Innovation and enterprise blog

28 February 2021

Innovating for Growth Diary - Sian Zeng

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Every quarter, Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups chooses 18 high-growth businesses to take part in our 10 week programme designed to help business owners re-evaluate their business across areas such as marketing, products and services and business model.

We have been speaking to Sian, founder and director of luxury wallpaper business Sian Zeng, who is one of our latest Innovating for Growth cohort, to see firsthand the impact of the programme on her business. In this first installment of her diary, we meet Sian, hear about how she started her business, and discover how her first batch of Innovating for Growth one-to-one sessions and workshops have helped her re-evaluate her priorities. 

'Hi, I’m Sian, Founder, and Director of Sian Zeng; we create innovative wallpapers and wall decorations that enchant and delight. Reproduced from original artwork, our captivating designs take inspiration from fairytales and the natural world, all with the intention of helping people bring art, nature, and imagination into their homes.

Sian Zeng painting one of her bespoke wallpapers
Photo: Veerle Evens for Etsy

We sell a range of products to cater to different spaces and budgets, with our dreamy designs available as both classic and magnetic wallpapers, as well as our growing collection of removable wall stickers. Our magnetic wallpaper is one of our most unique products that allow users to place magnets onto their wall, like a fridge or radiator. Our cast of magnetic characters and illustrations were designed with this in mind; move our magnets across the surface of our magnetic wallpaper and suddenly it’s not just a wall - it’s the backdrop to a story. Since opening, our products have been featured in Elle Decoration, The Sunday Times and The Telegraph, and in 2019, we were awarded the honour of the Grand Prize at the Etsy Design Awards.

I started my company shortly after graduating from University and as a result, I had very little business experience. A creative first and foremost, part of me always knew there would always be gaps in my knowledge that could be a game-changer for my company. After more than a decade of growing my business organically and at a steady pace, I thought it was time to see how I could accelerate our growth whilst still maintaining our meaning. So here enters the Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme.

At the first group session with Rasheed Ogunlaru, Getting Ready for Growth, I met members of my cohort and it was so inspiring to hear their stories as well as share my own. What really resonated with me from that session was when Rasheed said something along the lines of “this isn’t about giving up the part of your business you’re most passionate about.” I immediately thought about how I had begun to outsource the creative side of things recently, becoming more of an art director rather than painter/designer for upcoming collections. This was the reason I had started my business more than a decade ago - to create unusual, beautiful illustrations for interior spaces - but the more the brand grew, the more I felt I should be focussing on other aspects. This was a big light bulb moment for me. 

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I really like how the course is structured, where each session leads into the next. We began with a business model workshop and then our first one-to-one session, which allowed me to really step back and see my business structure from a bird’s eye view. Then at my one-to-one with Robert Foster from Red Ochre, we delved deeply into my business structure and worked together to create a detailed plan of what to do next.

One of the main things that arose during our session was that I felt spread too thin. As founder and director of a company, it can feel like you have to not only oversee everything but do most of it too, when actually a lot of the tasks could be delegated to my team members. Robert suggested I create a delegation stack to help me categorise tasks into ones I can delegate, automate, divest or outsource. Once I’d done this exercise, I found I’d freed up lots of my time already.

As a high-end wallpaper company, we’ve always paid lots of attention to branding as it is an integral part of the quality and craftsmanship we portray. Our message has always been creating luxury, innovative and dreamy wall coverings for the home. During my workshop with ABA Design, I was presented with the personality archetypes. It was here I discovered there were more elements to our brand personality and I was able to refine it even further, making it easier for us to feed all our designs into our values.

Our archetypes were ‘the creator’, ‘the explorer’ and ‘the magician’. I always felt like creativity was integral to our brand, and with exploration, this definitely ties into the adventurous element of our designs, as well as my constant experimentation with new technologies in the design process of our wallpapers. The magician part surprised me the most but makes a lot of sense; many of our designs contain magical elements, such as a bear riding a crane or flying hands that look like birds in mid-flight. 

Over the past few years, I have noticed a clear trend, where our company’s growth is directly linked to the release of new collections. As a result, I made it my priority to release collections more frequently and bring in help to facilitate faster product launches. During my product and service innovation session with Fluxx, we discussed how I could make this process more efficient. They suggested I should write down every step involved in the development of a product so I can see how much involvement is necessary from me at each step. From there, I can decide where I can bring in help, tighten up the process and minimise my workload, so it can be focussed elsewhere. This really helped me to oversee a very integral element of the business that will enable us to accelerate our growth.

