THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Innovation and enterprise blog

73 posts categorized "Success stories"

07 August 2019

Celebrating International Cat Day with Rose Hill Designs

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Rose Hill is a graphic artist who has garnered renown for her personal commissions and her 'Make Your Pet Famous' series. She trained as a textile designer at the Chelsea University of Arts and took part in the BIPC's Innovating for Growth programme in 2015. Here, in celebration of International Cat Day, she shares how furry friends have shaped her work and business. 

What is your business? 

I'm Rose, a graphic artist. I create award-winning Pop Art designs - from painted murals to my personally commissioned 'Make Your Pet Famous' artworks which are now sold in Harrods. My 'Make Your Pet Famous' collection is where I illustrate your pet in my Pop Art style. Each piece is lovingly designed in North London and made in England. 

What inspires your work?

I love creating art and am particularly keen that my work brings people joy and pleasure. The art I create is fun and approachable and it aims to reflect what you like best about the world around you, which, let's face it, more often that not, is your pets! The colour palettes I use are very bright, which is important because of the effect that colour can have on your mood. 

1b Rose Hill Designs Mural Make Your Pet Famous JAPAN

Pattern and texture is also a big inspiration in my work. Each piece of artwork has 64 geometric patterns layered into it. I hand draw every pet using a Surface Pro laptop. It allows me to draw straight onto the computer screen as if it was a pen and paper. Using a variety of drawing techniques including line drawings, I assemble together every element of their face and body and then insert the different colours and tones of patterns in each feature and change the opacity of each of them to give depth and tone. All have at least 10 layers and most have considerably more. I love mixing the modern technology with the traditional style of craftmanship. To add to that, each work is printed onto brushed paper to make it look like it is on fabric.

Seeing the customer's reaction after I've taken them on the creative journey with me from start to finish is also very inspirational.

How did you put your offer together and find customers?

The process of getting customers for Make Your Pet Famous was very organic. A customer commissioned me to draw their dog, Lola. At that time I had 11 dogs in my card and stationery collection and needed 12 for my first Trade Show. So I asked if I could use Lola in my collection. They loved the idea and so did everyone else! When I was at trade shows and would explain about Lola, people would ask if I could draw their dog too and add to my next collection. This continued to happen and after five more commissions I thought there was something in this. They would say ‘You’ll make my dog famous’ and so that's how the name came about.

I got some lovely recommendations and positive feedback and the word began to spread more. Word of mouth has been a big part of me finding customers because normally when people get their works, they are so delighted they immediately tell their friends about it! This led to my 'Make Your Pet Famous' exhibitions which built on this relationship between humans and pets at a live event. And of course, social media is a wonderful way to meet people and connect with people. 

3 Rose Hill Designs Make Your Pet Famous Aria exhibition

How did the Business & IP Centre fit in to your business journey?

I completed the Innovating for Growth program which was incredible and would 100% recommend it. When doing your market research at the Business and IP Centre you can look at the Mintel and Keynote reports - which are normally hugely expensive and filled with important data - completely for free. They are an incredible tool and you can even send 10% of them to yourself for free, which is so helpful for continuing your research. Irini and all the staff at the Business & IP Centre are a fountain of knowledge and will help you with any question you may have. There are other great search tools for funding and other valuable information!

What advice would you give someone trying to find their niche?

Try stuff! Experiment and play. It’s really important to enjoy what you are doing. When you work for yourself and/ or have your own business it can be incredibly tough and it’s so important to truly LOVE what you are doing otherwise you may as work for someone else and know the income you will get each month. Create something you're passionate about and there are other people who are passionate about it too. Resilience and grit are key qualities to have.

Rose Hill Designs Rachien Smoothie Mural - Rose at Private View

How have you been able to grow the business?

Growing the business is really important but the most important thing is how you want it to grow! It’s very easy to go down the garden path of what is selling the best and where you're making money which is of course very important. But more important, I believe, is to go where you will feel satisfied creatively, financially and mentally. It’s a great idea to keep checking in with yourself regularly to see if your goals are still your goals. Artistic freedom has always been number one for me! So in my case, it meant letting the cards and stationery side of the business go so that I could concentrate on the creative side and personal commissions. I licensed my designs and got others to sell products for me so that I could concentrate on that.

What's been your best/most rewarding/most surreal moment in business so far?

Probably doing my ‘Make Your Pet Famous’ exhibitions in the last year, one in Warren Street and another in Japan. The private views for these were so special and among the best nights of my life. 

I've also been so lucky to have done so many amazing commissions and collaborations, for example getting a commission from Charles Saatchi (to illustrate and make his daughter a dress) straight from my degree show. I feel very proud to have drawn two artworks for Sadie Frost which has been featured in magazines like Red. There was also a commission to do a portrait for Robert Webb and his family. As I'm such an animal lover, doing a collaboration with ZSL London Zoo and Whipsnade Zoo was wonderful, as was a collaboration with the British Museum. Finally, having Harrods as a stockist to many items including the 'Make Your Pet Famous' range and designing a print and accessories especially for them under their own name has been incredible. Being able to sell my art and stationery across the world, places like Japan, America and Australia is an amazing feeling! It's an honour to be able to create a life and business that people love and want to be a part of.

How did cats start becoming a key part of your work?

When starting the 'Make Your Pet Famous' collection it began with dogs but very soon after everyone wanted cats. I was always asked 'where are the cats?' because everyone loves cats! They became an integral part of my offering from that point on, with Tupac as the first #MakeYourPetFamous cat.

Trio of cats

Do you have any notes about intellectual property and your work?

