18 February 2022
As London Fashion Week A/W 2022 comes to a close today, we’re feeling like it's about time to update our wardrobe! Stuck in a rut with your wardrobe too? Maybe you're feeling inspired to create runway pieces at home? From shoe making classes to vintage inspired clothing, we have BIPC businesses that are transforming the fashion industry to help pull you out of your rut. Find out how below
The Fold Line is an award-winning online sewing pattern shop. Founded in 2015 and based in the UK, they are the home for people who love sewing and making their own clothes, offering an extensive range of paper and digital PDF sewing patterns plus copy shop printing services. They are on a sewing mission to help makers find the perfect project and create a handmade wardrobe they love. If the designs from London Fashion Week has inspired you to try your hand at sewing, why not try making one of The Fold Line's best selling sewing patterns for beginners.
Co-founders Rachel Walker and Kate Underdown took part in the Innovating for Growth Free Scale-Up programme and with the help of experts' advice, marketed their new online shop to an established community following.
If shoes are more your style, why not try I Can Make Shoes, a London-based shoe-making school for beginners. Amanda founded the business back in 2010 to teach total beginners how to make their own shoes from home. Since we last spoke to the Innovating for Growth alumna, a lot has changed - she spent the first lockdown filming the same course content she had been teaching in-person for over 10 years and released it as an Online Course, this turned out to be great timing as people from all over the world had been wanting to take one of their courses but weren't able to travel the distance.
The past two years have been a very rocky road, as is the case many small businesses, but I Can Make Shoes has come out of it in a great position having had a chance reset the business and find their feet in the world of online training.
Inspired by beautiful bygone eras Revival Retro’s garments have classic style, feminine tailoring and flattering cuts. They are the perfect antidote to the fast fashion and throwaway culture of the chain brands on the high street and are committed to enabling individual style with inclusive sizing (8-28). For the discerning woman who wants a better shopping experience, their thoughtful design and considered approach puts people, planet and provenance first. Clothing that women will choose to wear again and again, that are easy to care for, enabling this desire and therefor lowering impact on the environment.
Since completing Innovating for Growth in 2017 where they learned to create a solid foundation for their business plans, their small business has built upon lessons learned and stayed true to their values whilst navigating the challenges of the last few years.
Sabina Motasem is a multi award-winning bridal boutique featured on vogue.com and in Elle. The entrepreneur and designer behind it is Sabina Ali whose dresses are proudly made right here in London with beautiful craftsmanship by an extraordinarily talented team. Having started in 2007, with a single wedding dress made as a present for a friend, Sabina's presence has steadily grown and she took part in our Innovating for Growth programme in 2012; it's an experience she calls "life changing" as it taught her the value of detaching herself and gaining perspective.
Like so many small businesses Sabina had to close her bridal shop in Islington but she believes it was the right thing to do. Her boutique is now online, becoming one of the first bridal brands in the country to pivot in this direction, and in 2022 she has started offering in-person appointments at bridal pop-up shops in Kings Cross, London.
The Maria Grachvogel brand of Fashion and Luxury is about fit architecture – making clothes exist for the wearer, rather than the other way around. She engineers beautiful clothes, in fabrics that make every shape and size of woman look and feel her most confident, beautiful, and feminine. With a deep belief that cut and fit is transformative to the body and soul, each piece is carefully considered with seams that sculpt the body and fabric that drapes perfectly to move and flow as you do with thoughtful design details to enhance and flatter or allow for many ways to wear and style. The finest craftsmanship goes into every, considered piece so it can be loved and worn for many years.
Watch the latest fashion film by Maria Grachvogel, Genesis - A New Dawn, which premiered during London Fashion Week on 21 February.
B_Boheme’s showcases how vegan, sustainable and ethical shoes can be desirable. The collection is 100% animal-free using the latest innovations in sustainable, plant-based materials, as well as natural and recycled materials. With their latest collection, they’ve upped the ante to create a collection with the lowest possible carbon footprint. It features three key styles that are designed to be bolder and brighter as well as durable and timelessly chic. They’ve focused on styles that women can wear to be comfortable while still elevating any outfit, the elegant flat shoe, the designer sneaker and the utility Chelsea boot.