I have very much enjoyed the first half of the programme and feel it has already brought tangible benefits to my business. I am more confident about the direction we need to take as a brand and how we can grow with our core values in mind. If you would like to explore our designs and keep up to date with our journey please follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

In a month’s time you will hear from me again about the second half of the programme.

Until then, wishing you all lots of magical moments!'

20 October 2020

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

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

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

Can you tell us a bit about your business idea?

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

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

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

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

How did the SiLL programme help?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Stance Yoga

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

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

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

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

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

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30 September 2020

How the BIPC can help you Reset. Restart

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What does the future of business look like? In normal times many things can be uncertain, but with a pandemic almost everything is - demand might have increased, operations closed, plans paused, or business models changed entirely.

We know that businesses need as much support as possible and we’re here to help. Our newly launched free Reset. Restart programme helps you to understand your business, give you the tools to plan for future success and prepare for change in the short-term. The BIPC is here to help you take the power back and become more resilient, sustainable and agile.

To tie in with the launch of our new programme, we are featuring just a small selection of businesses who have come through the Business & IP Centre’s doors throughout the years and who have successfully adapted during the COVID-19 crisis.

Becky Griffiths is the founder of Mother’s Ruin and a former Innovating for Growth alumna, who’s been running her business in its current format since 2014.

“I manufacture a small range of alcoholic drinks from things that I grow or forage. So, by a year-long process of cold infusion I make fruit liqueurs, sloe gin, damson gin, etc. I also make two distilled gins, for which I grow some of the botanicals. On top of this, I run a small weekend cocktail bar, which showcases the products I make... A bit like a brewery tap room, the building I rent acts as manufacturing unit, bottle shop and bar. I also sell my products wholesale to local delis, bars and direct to the public through my website. There are lots of different strands to the business which I think was my saving grace when COVID-19 came along!

Mothers Ruin Gin Palace building

Due to the pandemic, we had to close the bar, which can be up to 90% of our income in some months. Very quickly I saw that alcohol was considered essential shopping (phew!). So I set up myself as an off-license with a table moved out into our doorway – we opened the day after lockdown. We had a lot of people come and buy direct from us – being an outside activity I think people felt safe.

The established online business went crazy. I offered free delivery to a fairly wide area of East London, which I did on my bike. I also created some new products, a hand sanitiser, two bottled cocktails which had previously been favourites in the bar and a bar in a box, where people could buy gin, tonic, snacks and have it delivered to their door. The new products and the free delivery were both taken up well by customers. And so we stayed connected to our customers and got by pretty well throughout the months of closure.”

Mother's Ruin gin bottle on bed of botanicals

Another business who has continued to flourish throughout the pandemic by capitalising on the benefits of an online offering is I Can Make Shoes. Its founder, Amanda Overs, explains how she’s managed to keep her head, or should it be feet, above water.

Amanda Overs, founder of I Can Make Shoes in her office

“During one of my mentoring sessions with Innovating for Growth delivery partner, Fluxx, they helped me realise the importance of starting an online community, which I went on to do. This community has steadily been growing and when COVID struck (which, in theory, should have put me out of business). I spoke to this community and heard what they wanted, which was online courses. I quickly pivoted my business, filmed and released my online course in two weeks and have since made over £100,000 of online course sales in under six months. It's kept my business open, my staff employed and opened up a whole new revenue stream.”

A woman holding shoes she's made with I Can Make Shoes

For Becky and Mother’s Ruin, it was also a good time to reflect on the business. “An opportunity to ask myself if I were to do it all again would I do anything differently? We had to incorporate COVID-19 secure regulations into the re-opening of the bar on Saturday 4 July, but it has also actually enabled me to do things I had wanted to do i.e. Table service, a smaller more sustainable menu, better use of staff resources, a lower impact business with lower overheads – all good.

Plus, I had been quite old school in my approach to the business, never borrowed any money and have no debts. I have always run the business in a way that has felt personally sustainable – and not having to worry about servicing a debt is great.

One thing the Innovating for Growth programme taught me when I thought I was looking to scale-up (as I thought this was the way that businesses inevitably must progress), was a clearer understanding of what I didn’t want. Which is a difficult but extremely useful lesson! Not to be confused with feeling like a failure because you don’t fit with what appears to be the standard of success...”