The Business & IP Centre are very helpful in this area and would recommend you go and speak to them if you have any questions on intellectual property! They can direct you to specialists. They have all the details on copyright, trademark and registered designs and can help you to get protected, which they certainly did with me. 

You can find Rose's work at https://www.rosehilldesigns.co.uk/. She has recently put on another #MakeYourPetFamous exhibition in Islington and will be doing another one in October 2019 in Hackney. You can find all the details on her website. 

10 June 2019

Food Season at the Business & IP Centre

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With the British Library’s Food Season coming to a close, we take a look back at the past few months and the events the Business & IP Centre has celebrated with, including panel talks, inventors’ club, speed mentoring, workshops and one-to-ones for budding foodie entrepreneurs, or those who wanted to grow their existing business.

The UK’s food and drinks sector going from strength to strength. In 2017, consumer spending in the sector exceeded £219 billion with food and drinks exports worth more than £22 million to the economy. With almost 7,000 micro, small and medium businesses active in the sector last year, there’s no shortage of brands eager to take a bite out of the market.

Expert Impact’s Profit with Purpose: The Tastemakers II heard how Rubies in the Rubble (Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups alumni), LEMONAID, The Dusty Knuckle Bakery and Ben & Jerry’s became successful social enterprises. Here’s a little taster of the evening…

Our own Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Recipes for Success followed with the founders and co-founders of Eat Natural, Riverford and Pip & Nut, moderated by food journalist Victoria Stewart. Here are some highlights from the Q&A, with questions from audiences both in London and around our National Network, as well as those watching via our live webcast.

With work/life balance being a main motivator for a lot of entrepreneurs (whether or not that ends up being the reality), finding a happy medium between business and non-work time can be challenging. Pip Murray, founder of Pip & Nut still struggles, even with products in over 5,000 stores in four and a half years, “The first couple of years I was like a headless chicken. It’s inevitable it [the business] will take over everything. Since building the team, it’s given me headspace to enjoy my weekends. There’s only so much you can keep going at that pace and something needs to give. I’m very much involved in everything. There’s still an element that sucks you in, but you just need regular breaks.”

Guy Singh-Watson, founder of Riverford, decided to make the company employee owned and he became one of 650 co-owners. Guy said, “I strongly believe in giving people as much autonomy about how their day goes, what they’re doing and how they do it. Giving them the ability to grow and get better at it. The third motivator is purpose. In agriculture, the work is very very demanding, and I think fewer and fewer people are going to want to do it and we have to make sure we keep the best ones.”

The panel of founders also highlighted the need to not being afraid of trying things, not waiting for perfection and just going for it. Praveen encourages, “If you have an idea, just go for it. You don’t know what’s going to happen until you speak to consumers. If you believe in it, you have to give it a go. We love failing – it happens all the time.”

The panel finished with their most rewarding moments in business…

  • Riverford - the day we became employee owned 👥
  • Pip & Nut - seeing our products on the supermarket shelves for the first time 🥜
  • Eat Natural - getting the first crop of honey from our own beehives 🍯🐝

You can see all speakers’ videos and the Q&A on our YouTube channel, including questions on influencers, ethics, marketing and getting into supermarkets.

03 June 2019

A week in the life of... Keira O'Mara, founder of Mama Designs

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Keira O'Mara is the founder of Mama Designs, launched 10 years ago whilst Keira was on maternity leave after having an idea for a discreet breastfeeding cover and not being able to find one to buy. Keira used her redundancy money to create one and started her business with no experience whilst juggling a baby and a new full-time job. She now has a range of award winning baby products which are sold to major UK retailers, direct to parents and are exported worldwide. They operate as a small business, with a lean team and lots of outsourcing. She also offer small business mentoring and has just launched an online course for small business owners Grow Your Business on a Budget. In the early stages of the business Keira used Business & IP Centre Birmingham for an IP session and has also spoken at an Inspiring Entrepreneur event at Business & IP Centre Liverpool.

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Monday I love that Mondays never fill me with the fear that working for someone else used to, in spite of it being our busiest day. I start the day with some exercise (although a gentler version since I am pregnant with number three). My children are at the age where they can mostly sort themselves out in the morning and with no school run this morning, I started work at 8.30, from my kitchen table. I have a home office but always seem to revert back to the kitchen table! I always start the day checking my business bank account and looking at the previous day’s sales. After responding to some emails and catching up with Vicki, who works for me part-time doing admin, I did a Facebook Live for ‘Mothers Meeting's’ on my Top 5 Instagram Tips, which goes really well in spite of being cut off midway due to Wi-Fi issues and the postman ringing the doorbell halfway through! I even get a new mentoring client as a result, which is an added bonus. I start writing up a blog post and work on editing an email marketing sequence that I am getting set up for subscribers and customers. My work day ends at 15.00 when I collect my youngest from school and after that, work is catching up on any urgent emails and tying up any loose ends.

Tuesday Work starts at 9.00 after the school run. I post on Instagram every morning and usually plan my posts ahead, although sometimes tweak the copy. I then reply to any comments for the next 20 minutes to ensure that my post gets maximum exposure. Check my bank and track orders as normal. Our new colours of Snoodie (our dribble bib) arrive this week from our factory in Turkey, so today I write the listings, collate the best images from a lifestyle shoot I did with my friend’s baby last week and send it all off to our web designer. I spend most of the day watching videos and finalising the additional content for my new business course. The videos were filmed a few weeks ago but this is the first time I have seen them. I also finalise the downloadable planners that will accompany the course, working out how to use the course platform and starting to upload the content and videos. I decided to create an online business course after celebrating our 10th year in business and regularly being asked for my advice and when I was going to write a book or a course. Today is a slightly longer working day as my daughter is at football after school and use this extra time to catch up on emails.