25 January 2022
A new year is a time of reflection, it's a perfect opportunity to make important changes and set goals you'd like to accomplish in the year ahead. For small businesses, 2021 remained unpredictable under COVID-19 conditions and in order to adapt, pivots were essential - a tricky environment to set goals and resolutions in. We spoke to businesses we have supported, through Innovating for Growth, our National Network and Start-Ups in London Libraries programme, to find out what their top three resolutions are for this year. If you're struggling to set resolutions of your own, we hope they inspire you!
Paul, Triple Double
Triple Double is a creative studio, founded by Paul Jenkins, that unleashes how youth engage in sport and education, using the power of design and creativity to transform their lives. Innovating for Growth alumni Paul doesn't usually set resolutions focusing instead on goals, this year he's decided to use themes to guide him rather than setting fixed aims:
- Responsibility. We can't control what happens, but we can choose how we react. This year I'm going to take more responsibility and empower those around me to do the same, so we can collectively highlight and fix the problems, not just put a band-aid over them.
- Future Thinking. 'What is the future of... X?' These are the questions I want to be asking this year, and beyond, within the spaces of youth, sport and education that Triple Double works in. Using design and creativity to be in pursuit of the answers rather than just trying to predict them.
- Team. I want to continue to identify people around me that truly understand why I'm doing what I'm doing, and invest in these relationships – reducing or cutting ties with those that don't. It's impossible to speak and please everyone, so it's about spending time with those that matter most. Goes back to responsibility above ultimately.
Jennifer, Stitch & Story
Founded by Jennifer Lam and Jen Hoang, Stitch & Story gives novice crafters a stress-free experience in learning to knit or crochet, their all-in-one kits contain everything you need to get started and learn the basic techniques. Read on to find out their top three resolutions for 2022:
- Focusing more on the systems and processes for the business. As our business grows, we’re needing to find leaner and more automated ways of working so that our team has all the right information needed to make decisions. I often find systems and processes quite dull compared to the front facing parts of the business, so this year I’ll be making extra efforts!
- Delegating more to my team so that I can get away from the day-to-day and focus more on planning for the business.
- Make sure I plan in adequate leave/holiday in advance - otherwise I’ll end up with the bad habit of not taking any time off.
Tina was inspired by Taiwanese bubble tea concept and British tea drinking culture to develop a delicious, well-balanced, vegan tea latte beverage - HumaniTea. As well as taking part in the start-up arm of the Innovating for Growth programme, she was also mentored by a successful entrepreneur from the scale-ups programme. Then, in 2021, HumaniTea began being stocked in the British Library canteen! Let's see what Tina's plans are for the coming year:
- Make HumaniTea accessible to even more people by launching our Vegan Tea Lattes into a nationwide retailer
- Explore new product development ideas to expand our range of HumaniTea Oat Milk Tea Latte flavours, like turmeric and rooibos
- Increase our sales to support more wellbeing and sustainability initiatives through growing our list of stockists in the UK and abroad
Fiona & Jennifer, Amaze Associates
Amaze Associates, founded by Fiona Wedderburn-Graham and Jennifer McLean, is a transformational coaching company that empowers individuals and businesses to achieve their goals and to navigate work and life challenges. Their top three resolutions are:
- Review the business plan and celebrate our achievements: as often we don't lift our heads above the parapet long enough or take time to consider what we have actually achieved.
- Take social media by the horns: By planning/scheduling reels and stories in advance and introduce lives as part of our marketing strategy.
- To be limitless: As a business we have set an aspirational income target, this acts as a real motivating factor for us and has informed our goal setting for this year.
ArtPerÚK, founded by Katherine Tinoco, is a business created to share Peruvian culture with the wider community in London and the UK, through the art and enjoyment of dance. ArtPerÚK burst onto the UK dance scene in mid-2019, offering Peruvian folkloric dance classes representative of the three regions of Peru: Coast, Andes and Jungle. Katherine let us know what her top three business resolutions for the new year are:
- Run events and performances outside London to increase Peruvian folklore visibility
- Create new and energetic choreographies with traditional costumes to increase our variety and diversity
- Run a Dance Performance with more than 30 dancers in one Theatre in London.