Another business, who previously used BIPC Norfolk for support on intellectual property, has also used this as a time to reflect and refocus their business. Hazel Russell, co-founder of The Wood Life Project, had onboarded over 20 retailers when they launched to wholesale in September 2019 and she partnered with Not on the High Street and Joules a couple of months later. By January 2020, they were looking to increase this number to 45 after a successful trade show. However, when COVID-19 struck, retailer orders stopped and conversations were put on hold.

Hazel and her husband Jimmy

Hazel explains, “This enabled us to focus our efforts on our online sales, via our own website, as well as Not on the High Street and Joules. We worked on our SEO/CRO, blogs, and used social media platforms to drive sales and grow brand awareness. As a result of this, our sales far surpassed those experienced last Christmas.”

Hazel continues, “The rise in sales can of course be explained by the change in consumer habits in the lockdown period; shoppers were no longer hitting the high street to find gifts for loved ones, they did this from the comfort and safety of their homes instead.”

Much like Becky and Mother’s Ruin, The Wood Life Project were also able to work on their sustainability, “During this period, we spent time preparing for becoming Grown in Britain (GiB) certified, and successfully gained accreditation in June. We also gained our Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) accreditation in July.”

The Wood Life Project children's plates

Hazel is now looking forward and is currently working on a new range of products to complement their existing product range. These include seasonal children’s products especially for Christmas as well as some products for adults and the hospitality trade. They are also now back in discussions with the large retailers too. Watch this space for The Wood Life Project products in a retailer near you soon!

New products and innovations are continuing to pave the way for businesses to continue trading and move forward. Innovating for Growth alumna, Central Vision Opticians, founded by Bhavin Shah has done just that. Bhavin explains “We’ve had to adapt the business as a result of coronavirus and I believe it has had a positive effect. We were already a multi-award winning practice and I’ve always been looking at ways to innovate and offer more to our patients. As a result, safety now became a very important priority in a way that we’d never considered before. Not just for our patients but for my staff and myself. I re-mapped our entire customer journey from the point of first contact, to when patients entered the premises, how the examination was conducted to trying spectacles. After identifying all of the potential risk points with my staff, we planned and found ways to make everything as safe as possible.

I had been planning to invest in new technology that would allow us to examine our patients’ eyes in more depth, so we could identify problems more quickly and accurately. This technology also had the benefit that we could examine patients without getting as close as before, which meant that it would be safer as well as more thorough.

We also noticed a few common symptoms that patients were experiencing as a result of lockdown and working from home. Many children have become more short-sighted because of reduced outdoor time, excessive screen use and close-up work. We had already been successfully working on innovative programmes to help reduce the rate of this type of deterioration, so we were able to help many children who became short-sighted (myopic). We also noted a surge in patients who were experiencing symptoms of eyestrain as a result of working from home and additional VDU/screen time. We created blog posts and information guides to help alleviate the symptoms from home where possible and invited those with lingering eyestrain to attend the practice for a specialised assessment to solve their problems.

I believe that the crisis has helped to focus the way we help our patients and has increased the value we can offer in keeping their eyes safer and healthier with better vision than ever before.”

For Becky and Mother’s Ruin, there continues to be positivity, “It is hard to know what the future will bring for us. What the crisis has taught me is that the business does have a good resilient core, and that we can only live in the moment and try and respond creatively to changes as they happen. So I ask myself, is everything OK today? This week? And if so, I think that is all I can hope for, and I am grateful! I think being a tiny multi-stranded business makes all this possible.”

If you are looking to Reset. Restart your mind set, business model, market opportunities, customer offer, social and environmental impact, products and services, marketing, finances, funding options or digital productivity, visit our free programme page to find out more and to sign up to our webinars.

09 September 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Ice Cream Pinata

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

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

 

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

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

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

Covid Pinata

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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10 August 2020

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

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

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

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

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

The London Basketball team

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

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

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

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

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

Two teams at a London Basketball Nation event

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

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

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

A basketball game at a London Basketball Nation event

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

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

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

Find out more about London Basketball Nation.

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

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

 

10 June 2020

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

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Last year, Salma Attan decided it was time to turn her hobby into her livelihood and started her beekeeping business Bushwood Bees. She maintains hives on the roof of the East London Mosque, making honey and other bee-based products from her local source. On top of this, Salma offers paid beekeeping courses to beginners and provides guidance to experienced beekeepers. Here she discusses what convinced her to make that transition to business-owner, where the Start-ups in London Libraries' workshops fit into her journey and how she is dealing with the impact of COVID-19 on her business.