PicMonkey Collage

Wednesday Today starts a bit differently as I have a hospital appointment for my pregnancy, which involves a lot of waiting around but I will still be on email and use this time to listen to a business audio book. I am currently listening to Chillpreneur. I spend the whole morning at the hospital. I then catch up with Lisa who manages our finances and logistics and works Wednesday – Friday. This always ends up being a long conversation and we have lots of planning to do, discussing our factory order schedule and making some plans for the next few months. 

Thursday The day starts as usual, with exercise, Instagram post and tracking sales. Today I catch up with a new factory we are working with. We have some new products they are going to be producing for us and some existing products that they are going to take over production of. There are lots of details we need to confirm with them but I am really excited about the new stuff and working with them! I have a mentoring client tomorrow so I prep for that. This involves going over the information she has sent me, writing down any questions that come up and making some recommendations and advising on potential opportunities. The Snoodies launch today so I write our email newsletter mentioning that and post additional stories for Instagram and Facebook to accompany the main post. I warned the warehouse we use that they may be busier than usual, so they are expecting it.

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Friday On Fridays I plan the Instagram schedule for the week ahead. Instagram is a key part of our business, we have almost 50,000 followers and get a lot of sales this way. Planning ahead makes my life a lot easier, as well as making sure that the feed looks as good as possible visually. I also arrange for Vicki to send out Snoodies to some of the influencers we collaborate with. I add listings to our Amazon account for a new line, our art prints (which I have been meaning to do for ages but never seem to get round to!). I do some more planning for my course launch, which is getting closer and I am equal parts very nervous and very excited! I have a great mentoring session (via FaceTime) and my client is really pleased with the ideas, suggestion and motivation. A lovely end to the week, followed by the fact that Friday school run means it is treat day and I finish early and have some time (and some chocolate!) with the children.

Weekend I have done my fair share of weekend working, but now I try and avoid it and keep the weekends as family time.

01 May 2019

National Pet Month: Pawfect pet businesses

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National Pet Month was set up to raise money for UK pet charities and promote responsible pet ownership. We caught up with three Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups alumni whose businesses are formed around our furry friends.

According to Mintel, the pet industry is going from strength to strength, with pet services one of the fastest-growing areas, reaching £717 million in 2017, as pet owners are looking for more ways to treat their pets.

One business in this sector is Longcroft Cat Hotel, the UK’s first luxury hotel group for cats, founded in 2010. Longcroft Luxury Cat Hotel Group is the vision of founder and cat lover, Abi Purser, who recognised the demand for a higher standard of feline boarding in the UK. It all began with a chat over a coffee between Abi and her mother, which developed into the concept for the first five-star luxury cat hotel. Abi, struggling to find suitable accommodation for her own beloved cat, Norman, and felt that the industry approach to cat boarding was outdated. Cats were too often housed in small cages or kept in veterinary surgeries. Owners struggled to find adequate care for their beloved pets when they went away. After beginning in Abi’s back garden, with space for six feline guests, the business has now expanded to 20 hotels, which Abi runs as a franchise and has won awards including The Guardian’s Most Innovating Home Business. This rapid growth led Abi to apply for Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups.

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Longcroft Cat Hotel after their win with the Business & IP Centre's Nigel Spencer and Ian Gibbs, head of commercial insight at the Guardian

Abi explains, “Demand for Longcroft’s five-star level of service quickly outstripped the number of rooms available, so we sought support and guidance for the best way to grow the business, how to develop a successful franchise and open more hotels following the same model. The global pet care market has grown 3% on average over the past five years. In the UK specifically, there has been an explosion in the pet care market, and change in culture. There has been a strong trend towards premiumisation, which is reflected in the success and growth of the Longcroft brand.”

The trend for luxury and a premium experience for pets could be for a number of reasons, but Abi believes certain groups are key to this, “Millennials have emerged as a major driver for growth in the UK pet care market, more likely than others to view their cat as a member of their family and willing to spend more on them, i.e. trading up the quality of pet foods, matching owners’ own dietary habits. Tech savvy customers are also better informed and have access to a greater breadth of services and reviews than ever before. They consequently demand a higher quality of experience for their pets as well as greater convenience.”

To keep ahead of the competition and to ensure the cats’ experience and welfare is as high as possible, Longcroft offers a range of features which benefit both the guest and their owner. “Longcroft has rewritten the rules on feline accommodation, our innovative and forward-thinking approach limits the number of feline guests in any of our hotels offering a far higher human to cat ratio. Animal welfare is the number one priority, which gives owners complete confidence their beloved pets will be well cared for.

“Longcroft offers a home-from-home experience and provides one-on-one handling and care from hotel owners for every cat. The five-star, fully licensed accommodation offers each feline their very own climate-controlled bedroom, leading onto a private, safe, garden play area, complete with multi-storey viewing platforms. Each suite provides the highest standards of hygiene and luxury, which includes Longcroft’s bespoke wrought iron cat beds with soft pillows. Hotels put owners’ minds at rest by sending them regular updates and photographs of their feline friends enjoying their kitty retreats. Longcroft offers a tailored service with a host of added extras, including a cat chauffeur service, room service with a choice of dishes from the ‘A La Cat Menu’, kitty pampering experiences and the Milky Whiskers Turn Down Service.”

Longcroft Letchworth

Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium is another Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups alumni who is putting welfare at the heart of their business. Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium is a cat café, where guests can dine with 14 rescued felines in wonderland-themed tea rooms. To ensure the cats are puur-fectly happy, the Chief Cat Carer monitors best cat care practices and trains all staff.