Hellen, Small Stuff
Hellen Stirling is the founder of Small Stuff, an eco-conscious children’s store in South Yorkshire. Hellen used BIPC South Yorkshire’s free market research reports and recently their IP support to become a trade marked brand. Her three goals for 2022 are:
- Continue to grow and expand Small Stuff, both online and in real life by taking on more specialised staff to share the load.
- Collaborate with the local community, support and engage with other local businesses, shoppers and residents to get Crookes high street on the map!
- Travel and promote the business nationally, but going back to Small Stuff’s roots and utilising pop-up spaces and empty units around the country to promote the brand and our sustainability ethos.
Paul Pringle, Founder and Managing Director of Solarglide, who are based in the North East, produce blinds, curtains and window shades for ships. They received help from BIPC North East to help take their business to the next level in terms of sustainability. This year, Paul is looking forward to progressing three things:
- We’re looking at the transport we use, when we travel to shows or to see customers in other parts of the world. What we can do to either offset that, which is not really the way we want to go, we want to try and get as low a carbon footprint as we can, so we’re just looking at every aspect. The support we’re getting to take that forward is great. It just means we’re getting guidance on how to go about it. I was unsure where to turn, now I feel a lot more confident. Our goal is to get the lowest possible carbon footprint that we can get as a business. Yes we’re a manufacturer, but we’ve got lots of other ideas and ways in which we can reduce our power consumption, the processes to make us more environmentally friendly and also the products and see what else we can do to make them more sustainable.
- One of the big developments happening at Solarglide is we’re going very motorisation with everything we do. For the last 10 – 15 years it’s been all manually operated products we offer. We are now heading into the era of motorisation, i.e. blinds and curtains. We’re investing heavily in research and the development of our products.
- The other area is we’ve moved in to the yacht industry, which is still under the umbrella of maritime and we’ve developed a whole range of products for the yacht and super yacht market. It’s an exciting time for us. We’re also looking at land-based projects, without diverting too much away from the maritime market, i.e. motorhome, caravan, as our products fit that type of environment very well as well. We’ll stay true to our maritime roots and won’t diverge too much.
04 November 2021
With 61% of Mintel’s Sustainability Barometer respondents saying they were meal planning to prevent food waste and 58% are buying fewer clothes, sustainability and going green are at the top of people’s agendas. Inventors and entrepreneurs around the world are finding new, innovative, environmentally friendly ways to do things and help nurture our planet. This year’s Start-up Day will feature more than 45 speakers who have sustainability at the heart of what they do, all available to watch online, wherever you are and for free. Until then, let’s hear from some of our other BIPs, that’s bright and inspiring people to you and me, who have led the eco revolution.
From initial purchases, processes, marketing and right down to their uniform, Becca and Charlotte are making sure that running a business doesn’t have to cost the earth. The two co-founded North Sky Yurts, based in Yorkshire, which offers a unique venue for weddings, parties, or corporate events, surrounded by nature.
For Becca, having a sustainable business has always been important, ‘for years I’d dreamed of owning my own business. I knew I wanted it to be in glamping, be outdoors, and be something that also contributed something good to the world.’ They do this by planting a tree for every booking and the tent furnishings used are sourced responsibly or second hand where possible.
Attending events and one-to-ones at the Business & IP Centre Leeds helped Becca and Charlotte with their marketing, writing a business plan and access funding. ‘The free advice was so valuable, and it was so great to meet other people wanting to start businesses. It also gave me the confidence that I had a credible idea and could do something with it. Having like-minded people and cheerleaders around your business is vital and working with other small businesses to recommend each other will really help your business along. Make sure you talk about your business in every conversation you have, you never know who that person might know that could help grow your business.’
Another business, who took part in our Innovating for Growth: Scale-up programme earlier in the year, wanted to change an industry from the inside. Amarachi who founded Lucocoa in 2015, after teaching herself how to make chocolate in her home, learned that the bean-to-bar quality chocolate could be much better than that available in the mass market, even than perceived luxury brands.
‘I started Lucocoa Chocolate to change how unsustainable the chocolate industry is. Chocolate is one of those things that we eat so much of and know little about – dark chocolate isn’t supposed to be bitter, milk chocolate isn’t supposed to be that sweet and white chocolate is actually chocolate.
