Innovation and enterprise blog

19 March 2021

Meet our delivery partner: Sam Lane

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Not everyone can afford a professional photographer, especially when you are starting a new business and having to spin a number of plates including and not limited to marketing, research and  finance... But these days almost everyone has a great camera in their pocket or bag. Today’s smartphones are all pretty good with a good quality lens (or maybe multiple lenses) and software that makes some great photography decisions for you.

I’m Sam Lane and I have been taking photos since I was around 10 years old. I have over 30 years of experience in Marketing Communications working for some amazing brands including Microsoft and I set up a Limited company in 2013 covering both Commercial and Social photography projects. Commercial clients include the British Library, Network Rail and High Speed 1 (that owns and operates St Pancras International station); I have had the pleasure of photographing the Queen, Sir Elton John and John Legend as well as over 85 weddings including two in Australia and one in the US!

Sam Lane taking a selfie

So I know what it is like to work in a business and not finding enough time to work on the business. A few years ago the Business & IP Centre ran a(nother) fantastic Start Up Day and invited me to do a session on smartphone photography. This evolved into two-hour workshop – face to face when we are allowed, but now perfectly manageable via Zoom – which gives some practical tips and tricks about how to take better photos using your smartphone, whatever make or model; whatever your skill level; and whatever your business needs.

This workshop is aimed at start-ups, small business owners and entrepreneurs who have brilliant ideas but maybe not the money to pay for professional, outsourced help.

We start by looking at ways of optimising your camera phone settings and identifying some features that are going to be helpful as you take more photos – switching on the camera grid being one great example.

Phone camera screenshot

We touch on how to actually take a photo, and moving you from taking a snap to taking a more considered photo.

And really getting to grips with storytelling as “a picture speaks a 1000 words”.

We also look at the importance of planning to make sure that you don’t waste your valuable time. Imagine you are paying someone else to take pictures for you – they’d need to know where, when and what you want the photo of, but also why and how they are going to be used…

We focus (you see what I did there?) on what makes a good photo with the key photographic principles of Lighting and Composition. Ever heard of the Rule of thirds for example?

Even as a professional I know that life is too short to spend time editing so I will give you some tips on making simple edits, mainly using the in-camera editing tools, that help take your images from good to great.

We touch on saving, sharing and storing the images and then focus back on YOU.

Sam workshop in person

My favourite part of the workshop (apart from seeing and hearing your “lightbulb moments” – AE/AF Lock to mention just one) is then finding out about your businesses, looking at your website images and social channels and getting peer group insight from other attendees about what looks good and / or could be improved.

I’ve been amazed - and humbled - at the talent I have seen. People who are thinking about it or just starting out; and those already running small businesses and even growing them - from belly dancers and fitness instructors to tango shoes and pet accessory manufacturers – all with unique challenges but the one common factor – the desire for great photos.

From my experience of running the workshops, we all learn something, especially me!

I look forward to seeing new and inspiring people and hope to meet people face to face at the BIPC later in 2021!

You can find Sam's workshops listed on our Events page: https://www.bl.uk/business-and-ip-centre/workshops-and-events

25 January 2021

A Week in the Life of Meenesh Mistry, founder of Wholey Moly

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Meenesh is the co-founder of Wholey Moly, alongside his wife, Parul. They started their mission to prove that an afternoon snack didn’t have to be a rash, overly sugared vending machine decision by creating delicious cookies made from the best ingredients and free from refined sugar. After taking part in the Innovating for Growth Mentoring scheme in 2017, their cookies were snapped up by some of the finest food retailers in the UK such as Selfridges, Whole Foods and Daylesford. They are new moving towards launching globally and have been using this period of lockdown to focus on improving their digital strategy and recouping retail costs through online rather than in-person sales.

‘We have been on a rollercoaster this year with our little cookie company taking its next steps to become what we imagined. Myself and my wife Parul, have had to keep on our toes since starting our business, especially now with a little cookie monster of our own to take care of.

We successfully applied for the government bounce back loan and we decided to use this to move our strategy from retail to more online focused. We knew it was a completely different kettle of fish and decided to take on some help for this and so we hired an E-commerce Growth Manager to help us create a more digital led strategy to get our name out there online.

Meenesh and Parul, founders of Wholey Moly

During this madness we have been doing our best to connect with retail suppliers and stockists ready for the re-opening of stores and have been getting some great results. It is refreshing to see the support retailers and external organisations have in the underdogs/ family run businesses. So hopefully the public will be able to taste our cookies in shops and cafes near you soon.