Founder, Lauren Pears explains, “We employ a committed and caring workforce who love the cats and are driven to safeguard their best interests. Policies are necessary, but the key is having people who will enforce them and who will follow them willingly and with an understanding of why they matter.” The surroundings are also extremely important to make sure the cats are happy and happened to be one of Lauren’s favourite moments in business so far, “We took a week off to build a paper mâché tree in the basement for the cats. It has become a beautiful defining symbol of the café that we are all super proud of, and it was also wonderful to have that time with the team and create something special together. When it’s business as usual we don’t get that kind of time together as we’re always quite busy.”

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It’s not just the staff who love interacting with the cats, customers can also see a benefit as Lauren states, “Cats are an icebreaker! I think the gift the café gives people is the ability to be distracted and unselfconscious. Guests tend to chat with each other and are more open and friendly because they’re starting from a shared love of animals. It’s a rare place in London where people are naturally inclined to chat away with strangers!”

Another business catering for the pet market is CT Vets, a mobile service providing visits for pets in their own homes. After working as a vet for more than 20 years, the founder, Martina Emiliani, has met clients who were unable to bring their pets in or who had pets so scared of new environments, that they developed the idea to offer a more comfortable way to see the vet. This brings multiple benefits to both the pet and the owner as Martina confirms, “It suits all types of owners, including those who have mobility issues, and we are the only chance they have to take care of their pets. We spend up to an hour to address all of the owners' concerns and we provide free unlimited follow-up calls by phone or video. Another benefit is that pets are safer, they don't risk meeting infectious animals, they don't have to move if they are in pain/uncomfortable, if they have diseases which deteriorate with stress (cardiopathic for example) it is absolutely contradictory to put them in a carrier or a car and bring them anywhere, and the list goes on… Ultimately, pets and owners are happier and less stressed in the environment of their home.”

Vet near me

Martina started using the Business & IP Centre for different workshops and made the switch between vet and entrepreneur. Once her business was up and running, the Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme became vital in helping CT Vets scale up, “I didn't know the impact that this programme would have on my business [when I applied]. Since completing the programme we have reorganised all protocols, hired two new members of staff, changed management system, rebuilt the website, focusing on a better user experience, we have started sending emails for clients, and we are launching live events, alongside other significant changes. All of this in the last six months!”

National Pet Month - top tips

Apply now for over £10,000 worth of business advice!

If you are already running a business and are looking to take it to the next level, our three-month Innovating for Growth programme can help turn your growth idea into a reality. Find out more here and register your interest!

24 April 2019

A Week in the Life of... Hugh Duffie, co-founder of Sandows

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Hugh is one of the co-founders of Sandows, who have been instrumental in introducing cold brew coffee to the UK since launching in 2014. Cold brew is a type of coffee drink, in much the same way as an espresso, cafetière or a flat white, and the process involves infusing ground coffee in cold water overnight. This long, slow method draws out an unexpectedly smooth and refreshing flavour that’s caffeine charged to boot.

Australian-born Hugh moved to the UK at 18 and started working in restaurants, where he trained to be a barista and bartender. He left to specialise in coffee and met Luke Suddards at TAP Coffee in Wardour Street, where he developed the roasting and café management skills that have served him well at Sandows, which the pair started in 2014, initially working from an Islington café’s basement.

Hugh

Sandows ambition is to make great cold brew something you can find everywhere and Hugh sees Sandows as a creative expression of the pair’s vision for great coffee - trying to take care of quality with humility, whilst engaging people with distinctive design and simple explanations.

Sandows produce a range of products from premium glass bottles in the style of whisky flasks that sit in specialist cafés, luxury retailers and members clubs, to cans that sell in more mainstream retailers. Hugh is an alumni of our Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme and will be a speaker at the upcoming Thinking Outside The Pots talk, so we asked him to tell us about a week in the life of running Sandows…

Most weeks are pretty different and it can be fluid which I like, but here’s an example of the kind of thing I normally do. My morning routine is probably the only really consistent part of my day and though I used to cycle every day, I actually find my (pretty short) commute really helps clear my head and set me up for better focus. I’m very much the kind of person who hits snooze half a dozen times - have to admit I’m not really a morning person, it’s no wonder coffee is a big part of my life. I usually wake up and deal with anything urgent email-wise whilst still in the comfort of my bed. I get up and take a shower and head to the Overground for about a 30 minute door-to-door trip which will usually feature listening to a podcast or some music, working through a long read or firing off a few memes to friends in one of the WhatsApp or Instagram groups I’m in. I just about always stop off at Lanark Coffee on Hackney Road for a chat and a coffee. This year I’ve been trying to keep my intake to just two coffees a day, usually before midday, whereas previously I’ve had virtually no limit and found myself feeling very wired/weird after my 6/7th coffee.

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Monday I get in to our office, part of a small ‘village’ of adapted shipping containers by the canal in Hackney, and set myself up for the day. Recently that’s meant some cereal and a brain function nootropic and then it’s straight into it. Mostly chasing up recent leads, preparing for calls or email pitches for potential new customers, or thinking about marketing and what we need to be executing on this week.

Tuesday I tend to schedule meetings for Tuesday/Wednesday so I can try and get ahead on the Monday and have a bit of room to give sales another push later in the week. At the moment there’s a lot of work trying to balance day-to-day execution with piecing together our long term plan in the form of a pitch deck, aiming to show potential investors that we have a clear plan for growth whilst also demonstrating that we have delivered on plans previously.