Large chocolate companies exploit cocoa farmers, resulting in serious consequences. Farmers are unable to invest in technology or equipment to help them grow the best beans or meet the corporation's demands. This can lead to them to exploiting their workers and using child or slave labour. It is important that farmers are paid a fair price to help stop these harmful practices and it is our commitment to do that.’
Since 2015, Amarachi has rapidly driven the business to production capacity, having secured keystone customers and thriving online sales. ‘Innovating for Growth has been so useful to me, I have spent a long time trying to work out answers to certain questions alone and this course gave me access to experts that could answer the questions I had and give ideas on how to scale the business.’
If you live locally to Southwark, you may recognise our next business, Bottle Farm, who took part in the Start-ups in London Libraries programme. With everyone spending more time inside their houses over the last two years, Bottle Farm is now more relevant than ever. Co-founders Charlie Francis, Daniel Taylor and Emil Schneider, really put sustainability at the heart of their business, they manufacture in the UK and offset 100% of their carbon footprint by funding forestry and decarbonisation projects. In addition to this, the Bottle Farm kit is made from over 95% recycled material. The Bottle Stands and Grow Baskets are made using waste material from the factory floor.
'We are the kit that turns any used plastic bottle into a beautiful indoor farm. Grow delicious vegetables, fresh herbs and even houseplants on your window. Good for you, good for the planet.
The Start-ups in London Libraries programme has been really useful for us. Dean's specialised crowdfunding expertise was invaluable when we were developing a plan for our Kickstarter campaign. Some of the strategies he suggested were hugely effective. The marketing workshops were also great.'
With help from Dean, the SiLL Business Champion for Southwark, Bottle Farm were able to raise £30,000 through a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, so keep an eye out for big things coming from them.
If you want to find out more about how you can be eco-concious in your business decisions from the start, join us for our biggest free event of the year, Start-up Day. You can also access Mintel reports and over £5m worth of other online resources for free at BIPCs around the UK. Turn your brilliant idea into a business.
Start-up Day is in partnership with Santander
29 September 2021
As businesses across the country closed their doors in March of 2020, it was unclear just how long these doors would remain closed. Small businesses found themselves facing a frightening and confusing time, having to pivot and adjust to the continually changing landscape. In many cases, however, this pause in time allowed some to reflect on their career goals and even prompted them to launch their own businesses. We spoke to four such businesses, who either pivoted or started up during the pandemic and explored how they were able to grow despite unpredictable circumstances.
For Carolynn Bain, the pandemic and the civil rights uprising that started to unfold in the summer of 2020 highlighted the importance and need for her to start up her Brighton based business, Afrori Books. Afrori Books is an online bookshop that specialises in books by black authors, their mission statement is simple; to support black authors, create diverse bookshelves and be a voice for justice.
As a National Network business, we were able to assist Carolynn by providing local information and resources to help her grow during this time, specifically ways to source funding to expand the business into a physical shop via our Business & IP Centre Brighton & Hove.
"Starting a business during the pandemic is an unusual thing to do. However, I think what had a bigger impact on us was starting a business during a pandemic and during a civil rights uprising in terms of Black Lives Matter – they can’t be separated for us. Many people were at home, reading books and for the first time ever really the world was sitting still, watching these things unfold before them. That had a massive impact on us and, in a positive sense, bought customers to us who previously maybe would not have considered looking at books by black authors. As we go forward, we are in the middle of crowd funding as we are looking to open a physical shop – working in partnership with a charity in Brighton who have given us a shop space. That has also come off the back of the civil rights movement, as they want to see Brighton change and become a safe space for black authors and black people living in the city. It’s all interconnected."
Another National Network business, who recently took part in our Innovating for Growth programme, that has seen growth during the pandemic is The Woodlife Project. The Norfolk based business, founded by Hazel Russell manufactures beautiful, innovative, eco-friendly wooden products for the family home with a focus on meal times. The Woodlife Project, who got support from BIPC Norfolk, mostly sell online on their own website and wholesale through a variety of different retailers, most notably during the pandemic they are now available on John Lewis and, like Afrori Books, will be looking to have in store product space soon too. "Our proudest moment in business so far has been getting into John Lewis, as they were one of our ideal retailers from the offset. We are online at the moment - in the nursery section with our bear, fox and rabbit plates. If all goes well we will be in store soon."