Both myself and my husband had been hobbysist beekeepers for 10 years. It got to where our hobby had expanded to the point that it felt like so much more than that. I had been appointed Essex Bee Health Officer, I had been teaching and mentoring new beekeepers as well as raising healthy local colonies of bees through our local Epping Forest Beekeepers Association.

Salma at the entrance of her hive while working at Bushwood Bees

Now that my children were older, the idea of starting up a business seemed more realistic. I also seemed to have more and more friends, family and neighbours knocking on my door wanting a few jars of honey and asking why I don’t sell online or have a shop! So there was certainly the demand, but was this enough to risk a start-up business? I didn’t think so. Honey was not going to pay the bills! However, the question naturally came up: why not use my skills for myself? And get a wage out of it? I have always been an advocate of beekeepers sourcing locally reared bees rather than importing, so it just made sense that I should supply this growing demand for buying local. This was far more of a motivation than anything else.

In the early stages of asking myself “Is this really such a good idea?”, I took part in the Start-ups in London Libraries workshops which made me realise that, actually, it was.  The plan was sound, I had the beekeeping skills to execute the practical aspects of my idea and with the SiLL workshops I could focus on the practicalities of starting up a business.

The one area I seemed to have zero skills was technology! This is where Sarah [the Waltham Forest Business Champion] was a great help. She was happy to meet and give me plenty of ideas on how to get started. Sarah also let me know about where to get further free help to improve my use of social media in terms of business promotion – this is something I’m still learning but less anxious about. Sarah also gave me really good ideas for improving my business plan. It was helpful to have someone with fresh eyes looking at my ideas. She was willing to help put a pitch together, gave really practical advice and was able to give me fresh perspective on parts of my plan that I would not have had otherwise. After talking to Sarah, I settled on the name Bushwood Bees and registered my business under this name, an exciting first step after all the ooing and umming!

I set up my 'Beekeeping Experience Days' on both Eventbrite and Airbnb. I also agreed dates with the East London Mosque about hosting my Beginner Beekeeping Courses and listed them on Eventbrite. The website with the online shop was also set up and although it did take considerable time, eventually all my courses/experiences and website went live. 

Salma Attans Bushwood Bees beekeeping course

I also decided to give some free beekeeping talks in order to promote Bushwood Bees and all that was on offer. We worked with the council to arrange a schedule of workshops and talks, including family/child friendly workshops every day of the May half term at a different Waltham Forest Library.

Then came along COVID-19 and everything had to be cancelled. All the talks and workshops, the courses and experience days suddenly came to a halt. I did wonder if this was possibly the worst year to start a business! But this was clearly something I had no control over so no point complaining. It was a case of concentrating on what we could do in the business. Fortunately, as bees are livestock, the lockdown rules meant I was obliged, and indeed encouraged, to continue beekeeping. This meant I was able to take orders for rearing and selling colonies of locally produced honeybees. This has not been to the same capacity as it would have - had the courses been running, obviously the bulk of new customers would have come from those we would have been teaching this year - but I can't complain. 

The other silver lining of the lockdown rules is the number of new honey customers I have gained. With regular grocery shopping becoming so difficult, it seems many people were looking online and locally for buying produce. After a few mentions on Facebook our lovely local community realised there was local quality honey on their doorstep. As the Ucraft have an Ekwid shop attached, customers could order and pay online and then collect from my doorstep during their daily walk or grocery shop. I was able to provide a completely contactless service and many of these customers helped to spread the word about Bushwood Bees.

Salma and her husband at their hives on the roof of the East London Mosque for Bushwood Bees

Some of the talks we had planned have moved online, including one that was meant to be in Leytonstone Library. This seemed to work well and raised awareness of the business. We've also put up videos of myself and my husband beekeeping and sharing little tips and tricks for the beekeeping community. As my husband is also a beekeeper we are in the very fortunate position to be able to film each other beekeeping without breaking lockdown rules. This has also allowed us to continue offering support through our local beekeeping association and we have had further sales through this voluntary role.

In terms of my advice for anyone thinking of starting a business, make sure you have the support of your family! I could not have taken the first steps without the support of my husband. Think through your idea carefully and realistically. Then go for it.