Here’s a look at what a week can look like, but I have to be honest it rarely flows to plan, it all depends on what projects we have going on for example at the end of 2020 we had a rebrand of the business and launched a new webshop so for 3 months it was all about branding, website development and digital marketing.

Friday It is probably better to start with Friday afternoon as that is when I plan my following week.

I have a 3 month plan which I try to break down each week, it doesn’t always go to plan but it ensures I’m moving in the right direction. The weekly plan means I know exactly what I’m supposed to be doing come Monday Morning.

Monday My day typically starts around 6am when I squeeze in a bit of exercise – but I have to be honest it’s not always the case. From 7-9am is a daily battle of getting our son who is 3 years old up, fed and packed off to nursery.

My working day then starts at around 9am.

Mondays I cover operations. This means looking at stock levels, forecasting ahead and scheduling new production runs. I also try to catch up on any industry news, reading The Grocer/LinkedIn etc.

Tuesday I keep a minimum of 2 full days for sales, I follow up on any sales leads from prior weeks and work on new business development.

This can mean anything from calls, site visits (although not so much under the current climate) and preparing presentations.

Wednesday I find that meetings can be quite disruptive for productivity so try and schedule my meetings all on the same day – usually Wednesday!

The calls vary massively including funding, sales, industry calls, networking and being pitched at from suppliers.

It can be quite a full on day so I try and get out for a walk on some calls.

Meenesh and Parul in front of a Wholey Moly advert

Thursday Back to sales! Here I follow up from anything on Tuesday but I also spend time with our e-commerce manager and Amazon person looking at our online sales and how we can better optimise it.

We are new to e-commerce so there’s a lot to learn and I find it quite fun to tinker with the various marketing levers.

Friday I leave Friday to catch up on all back office things, most notably finances – paying bills, issuing invoices, doing cashflows.

I tend to clear out my inbox and then look at my 3 month plan and start to plan the following week.

Since lockdown I really miss those water cooler conversations so I’ve started to book in calls with my peers just to have a chin wag on Fridays, which is a great way to finish off the week.

Make sure to check out our new website and if you would like to try any cookies here’s a discount code for our fellow British Library businesses BRITLIB20.

08 December 2020

Meet Caron Pollard, founder of Teal and Start-ups in London Libraries participant

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Teal is a digital platform with a mission to demystify food allergies and empower the estimated 2 million food allergy sufferers in the UK. It provides practical support for allergy-sufferers (and carers) in the event of a reaction with key emergency features including translations, e-commerce access to free-from products, education, and community to bridge the gap between individuals, the medical fraternity; brands and businesses to name a few. The name itself comes from the international colour for food allergies and stands for clarity and communication.

We spoke to Caron, co-founder of Teal, about the very personal story behind the multi-digital support platform including website, web based and native apps and how it came into being, with the support of Start-ups in London Libraries.

‘My three year old daughter suffers from life threatening food allergies and experienced her first anaphylaxis a year ago while abroad - this was a poignant moment in our life as to how we need to protect her future. Suddenly being transported into this world within the last three years, it became apparent how common it is to a have fragmented & long winded journey to diagnosis and management; with reliance on limited offline touch-points for support. Like many others we have spent a lot of time on “Dr Google” and Social Media which may not necessarily provide qualified or correct information. We spotted a gap as it seems there is not many apps in the food allergy space, and none that provide holistic support.

The UK has 2 million allergy sufferers of which 8% of UK children are allergic reactors. The rise in allergic reactions in the last 20 years has cost the NHS £900m in admissions and primary care with reactions peaking at 16-25 year olds and outside the home. Additionally, the Free-From industry has doubled in five years to an estimated £934m in 2019 as reported by Mintel, combined factors of a growing space and market. There is currently limited online and offline support for the UK allergy community; a mobile first; internet driven, tech savvy country as reported by OfCom in 2020.

The motivation to start Teal was to ensure that my daughter and millions others like her are not held back from living their best life as a result of their allergies; and that their parents don’t struggle for information like we did. I wanted to be in control of doing all I can to improve her future and instrumental in driving change. So often they are isolated and excluded as a result of not having the right information or support. As this next generation has been born with technology, it made sense to develop a digital solution so that families like ours and children in their independence have immediate access to the key tools that will help reduce allergic reactions and provide support through emergencies.

Teal logo

Following my daughter’s birth I gave up working to concentrate and care for her various medical conditions and complicated paediatric pathway. My previous professional experience was developing customer strategies so I am passionate about the world from the individual’s point of view. I also spent the last two years up-skilling as a qualified digital marketer through the CIM, as digitisation is driving the future for the next generations and there is a need to be relevant to support them and integrate online and offline experiences.