Jennifer Lam also took part in our Innovating for Growth programme, she is the co-founder and CEO of Stitch and Story based in London, which is an online crafting company on a mission to make crafting simple and easy to learn. During the numerous lock-downs, confined to their homes, people were getting back in touch with their creative side which bode well for this crafting business and allowed them to grow despite the uncertain circumstances.
"We’re here to inspire a new generation of crafters with our DIY kits, yarns and materials. During the pandemic Stitch and Story grew enormously. I think we were one of the lucky companies who were able to grow because everybody was in lockdown, looking for a new skill or hobby to pick up at home. Stitch and Story provided many customers with a new skill in knitting and crocheting and so we expanded very quickly online predominantly, albeit it was very stressful!"
One of the biggest changes to Stitch and Story was the team; they more than doubled the team during the pandemic from seven to 22. "We had to recruit everyone virtually at the time and it was stressful as we had no experience in doing that before - the BIPC really helped in providing us resources for this."
Start-ups in London Libraries business, Delmora, founded by Judy Chicangana-Matthews, offers a variety of beautiful jewellery items and accessories for women. Judy launched her first product at the end of February, weeks before Covid hit. "The impact was huge. In the beginning, people were buying the essentials such as food and toilet paper, so jewellery was considered a luxury. Nowadays, many people are concerned about their jobs and how that is going to impact their finances.
Covid also affects my KPIs in terms of delivery. I use the service Royal Mail 24, and I have had severe delays on the delivery of the parcels. To compensate my customers, sometimes I offer discounts as a part of the customer service. This practice has seriously affected my margins, so surviving has been very difficult."
Thus, the need to pivot and test out new business models to grow her business came about. By adding a loyalty program to her business, she was able to ensure repeat purchases and a loyal customer base. "My response has been offering discounts to my customers and creating programs to increase the brand’s recognition. For example, I offer the Delmora Club discount to all my customers in which the members have exclusive access to special discounts and pre-launch of our collections. We also recently created the program named Delmora Brand Champion that aims to get more positive reviews around our online presence."
Despite the devastating effects of the pandemic, we are pleased to see small businesses surviving, thriving and growing through it - it has highlighted the importance of small businesses, which are innovative, provide jobs and support local communities. In turn, there has been an increase in public support for local small businesses, to help ensure they remained profitable - a trend we hope continues long after the pandemic has ended.
08 December 2020
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.
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.
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.
01 December 2020
As 2020 draws to a close, we are taking the opportunity to celebrate and support small businesses. And what better opportunity than gift-giving during the festive period? We've rounded up just a selection of businesses who have taken part in Innovating for Growth, Start-ups in London Libraries or used our National Network who may just be able to help you find the perfect gift for that hard to buy for person!
Healthy, glowing skin and a moment of calm. Pamoja® is a conscious skincare brand based in Newcastle upon Tyne. Sarah Taylor, a trained skincare formulator, has created a simple daily skincare routine designed to help multitasking women step back from the stress of a busy, modern lifestyle and care for their skin with premium natural and ethically sourced ingredients, beautiful textures and aromas that leave you feeling radiant and relaxed. Certified cruelty free. Vegan. Palm oil free.
Cost: From £10
Where to buy: Pamoja
This is your life
Turn your past into a Christmas present. Autodotbiography is an online system that makes it easy for anyone, no matter how good or bad at writing, to create a beautifully written and lavishly illustrated hardback book of their life story for their family. Basically, it is a virtual ghost writer and virtual book designer, all the author has to do is answer simple questions about their life and add photographs and documents and autodotbiography turns their words and pictures into a beautiful book. A perfect present that becomes a family heirloom.
Cost: £250 (for a year's access to the online system and one hardback book)
Where to buy: Autodotbiography.
Evolve Beauty products are lovingly handmade in small batches at their studio in Hertfordshire, England to ensure the freshness of the precious antioxidants in the natural oils, butters and extracts. Our products are vegan, cruelty free and eco-friendly.