I've also learnt that things do not always run smoothly! I expected things to go wrong (and they did sometimes) but told myself it’s all part of the journey and an opportunity to improve.

And hasn't 2020 been an example of that?! It has been an unprecedented year and a completely different turn of events in terms of my business plan. Planning is one thing, reality is something else altogether! But we have a lot of hope for 2021.

Visit Bushwood Bees to for information about Beekeeping Courses, Experience day, local London honey and Beekeeping Colonies. 

Find out more about Startup in London Libraries and how to grow ideas into successful businesses.

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01 June 2020

Meet our delivery partner: Expert Impact

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Expert Impact curate the popular Profit With Purpose events, which regularly feature founders of businesses trading for an environmental or social purpose explaining how they launched and scaled.

The quarterly series of evening panel discussion events aims to provide business insight for new social and ethical enterprises and encourage existing businesses to seize opportunities to become more socially and environmentally conscious.

Profit With Purpose events are for those interested in how business can be good for both people and planet. Usually half of the event time is given over to the audience to ask questions.

Discussions usually take in the following topics;

  • Motivation and experience required to run a social enterprise
  • Startup finance and support available
  • Market research and networking
  • The challenge of making social enterprises sustainable
  • How to measure the social impact of the work

Some of the social enterprises who have participated since 2018 include Rubies in the Rubble, which uses discarded food to make condiments as a way of reducing food waste; Change Please, a coffee company that trains and employs homeless people as baristas (both former Innovating for Growth participants as well), and Ovo, a green energy supplier.

Expert Impact created the Human Lending Library® which is now an in-house programme at the Business & IP Centre where leaders of social enterprises and charities looking for business advice can ‘borrow’ a business Expert, for free, to help them solve their challenges and scale fast. Hundreds of social impact leaders have benefitted from this service to date.

There are many reasons why social entrepreneurs seek advice but common enquiries include business development, governance, strategy, raising investment and marketing and public relations.

Most of the Experts have started and scaled businesses that have gone on to become very successful. Some of the Experts are serial entrepreneurs, having started and then sold several companies.

There are more than 50 Experts available, including the founders of Pret-a-Manger, The White Company, Carphone Warehouse and Mumsnet.

Expert Impact panel discussion

The Experts represent a full spectrum of business experience across different sectors including tech, retail, marketing, public relations, publishing and more.

For more information on the Profit With Purpose series, the Human Lending Library or Expert Impact, please contact Lee Mannion, Head of Communications, Expert Impact.

19 May 2020

Happy Birthday Start-ups in London Libraries!

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Earlier this month, Start-ups in London Libraries - our programme designed to take business support out to high streets across London - turned one year old. We originally launched the project on 2 May 2019 at City Hall with an event chaired by our BIPC ambassador Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon and with a keynote speech from Deputy Mayor for Business, Rajesh Agrawal.  Our ambassador, Tim Campbell MBE, who joined our panel discussion on the launch day, summed up the aim of the project: "everyone should have access to this business information and support. Libraries are not only books. They are about connecting people, social mobility, making a real change and impact on people's lives."

Since that day last year, over 1200 aspiring and early-stage entrepreneurs have received support from our team in local libraries across 10 boroughs and have begun to change the face of entrepreneurship across the capital.

Of course, given the current circumstances, we will have to delay our official celebrations for our first birthday, but we couldn't pass up on this opportunity to celebrate some of the incredible early-stage entrepreneurs who have taken part in the programme and become part of the fabric of SiLL. Read on for just some of their stories...

Salma

Photo by Jessica Chia - Salma in her beekeeping outfit
Photo: Jessica Chia

Salma turned her hobby of 10 years - beekeeping - into a successful business. Her company, Bushwood Bees, sells honey, bee-based products and hosts beekeeping experiences at one of her hives on the roof of the East London Mosque. During this period of lockdown, they have been running digital tutorials and demonstrations of beekeeping on social media and continuing to sell their products online.

It was the strong ethos behind her own beekeeping hobby that spurred her to take the leap: "I have always been an advocate of beekeepers sourcing locally reared bees rather then importing so it just made sense that I should supply this growing demand for buying local. This was far more a motivation then anything else."