Pandemic or not, allergies are on the rise. COVID-19 was a massive factor for launching now, as Teal has become more relevant for families - the reliance on digitisation, anxiety around food shortages, external factors as the economy reopens and education resumes. All these highlighted that we need to provide more support in a post-pandemic environment as allergies are increasing and a growing concern. It makes business sense to support the individuals themselves and also the enterprises that serve them; which is packaged within our platform.

I knew I wanted to do something to empower and support others, but was not able to conceptualise or verbalise these ambitions until I started attending the Start-ups in London Libraries workshops. I initially had a few ideas I wanted to develop, but needed to clarify and validate which direction to follow.

Learning about the different ways to start a business and speaking with the facilitators at the SILL workshops gave me confidence to develop and research the validity of TEAL, as it was clear I was passionate about supporting the food allergy community from my discussions.

The timing of my personal experiences and support from the SILL team have been invaluable in setting up my business. The practical considerations and advice in the initial steps on how to get started from an idea to then developing it spring-boarded the birth of Teal. The best first advice was to research, research, research. This is part of my daily mantra now and expanding my knowledge and opportunities for the business.

Sophie [our Start-ups in London Libraries Champion for Croydon] is an absolute gem - and a hidden secret! The value she continues to provide is in her ability to listen to your story and identify your needs. She is proactive about finding solutions and linking you to valid resources and connections that will progress your entrepreneurial journey.

Caron Pollard at workshop in Croydon

She has been accessible even through lockdown and COVID-19 restrictions and has a wealth of knowledge and a great sounding board. Sophie clearly has an entrepreneurial mindset and has an inbuilt directory of valid contacts and practical sources of information. I have taken advantage of tapping into her 1-2-1 support and feel as if she is poised to help me succeed.

I fear that without starting the SILL project I may still be sitting on my business ideas and further behind where I am, and for that I am incredibly grateful and indebted.

I’ve learnt so much during starting up my business. Most notably that it’s not necessarily an overnight process, it will take time to develop and see the results. It is important to have stamina, so start with a plan and achievable objectives and goals along the way to measure your performance and success.

Testing is important - the idea, how it is communicated, your solutions. This will make the business stronger, because the feedback and data will provide invaluable insights for making informed decisions. Agility is important - with the ever changing socio-economic landscape, this will help leverage your opportunities and mitigate your risks.

Start and grow your network consistently - you never know who you meet and the influence they will have in the future direction and success of your business. Align yourself with people who share your ethos, values and integrity. My Co-Founder Joey; is a life long severe nut allergy sufferer and has been a rock through this year – even though he is based in the US and all our work has been remote.  We are also supported by our amazing Champion Ambassador Julianne Ponan, CEO of Creative Nature Superfoods; who through her multiple-allergies created a brand around superfoods and snacks that are top 14 allergen free, vegan and organic.

My final advice to future entrepreneurs who are at the stage of wanting to start a business is to start! Start the process - research - what is the need that you are satisfying, is there a demand? Is someone else doing it, if so what are you doing differently and what is going to make you stand out? Until you start the process it will only remain an idea, so have the courage to initiate - write it down and research it. It may be the best thing you ever do and ignite an exciting and sustainable mission.

As for the website, web and native app versions of Teal, it has just launched! We are really excited about what we are bringing to the market. Keep an eye out on our social channels or sign up to our mailing list so that we can keep you updated on this. Joey and I also host the weekly Teal podcast that sources the best resources so that the allergy community don’t miss out on life’s best moments; and showcase the best of what the international allergy and free-from community has to offer.

We are also passionate about supporting other enterprises in the allergy and free from community, so please do reach out to see how we can work together. We believe in strong collaborations and growing entrepreneurship to better serve individuals impacted by allergies.

For more on Teal, visit www.teal-app.com.

For more on Start-ups in London Libraries and how to register for our upcoming workshop, visit www.bl.uk/SiLL.

Start-ups in London Libraries funder logos (ERDF, Arts Council and J.P Morgan)

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

SiLL_logo_lockups_CMYK

 

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.

Image of Story Cube founders Michael Murdoch and Robbie Dale

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.

Click on this link to watch 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

Image of Co-founder of Hackney Brewery, Peter Hills 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.

Click here to purchase tickets from just £10: https://bit.ly/StoryCubeWebinars-BL. To see the rest of the BIPC webinars, click here to 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)