Evolve's glamorous, golden Bio-Retinol Gold Mask delivers the benefits of retinol without the irritation, and it does this by containing a natural, retinol-like plant extract from Bidens Pilosa that works on the skin to deliver the same rejuvenation benefits and cellular renewal but without the added irritation that some retinol based products can cause. It also contains Rosehip Oil and Argan Oil making it rich in omega 3 and 6 which help to nourish and moisturise, leaving you with glowing skin. The golden shimmers come from sustainably sourced mineral Mica, so it makes for an extremely luxurious face mask!
Where to buy: Evolve
Keep warm, dry and cosy
So very British, my dear! Heating & Plumbing London creates British lifestyle accessories to keep you warm, dry and cosy. Heating & Plumbing love being tongue-in-cheek with everything they do, including their name!
Cost: Various but get 15% off sitewide with code: SoVeryBritishLibrary (valid until Thursday 31 December 2020)
Where to buy: Heating & Plumbing London
On 3 May 2016, an evacuation put 80,000 residents onto Fort McMurray, a sole access road without notice. What followed was a new form of hyper energised anthropogenic fire that burnt uncontrollably through their settlement and industry over three days. These pictures were made along that road as the region recovered six months afterward. On The Line is made from recycled coffee cups and EU Ecolable Certified paper from the Scandinavian Boreal Forest and the ink is 100% plant based by Park Communications, London. Photographs and words by Alan McFetridge. Available at Whitechapel Gallery, The Photographer’s Gallery and Clair De Rouen Books in London.
Cost: Book, £16.50. Framed limited edition prints, from £750
Where to buy: Alan McFetridge
Children's gift bundles
Lemon Ribbon is an inspirational contemporary youth brand sparkling with energy and originality. Based around a series of characters, they have used their background of designing for international childrenswear retailers to create a world of cheerful education encompassing both an online world and physical products such as toys, books, accessories and other educational products. Their online shop sells exclusive toy and backpack bundles, comprising of zipped backpack, pencil case and small plush toy, that make ideal Christmas presents for children aged 4 - 7. The bundles arrive wrapped in tissue paper and can include a personalised gift note.
Cost: £40 + get a free pack of cards with code: BLCARDS (valid until 24.12.20, not valid in conjunction with any other offer)
Where to buy: Lemon Ribbon
Toe-gether at Christmas
Socks are guaranteed to appear as gifts on Christmas Day for someone, luckily for you, we have something a little bit different... ChattyFeet, a funny gift brand that inspires people to get silly with illustrated sock characters, paper models, mugs, enamel pins and more.
Cost: Adult socks from £8
Where to buy: ChattyFeet
For the foodie
Based on age old traditions, The Slow Vinegar Company makes small batches of finely crafted vinegars from scratch. By using a traditional double fermentation process, produce is transformed slowly into unique tasting wine vinegar. All their vinegars are aged and matured to allow further depth and complexity of flavour to develop.
The Slow Vinegar Company uses seasonal fruits, roots, berries and blossoms; grown, foraged or picked from local farms to make their delicious range of 12 exciting flavours. All of their vinegars are raw, unpasteurised, vegan friendly, gluten and preservative free, and packed full of natural goodness. Perfect for all of those festive dishes!
Cost: From £4
Where to buy: The Slow Vinegar Company
For the crafter
Treat a friend or a crafty loved one to a Fold Line gift voucher and give them the gift of choice! If you’re not sure about their handmade style, a e-gift voucher will let them choose from hundreds of sewing patterns on the Fold Line's online shop.
Cost: Gift vouchers can come in the amount of your choice
Where to buy: The Fold Line
And for the craft beer lovers...
indiebeer has a great range of Christmas gift products on their website, including subscription services to last your beer-loving friend the whole year. An ideal present to wrap up under the tree would be their personalised beer box. You choose your budget and the indiebeer team will put together a box of beers for you based on our personal recommendations, whatever your budget. All boxes include a beer menu with descriptions of each beer and a gift note can be included if required.
Cost: Budgets from £20
Where to buy: indiebeer
Let it 'stow
Kitchen Canvas is part of our Waltham Forest Start-ups in London Libraries' community and they are representing all things Walthamstow which this delectable hamper. The purchase of one hamper allows you to support 10 local businesses. Let someone else do the hard work of curating your gifts for you with this beautiful box of goodies.