Wednesday Likelihood is that I will have a meeting or two booked and given our office is in a shipping container leaving it a bit exposed for conversations, I’ll sometimes arrange to meet elsewhere to avoid disrupting everyone. These meetings could be with mentors, wholesalers, freelancers we work with, investors, potential investors or even sometimes Luke when we need to walk around some of our stockists, take stock of where we’re at visually and talk through our plans as we walk.

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Thursday As we approach the end of the week I’m always checking in on current cash flow, sales for the week and progress towards our monthly goal and usually chasing those leads again from Monday. I don’t like emailing people a load of times and hassling them so I try to keep my tone really jovial and if we’ve met and had a laugh together (always my goal) I’ll throw in a joke or meme to try and elicit a response. Thursdays are a big day for launches and industry events and we straddle both coffee and alcohol industries across our various products (for example our Espresso Martini Mix is stocked by a lot of bars and we work with many alcohol brands to promote it) so often times I’ll find myself representing the brand after the working day finishes, meeting people and explaining what we do and seeking out new opportunities. I guess as a founder your work is so associated with your identity (life) and your lifestyle is so dictated by your work, so for me the answer is to ensure I’m enjoying work and life. That means working with people I get on with, not taking life too seriously and trying to share my enthusiasm for what I do. My whole philosophy is a bit like that question ‘how do you eat an elephant?’ where the answer is ‘one bite at a time’. I just try to move things forward every day and accept that it ebbs and flows and be grateful that I have the opportunity to control my own lifestyle so much and express myself through my work every day.

Friday Fridays we put our heads together as a team and go over the week’s activity, re-align on everything that’s happened and ensure production and sales are in sync. On a monthly basis Luke and I will need to put together an investor update for our lead investors and we present the data (financial performance), talk through successes and failures, team news, share the content that has been shaping our thinking and confirm our plan for the month/s ahead. We finish up with a few drinks and generally wind down with perhaps fun food Friday or some Friday tunes or both if we’re lucky. I’ll usually leave the team once we head our separate ways and meet with friends and have a few drinks. Given my family are in Australia, I look to my best friends to fill that place in my life and so investing in those relationships is really important to me.

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Weekend For a long time (nearly three years) Luke and I worked seven days a week and it was a case of fitting work into every waking hour to push the brand along. We reached the point of burnout and for the most part, Luke and I now avoid work on the weekends to take that time to decompress, gather our thoughts and really establish some balance and get inspired by doing new things. I love going to the cinema or exhibitions at the Design Museum for example, but I can be lazier sometimes and end up just watching Arsenal play and then stay at the pub for the other football games on that day. I love dropping in to our stockists on the weekend and seeing people experiencing our brand, but I guess I acknowledge that building a beverage brand is about quality interactions as much as quantity and that getting that right means patience and stamina over a prolonged period.

18 April 2019

National Gardening Week with Natalie from Acacia Facilities

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National Gardening Week falls at the end of April and we took the opportunity to catch up with Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups alumni and current mentor for the Innovating for Growth: Mentoring programme, Natalie Taylor, founder of Acacia Facilities, a landscaping service for businesses and individuals throughout the UK.

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Acacia Facilities specialises in interior and exterior landscaping from design to finish, including garden, pot and replica plants, living walls (very Instagram-worthy), fresh cut flowers and seasonal decorations alongside maintenance services.

What are the benefits of having plants_

After growing up in a family of avid gardeners, Natalie had inherited the green fingered genes (her grandmother’s maiden name was fittingly, Green) and was destined to work with nature. After becoming inspired by the benefits of having indoor and outdoor plants, both in personal and business spaces, and spotting a gap in the market, Natalie set up her business in 1996 to improve wellbeing and transform spaces with plants and maintenance services.

Finding the gap in the market can be a difficult task, but for Natalie the best piece of advice she received was to “break from the norm. Look at your interests and problems in your sector of business and ask yourself the questions: Are they things people, other than you, are interested in? Do people spend money on these activities? Are there problems present that people need solving? Are these things that make people happy? If any, all or some of your answers are a ‘yes’, then you have a niche which could be profitable.”

Me sophies steakhouse

Natalie is also proud of how Acacia differentiates themselves from their competition, “we pride ourselves in offering a personalised service to our customers. We will provide bespoke services to customers’ needs. We are always ready to assist at all times during our business agreement. Our customers are not just a number we know each customer by name.”

Word of mouth has been extremely important to Acacia, with 80% of business originating from recommendations, which highlights the importance of the personal touches. Not to rest on her laurels however, Natalie applied and was successful in getting on to the Business & IP Centre’s Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme to help take the business to the next level, using the specialist tailored business support in area such as marketing, branding, intellectual property and more.

One of the most memorable jobs in her career, as Natalie explains was for the Shrek première, “we were asked to create a swamp style effect with plants and flowers at Somerset House. The outside grounds of such an historical building was huge and took a lot of planning, but the finished product looked amazing and exceeded the customer’s expectations and ours!”

Tip to become green fingered_

Apply now for over £10,000 worth of business advice!

If you are already running a business and are looking to take it to the next level like Natalie, our three-month Innovating for Growth programme can help turn your growth idea into a reality. Find out more here and register your interest!

01 April 2019

A week in the life of... Frankie Fox, co-founder and Head of Innovation for The Foraging Fox

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To celebrate the British Library's Food Season, this month's Week in the life of... follows Frankie Fox, the co-founder and Head of Innovation for The Foraging Fox, a multi award winning producer of all natural condiments sold across the UK, Germany, The Netherlands and North America. Frankie is an alumni of our Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme.

