a lot of students. The video generated hundreds of thousands of views across YouTube and Facebook, and around £50k of sales. Creating the video only cost me £12.

How I grew the business

After the success of the first book, I wrote How to ACE Your GCSEs and a three-part series called ‘Level UP’ for university students. My marketing campaigns reached over four million students and generated over £300,000 in sales two years. By leveraging the success of the books, I created a set of workshops and a one-on-one mentorship programme for schools.

I now spend most of my time creating online content, driving traffic to my website and delivering programmes to schools.

Create a product that alleviates a problem

If you want to start a business, but don’t have an idea, start one that alleviates a problem, especially one you’ve had in the past. Not only will this create a psychological tailwind that helps you through the inevitable challenges that come with growing a venture, but you and everything you touch will become relatable. People are more intuitive than you think. Your copy on the website, sales pitches, products and brand will show that you ‘get it’.

There is a silver lining with emotional trauma or any other kind of trauma. That is, once you have been through it, you join an exclusive club with others who have been through it too.

Try this… go find someone with that has experienced similar trauma to you and have a conversation with them. You will naturally want to advise or help them in some way and you will leave that conversation feeling fulfilled. Not that momentary fulfilment you get from a Netflix binge or praise from your manager, this is enduring fulfilment. Helping others leaves a glow of satisfaction that sticks around for a few hours after you’ve done the deed. Now imagine writing a book for all those members and receiving hundreds of reviews and emails thanking you for your help. Each one will provide a dose of motivation. Then imagine creating a service or a piece of software that can add even more value to that group. Hundreds of emails turn into thousands. How would you feel then?

Sitting on your hands for too long? Try selling information

If you are a little risk-averse and short of cash, selling information is a great ‘gateway’ business. It doesn’t cost a thing to write and publish your thoughts online. Whether it be a blog, book or course. Even if you don’t make a fortune, you will learn a lot and your attitude to risk will change. I no longer hesitate to invest cash into an experiment that may or may not work.

Mug with begin written on it

How to start a business that alleviates a problem

  1. Write down all the traumatic events you’ve experienced in the past – highlight those you are proud of overcoming
  2. Go to your local library - Grab your essentials, your laptop and leave your phone at home (no excuses - give someone the library telephone number in case of an emergency)
  3. Word vomit 5,000 words about your traumatic experience and how you overcame it

While writing, did you reach a state of flow where you lost track of time? Did you enjoy telling your story? If so, schedule in another session at the Library because you just might be on to something.

Once you’ve written 20,000+ words, drop me an e-mail – anshul@academicunderdogs.com

To find out more information about the Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme, visit our website.