Where to buy: Kitchen Canvas
A mug of cheer
Victoria Eggs creates playful homewares and gifts, all of which are proudly made in Britain. Her Santa's Sleigh Mug is a beautiful stocking filler gift. With an image of Santa flying his sleigh over a snowy picturesque English town as people below go about their last minute preparations unaware of the magic happening above them, this fine bone china mug is certain to make you smile whilst enjoying your cuppa on Christmas morning. This mug is hand decorated in Britain and printed onto fine bone china.
Cost: £12. Customers can get 10% off all orders over £35 by entering the code BL2020.
Where to buy: Victoria Eggs
Couture combating climate change
Tammam is a sustainable couture fashion studio now offering an exclusive collection of ready-to-wear and accessories to support textile artisans in India. These beautiful scarves are available in organic cotton or peace silk and production of them has helped artisans survive lockdown. The scarves have been woven in the climate stripes (Professor Ed Hawkins, university of Reading) - the scale which depicts the rise of global temperatures over the last 170 years. Not only are these scarves 100% biodegradable, fair trade and carbon neutral in production (all the weaving has been created by hand on traditional looms, using human power), they also hold a message - a reminder of the very real issue of climate change. They're a little piece of couture luxury, delivered.
Cost: £30 to £180 with delivery included
Where to buy: Tammam Climate Stripes Couture Collection
Gift them some get up and go
HAVEN sells coffee with the aim of raising awareness for refugee communities across the UK, from promoting refugee artists to organising events both visual and performing art, as well as providing barista training to those refugees who are looking to build a new professional life for themselves. They have rolled out a range of festive gifts this year including packages that include bags of coffee and branded totes and T-shirts. Or how about a monthly coffee subscription?
Cost: From £22
Where to buy: HAVEN Coffee
And we all know Christmas isn't just for the humans. Treat your furry friend with an upgraded stay at Longcroft’s award winning group of cat hotels.
Kitties can celebrate in style by beginning the big day with a carefully chosen hamper full of toys and goodies. Guests that are allowed will also enjoy a hand prepared breakfast with choices from the hotel’s ‘A La Cat’ Menu. Because Longcroft hotels are located within the hotel owners home gardens they can have a welcome break from the kitchen and enjoy cuddles and play sessions with their guests. The afternoon can be spent relaxing from the comfort of their suites whilst sinking into the finest pillows for a cat nap. Every hotel owner is hand picked and trained by Longcroft founder Abi Purser and her team of experts including Head Vet Chris.
Cost: From £18 per day
Where to buy: Longcroft Luxury Cat Hotel Group
Don't get tied up in knots
Norio Knots offer eco-friendly woven cotton statement necklaces and accessories, and was born after one throwaway purchase too many. This is sustainable fashion, built to last. Each Norio Knots piece is made from 100% recycled cotton, and made to order. They are also a finalist in Kirstie's Handmade Christmas and, as far as we're concerned, if it's good enough for Kirstie....
Cost: From £7
Where to buy: Norio Knots
For the fitness fanatic
Start-ups in London Libraries business, BOXD, have a special edition Healthy Christmas box on offer throughout December which includes a month's supply of their protein based health shakes, as well as some extra goodies to help you glow throughout the Winter months.
Where to buy: Christmas BOXD
And for those who love to kick back on two wheels
The Sormano Cycling Gilet is an essential garment for cycling lovers. The gilet is super light and compact to store in pockets with its own in-built pouch. The Gilet is made in Italy by Cyclists for Cyclists. Extra features included zipped hidden pocket for valuable and reflective tab to increase safety during the hours of darkness.
Where to buy: SaddleDrunk
Spread some sweetness
Bushwood Bees have colonies of bees on the roof of the East London Mosque and create delectable honey-based products. Show someone how much you care by sending them a lovely gift box of raw, pure honey and a lovely lavender hand made bar of honey soap. You can add a personalised message to make it extra special.
Cost: £15 collected or delivery for an extra £2.95
Where to buy: Bushwood Bees
All that glitters
Buy high quality but affordable jewellery for your friends and family this year. Delmora, part of our Start-ups in London Libraries community in Bexley, sells pendants in a wide variety of different shapes and finishes.
Cost: From £8.90
Where to buy: Delmora Etsy
Make mealtimes fun
Looking for a fun way to serve Christmas dinner, or is it difficult to get the little ones to eat their greens? The Wood Life Project's reindeer plate is made in the UK from sustainably grown and harvested wood from the UK. Free personalisation and P&P.