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Monday Starts with feeding the chickens and then the school run, dropping off the kids before racing into London to an office in Shoreditch for a feasibility exercise with an external consultant on some particular NPD (new product development) we have been looking at. This involves looking at the whole of market in our major territories for a class of products where we have gathered data ourselves and from our major importers. We look at the products themselves, whether they can be made within our brand values, potential manufacturers for these products, price point, competition, distribution and most importantly the size of the market, potential market share we could gain. It certainly feels a far cry from where it all began with our Original Beetroot Ketchup which started as a kitchen project with the children to teach them to cook with a surplus of beetroot and apples. We spent three years in the family kitchen developing this product, testing it out on family and friends. During which time I took pictures of all the condiments shelves in all my favourite stores looking for a market opportunity for our all natural flavoured ketchup. Once I was convinced there was an opportunity we worked on branding the branding and finally by booking a small producers stand at a trade show with a box of handmade samples to get proof of concept that there was actually a market before launching the company in earnest. 

There are always emails to catch up on. My co-founder and a member of team are exhibiting at a trade show in New York and so it’s nice to hear how it’s going and I need to catch up with the manufacturers and suppliers on upcoming production runs for our existing product ranges, and calls with the rest of the team on various different ongoing day to day business. However, I need to dash back as it’s parents evening for my youngest and I make it to her school just in time to meet my husband before sitting down with her teacher.

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Tuesday I start the day by dropping the kids at school, early doors as usual and go for a quick run through Hatfield Forest on my way back. It’s hard to fit exercise in around work and family commitments, so I like to make it part of my daily routine as much as possible. Running is time efficient and I like to be outdoors as much as I can as it really helps to clear my mind for the day. On a purely spiritual level, starting your day in an ancient forest puts everything into perspective!

I am working in the kitchen today on NPD (new product development) on adding products to an existing range and ideas for a new range altogether. This means a lot of time spent on research and time spent in the kitchen developing recipes by trial and error. I put music on whilst I work in the kitchen, and get all the ingredients and utensils out and plan what I am going to do. It pays to be really organised at this stage, and I fastidiously note down and to keep track of any changes I make with each version of any recipe. This is the favourite part of my job. At the moment I’m learning about a new type of preservation process, which is absolutely fascinating and I have spent hours on YouTube and looking at and trialing various recipes and ideas. I always feel a huge sense of excitement whenever I initiate a new range idea. The process from product inception to the shelf of a supermarket can be a long drawn out and painstaking process which is very involved and you need to invest a lot of time throughout the process so you need a lot of energy and passion for the product to take it through to market. When I am happy with a kitchen recipe for a product and have done the basic costings and understood price points by doing a feasibility exercise I will source and take the recipe to a manufacturer where we will work on manufacturing costings and their kitchen recipe to replicate my kitchen recipe. We have a confidentiality agreement in place with anyone we work with (read more about Trade Secrets in this Irn Bru case study). This next stage can go on for months, one product had so many countless kitchen version from the factory that weren’t quite right I started to feel so despondent that this product would never reach the shelf. It did, and I am really glad that we were so thorough and patient with this stage of development. When you are happy with their kitchen trial, then it can go on to the factory trial stage, which is a smaller scale version of full scale production the factory itself. This is when you may find you will need to tweak the recipe and method again to suit the machines, cooking and the factory processes. It’s always trial and error at each and every stage with larger volumes at stake but we are always learning. 

I clear the kitchen, fill the fridge and shelves with my samples, file my notes, shower and get into my evening wear as I am attending an awards ceremony tonight. However, my daughter is competing in her first swimming gala after school today so I need to be there for that first as it’s on my way. I look rather overdressed standing at the poolside cheering my daughter and her school on in a bright red cocktail dress and heels - but she was amazing and so were her whole team so I am bursting with pride and have no time to be self-conscious as I have a train to catch! The event is the Chef’s Choice Awards at The Shard in London, it’s a Food Service Catering Awards event to celebrate the best products in the catering industry. We have created a new food service format for our range of All Natural Beetroot Ketchups to reach a new audience of customers - to date our offerings have only been available in a retail glass format.  We decided to enter the awards to support the launch in this market, raise awareness for the products and the brand with wholesalers and food service customers and ultimately boost sales! Our OOH (Out of Home) salesperson is also attending the event with me to ensure we make the most of the event, speak to all the right people and get and convert these leads into sales. It’s a fun evening and we strike up conversations with other suppliers and wholesalers. To our absolute joy we win the Condiment Category and amazement we win the overall Product of the Year! I’m grinning ear to ear on the train home, everyone is asleep when I get home and so I leave the award out on the kitchen table for my husband the kids to see in the morning and we can celebrate over cereal.

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Wednesday Drop kids into school, a quick run and then catch up with my emails and calls the team about the awards ceremony and decide who we need to follow up with and how. We put together a press release with quotes from the judges to send to relevant media contacts and potential leads. Interview with The Grocer magazine for their piece on the win.

Thursday Drop kids early and dash into London to meet the team in White City, the day is spent in and out of internal meetings. My co-founder and I tend to start the day with a management meeting, then we have a whole team meeting which gives us an update on what everyone is working on. Then we have a specific sales and production planning meeting afterwards to discuss sales figures and stock levels in all territories to manage stock and plan productions. 

Friday Back in the Shoreditch office to do an in-depth taste testing session and follow up on the Monday NPD (new product development) meeting. Our monthly Board call to discuss work in progress and priorities. No day is the same and as a founder of a start-up business I have done every role at some point from bookkeeping, packing boxes, trade shows to in-store sampling sessions, so you care passionately about every single detail of the business even if you now have team members doing these functions. I always want to be there to support them in any way I can. It may be Friday but you never really clock off but it’s nice to look forward to spending the weekend in the garden, digging over the vegetable beds with the chickens pecking for worms - chitting potatoes and planting strawberries plants in the polytunnel with the kids and planting new raspberry canes in the fruit cage. Back to where it all started in the garden with the kids. Spring is my favourite time of the year, full of potential and endless possibilities.