Cost: £35 (mult-buy discounts available)
Where to buy: The Wood Life Project
All wrapped up
Grace, the founder of Anike Titilai designs handcrafted jewellery created using semi-precious crystals, including obsidian and yellow jade with gold vermeil accents to finish. Bespoke pieces can also be made to suit customer requirements so contact Grace if there is anything that you would like but cannot find on our website. The range includes waistbeads, ankle bracelets, bracelets, necklaces and rings.
Cost: From £40
Where to buy: Anike Titilai
Put your best foot forward
Finale is an award winning family run shoe shop in Corbridge, Northumberland. Run by mother and daughter duo Lynn and Faye Clark, who source fabulous boots, shoes, handbags and accessories from around the globe for their shop and website, its shopping how it should be with excellent customer service and great product knowledge.
Cost: Various. Gift vouchers available from £10
Where to buy: Finale
Inspired by growing up in the 1970s and 80s, Louise started Obble Bobble for her daughter, Phoebe, and her crazy, long hair. Obble Bobble hair bobbles are made by hand in Northamptonshire. Not only are they retro cool, they are designed to be super strong yet gentle on hair.
Where to buy: Etsy
20 October 2020
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?
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.
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
09 September 2020
Meet Patricia Gurman, founder of Sweet Paper Creations and Start-ups in London Libraries participant
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.
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.
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.
10 August 2020
Meet Sol Ramos, co-founder of London Basketball Nation and Start-ups in London Libraries participant
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.
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.
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.
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!’
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.
08 July 2020
Ahmad is the founder of Baracat Bros, an app company that builds games with hidden educational value. He took part in our Start-ups in London Libraries programme and is part of our SiLL community in Greenwich. We spoke to him about his business and his Start-ups in London Libraries journey.
Tell us about your business. Why did you start it up?
We believe games offer a unique channel to deliver educational messages and foster learning because of their interactive and engaging nature. Yet, many of the popular mobile games are designed for entertainment purposes and the educational games on the market lack engagement and the fun factor. We wanted to address that. We try to create edu-games, which are fun, engaging and educational.
We rely on academic research in the Science of Learning field, which uses cognitive-science research on how students learn, and uses that knowledge to offer practical actions to improve teaching, to guide the design of our games.
From a personal perspective, we believe that working in a corporate environment is not for everyone and, for us, starting up a business was a viable option to gain more freedom over which problems we wanted to solve and how to approach them.
How did the SiLL project help you in setting up your business?
I attended 3 sessions as part of the programme and it helped me gain the needed confidence to set up my business. The workshops also really helped to equip the attendees - I came out of the ‘Get ready for business’ workshop with actionable advice like how to access funding, how to create a business model canvas and where to find resources to continue learning.
What was the most helpful part of the SiLL project for you?
Meeting like-minded people who were trying to build their own businesses. It was eye-opening to see the diversity of their backgrounds as well as their business ideas.
Loretta [our Start-ups in London Libraries Greenwich Business Champion] is building a business community for people who want to pursue their own businesses and need the practical knowledge and the support network to do so successfully. I really believe that such communities are invaluable for anyone building their own business.
What advice would you give anyone looking to start up a business?
Make sure to invest time in building a circle of like-minded people, it really helps when things get tough and you need people to share your experiences with.
I really can’t stress enough having a support network that understand what it takes to start a business and how to navigate the space. I would highly recommend going to the Start-ups in London Libraries’ workshops as they will equip them with a support network and practical advice on how to start a business in the UK.
I would also highly recommend preparing oneself psychologically and mentally that building a business takes time and that there are usually no shortcuts to getting it to be profitable other than putting in the hard work.
What are the key things you have learnt while starting up your business?
When you are starting a business, the main way to think about it is how you are solving valuable problems for customers - the main way to figure out such problems is to actively talk to customers and potential customers. Once a valuable problem is identified, it becomes relatively easy to iterate on a potential solution.
What’s next for you and your business?
A few days ago, Foodology, a game Baracat Bros' created in 2 weeks to help people learn about food, was featured on ProductHunt (the go-to platform for launching new products)
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