25 February 2019

Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs at the Business & IP Centre

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Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs (EYE) is a programme that gives new or aspiring entrepreneurs the opportunity to work with experienced entrepreneurs in other European countries. EYE is run at the British Library’s Business & IP Centre by Nigel Spencer, who is responsible for services to support innovation and entrepreneurship. Nigel looks at some of the success stories to come out of the programme…

“One year ago, I wondered how I was going to pay my rent, and this year, I ask myself why I did not join the EYE programme sooner.” James Markey

In early 2017 we held an event at the Business & IP Centre to promote EYE, as we are an Intermediary Organisation for this programme and manage these exchanges. James Markey came to the event and shortly afterwards he joined the programme. In December 2018 James received the exciting news that he had been shortlisted for the EYE programme’s Entrepreneur of the Decade Award and will be presenting his story at the awards ceremony in Brussels on Monday 18 March.

After joining EYE James told us about his plans for a business and we worked with him to identify the type of support, skills and knowledge he would need to help make them a reality. This gave us a clear idea of the type of mentor that would make the best match for an exchange. We then used our networks to find such a person. James was particularly interested in the application of virtual and augmented reality in a training environment. Over the past eight years we had worked on a number of projects with a business support service in France called Laval Mayenne Technopole (LMT) who were also an Intermediary Organisation for the EYE programme. LMT are located in Laval in the west of Normandy and we knew this to be an international hub for virtual reality. LMT quickly identified Arnaud Cosson, the CEO of HRV Simulation as someone who would be an excellent mentor and James spent January to April 2018 working with Arnaud in France. Before his exchange he went on an intensive French language course to enable him to really immerse himself in the work of HRV Simulation and the local community.

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“I was given opportunities, both to work on my own business, and pick up live business experience within the host company. This ranged from supporting Arnaud with an investment pitch, demonstrating products to potential clients and getting involved in creating both the CRM system to support the growth and the marketing channels to create a future pipeline. In my final week with the company I pitched my business, after which they became my first client.”

When he returned to the UK, James developed his business model based on what he had learned in Laval and launched his business, JPMentors. He now has clients in France and the UK and has taken on two members of staff and sponsored a youth football team in Portsmouth. The business is growing well and the future looks very bright.

James has definitely been a success story, but is just one of the 68 exchanges we have arranged over the past two years and the vast majority of these have been great experiences for those involved.  50 new entrepreneurs have learned from experienced hosts in the UK and 20 new entrepreneurs from the UK have spent time overseas. We have been able to send people to places like Berlin, Lisbon, Valencia, Ljubljana, Vilnius, Naples, Dublin, Amsterdam, Brussels and as far away as Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles. We have welcomed entrepreneurs from Portugal, Italy, Germany, Romania, Poland, Turkey, Greece, Lithuania, Armenia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Spain and Hungary.

One of our more unusual combinations saw an entrepreneur from Anguilla spending time in Finland.  Njeri Richardson owned Branches of Learning, an education service in the British overseas territory of Anguilla. Njeri was aware Finland has pioneered the most innovative approaches to teaching children with learning difficulties and she wanted to adopt these methods in Anguilla, so spent four months in 2018 working with Shirin Kulkarni at the Council for Creative Education in Tampere.

On Friday 1 February 2018, the Business & IP Centre’s contract on the EYE programme was extended until January 2022 and we are looking forward to offering these great opportunities to many more entrepreneurs. The geographical coverage of the programme was previously limited to European Union countries with some additional countries such as Turkey, the Ukraine and Serbia, but has now been extended to include Israel, Singapore, New York State and Pennsylvania in the USA.

The programme is funded by the European Union, but we believe that the only risk from Brexit is from a no-deal scenario as this would mean that all UK activity would end immediately. If you are interested in going on an exchange as a new entrepreneur or acting as a mentor to a new entrepreneur from overseas as a host entrepreneur, please contact us on research@bl.uk. You can find out more or apply for the programme here.

12 February 2019

A week in the life of... Rachel Walker, co-founder of The Fold Line

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Rachel is a co-founder of The Fold Line, an award-winning online sewing community and sewing pattern shop. Championing independent pattern designers, they are the one stop shop for all your dressmaking pattern needs. Founded in 2015 they are the home for people who love sewing and making their own clothes and are alumni of our Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme.

With a background in science research, it wasn’t until after finishing her PhD that Rachel decided she wanted a career change. She started to work part-time for a sewing company in London, teaching classes and helping at events, as she had always enjoyed sewing as a hobby. She then retrained in pattern cutting and over the next year, moved into overseeing pattern production and development, using the project management skills she had gained from her studies. During this time she met Kate (co-founder) and after a couple of months they decided to start a business together.

As avid makers, Rachel and Kate struggled to keep up with all the sewing pattern releases and growing number of bloggers sharing their makes and tips. They were inspired by the growing online sewing community to build a home for everyone interested in dressmaking. From this The Fold Line was born, a place you can meet other makers, share tips and ideas and get lots of inspiration for your next project while keeping up-to-date with the latest sewing news and pattern releases.

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You can expect to find lots of inspiration and catch up on all the latest sewing news on their sewing blog and vlog. They also have an extensive sewing pattern database where you can use a pattern finder tool to search over 10,000 patterns plus read lots of sewing pattern reviews from the community. 

Monday The first thing I do on a Monday morning is take my enthusiastic Labrador for a long walk to tire him out. Once back home I begin the week with catching up on everything that has been going on over the weekend. I reply to any outstanding emails, pay invoices and browse social media channels for news in the sewing community. I also take the time to reply to questions and comments from our community of makers on our website and social media.

In the afternoon I plan out my tasks for the week ahead and check we have everything we need. I will usually spend the rest of the day on accounts, making sure our freelancers are paid and looking at our spending over the last week.

Tuesday Another long dog walk. When back at home I start the day by emailing the freelancers who work with us on creating content and sharing it across our social media channels. I’ll also order more stock for our warehouse and check on the status of orders that need to be sent out.

In the afternoon I will work on one of our consulting jobs, creating content and scheduling it for the week ahead.

Wednesday First thing in the morning I photograph any sewing patterns that have been delivered so that we can get the new products added to our website. Later in the morning I visit our warehouse and the team that picks and packs all the orders that go out from our online shop. It’s a good opportunity to take any new stock with me and also talk through problems with the team.

In the afternoon I email new pattern designers about adding their sewing patterns to our new online shop. I’ll also update stock levels depending on what products I took to the warehouse. I’ll also spend time on social media looking for new sewing challenges people can take part in, sewing meet ups that have been arranged and sewing pattern releases so we have new content to share with the community.

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Thursday Another long dog walk! I then meet up with Kate, who is the other founder and director at The Fold Line. Over tea we talk about how we are getting on with big projects we have planned and chat through any difficulties we’ve had during the week. We also analyse sales of sewing patterns from our online shop and look at current trends. We brainstorm about new content for blogs over the coming months as well. If it’s been a challenging week we will treat ourselves to a nice lunch!

In the afternoon I’ll update our diaries and schedule with the plans we have made. I’ll also do more work on one of our consulting jobs.

Friday I usually spend Fridays working on the second consulting job we do, designing and testing creative content for publication.

Weekend We often attend sewing meet ups on Saturdays where we join a group of sewing enthusiasts for fabric shopping or a fashion exhibition. We might also be guest judges of handmade outfits at sewing parties. On Sundays I try not to work. If I have time I’ll try and do a bit of sewing for myself and make a garment such as a top or jacket. I do like to reply to all the emails that we have received over the weekend on a Sunday evening so that I can start Monday with an empty inbox!

05 February 2019

A week in the life of... Merilee Karr, founder and CEO of UnderTheDoormat

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American by origin, Merilee Karr is an adopted Brit, having lived in London for the last 18 years, always in the southwest near Putney. She founded London’s premier short-term lettings company back in 2014 and is an alumni of our Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme. Passionate about providing visitors with a ‘home from home’ experience and not leaving homes empty when their owners are away, when others could enjoy them, UnderTheDoormat was born. Now hosting over 200 homes and attracting over 5,000 visitors a year, UnderTheDoormat is paving the way for 'responsible short-letting’ across London, for both homeowners and guests to enjoy. 

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A typical day for me is varied – and no two are ever quite the same! As a founder of a young and growing company, it’s important to be ‘hands on’ in the running of the company. On the flip side, my role involves a lot of external focus to grow the business and includes everything from speaking at conferences, meeting with property companies for partnerships, carving out potential strategic partnerships with suppliers and of course meeting new investors and keeping my current investors and board members up-to-date. Every day is a challenge for me, and I love it when I have a combination of internal and external things are on my to-do list.

My ‘work day’ can include any of the following:

  • A team meeting going through our monthly results and key metrics for the business
  • An external meeting with Westminster council or an MP about the industry standards we are building and how we can make them effective as we roll them out
  • Releasing payments to suppliers and paying our homeowners the money they earned from working with us
  • Lunch or coffee with a fellow founder of a sharing economy business to discuss our businesses and potential to collaborate
  • A meeting with a property company or developer about partnering to provide them with short-let options for their portfolios
  • Developing a bespoke proposal following that meeting with a business case for working with us and the value we can deliver
  • Phone call or meeting with a potential homeowner looking to let their home with us
  • A PR meeting with STAA (Short-term Accommodation Association) for which I currently sit as Chair. I take this role extremely seriously as it promotes ‘responsible’ short-term letting which is the key USP of UnderTheDoormat
  • Media interviews and discussions – particularly with property press or newspapers like the Evening Standard
  • Increasingly I am asked to speak at conferences as the spokesperson for the industry. With three planned this month already it’s a busy time and I thoroughly enjoy these. It's great for networking and learning what other people are doing in our sector and beyond. 

My time away from the job is also important to me. Outside of office hours, it's fair to say I combine more work(!) and my love of sport, keeping fit and keeping up with friends. This is my usual schedule of extra-curricular activities:

Tuesday morning I run with a friend (someone who I went to University with in Virginia who lives around the corner in London).

Tuesday or Wednesday evening Typically, a work event of some type- e.g. Tourism society conference speaking or Supper Club CEO’s dinner.

Thursday evenings are triathlon training - usually a swim followed by a social in the pub - I always order a pepperoni pizza and an apple juice and soda!

Saturday mornings are my club cycle ride which I find hugely enjoyable. My favourite is the Windsor ride via the Great Park (you really get to feel the seasons through the year and looking down at the castle from the top of the long walk never gets old). We stop for coffee at the Cinnamon Café and get gigantic cinnamon buns before heading back.   

Saturday evening Drinks or dinner with friends. This week I have a friend’s leaving drinks as she is moving to Hong Kong. 

Sunday Lie in day! Generally, it’s a morning of doing stuff around the house and then heading out for a walk and lunch with friends. I then swim in the evening which is a great way to set myself up positively for the start of the week.