She used the Start-ups in London Libraries programme to ground her business idea and get it up and running, particularly in terms of technology. About her one-to-ones with our Waltham Forest Business Champion Salma says "Sarah also gave me really good ideas for improving my business plan. It was helpful to have someone with fresh eyes looking at my ideas. She was willing to help put a pitch together, gave really practical advice and was able to give me fresh perspective on parts of my plan that I would not have had otherwise."

"The workshops are immensely helpful when it comes to developing your business ides. The Start-up Champions are great, they have real knowledge and can steer you in the right direction. And if they don’t know, they will they to find out!"

Ahmad

Ahmad owner of Baracat and producer of Foodology

Ahmad's educational app company, Baracat Bros is going from strength to strength and his product, Foodology has recently been featured on ProductHunt, the go-to platform for launching new products. Designed with the aim of fostering learning through their interactive and engaging nature, Ahmad now has two products - Foodology, which focuses on educating children about nutritional value in foods and Bubblo World, designed for preschool-aged children.

He said about his experience with Start-ups in London Libraries: "I came out of the workshops with actionable advice like how to access funding, how to create a business model canvas and where to find resources to continue learning... Loretta [our Start-ups in London Libraries Greenwich Business Champion] is building a business community for people who want to pursue their own businesses and need the practical knowledge and the support network to do so successfully. I really believe that such communities are invaluable for anyone building their own business."

Warda

Loretta and Warda creator of Language Waves in Woolwich Library

While studying speech therapy, Warda noticed how much of it didn't take into account culture and family background. Aiming to change the one-size-fits-all that she was witnessing, she started Language Waves, providing a fully-accessible and culturally diverse speech therapy service. Since registering her business (after taking part in the Start-ups in London Libraries workshops) she has been able to trademark her training manual, been awarded several funding grants to help further her business and received multiple top notch testimonials for her work. 

Her local SiLL Business Champion, Loretta, helped her through the start-up stage: "I see her when I’m at different stages of the business. Her feedback helps me plan, focus and set realistic expectations for myself. Also her belief in my business has motivated me as she has brought out the best in me. I meet lots of people who want to start their own business and I always refer them to the SILL programme and Loretta. This is because it’s so accessible, well set up, and you know that you are getting advice and support from people who know what they are doing."

Read more about how Warda created a fully-accessable and culturally diverse speech therapy service.  

Charlie

Charlie Boyd business owner of Firm Feet

Charlie Boyd’s business, Firm Feet, focuses on various sessions to achieve movement and connection with your own body: "I recognised that movement was something I required for healing and liberating myself. I love dance and the type where I could feel as free as possible and let go. So I designed a session drawing on my qualifications and experiences that I knew worked for me so would surely help others." Her focus is on improving mental and physical health through movement and she has recently pivoted to develop audio sessions for people to use during this time of heightened anxiety (also designed with the aim of lessening people's screen time!)

Discussing her one-to-one advice sessions with the Waltham Forest Champion, Sarah, she says "Sarah has been instrumental in helping me gain clarity on moving forward and valuing myself. She always goes above and beyond supplying me with important documentation and hints and tips. I would say to anyone to not hesitate going to speak to your latest representative, there are only things to gain by doing so."

Sol

Sol, her husband and team from London Basketball Nation

Sol and her husband are big fans of amateur basketball and her husband even coaches a team. Trying to rectify the poor experience of amateur basketball tournaments they were experiencing, they started London Basketball Nation. After setting up their company "just in case it worked", Sol organised a short tournament in June that year to test the waters. Teams decided to give them a chance and a 7-month tournament followed. They celebrated their first full year as a company in March. Sol says "we are looking forward to expanding our reach and have not only more teams but also a Women’s division." 

"Start-ups in London Libraries' helped us see the organisation as a business rather than something to do on weekends. This is my first experience as an entrepreneur and I had to learn a lot about legal and financial aspects of a business in the UK; networking; social media… you name it! There is a lot of information out there, so much that can be not just overwhelming but also misleading so the SiLL project served as a guide. I would have loved knowing about the project from day one."

Usman

Usman, founder of Haven Coffee

Haven Coffee is a socially-conscious coffee company. Each cup of Haven Coffee bought supports refugee communities across the UK, providing barista training for refugees building new lives for themselves in the UK. The Haven team also organise events to promote refugee artists and creatives. Usman, the founder of Haven, has recently introduced a virtual coffee scheme allowing customers to purchase a coffee in advance. And many of their events, including their art exhibition have moved online. 

Usman took part in our first round of workshops and has received support from our Waltham Forest Champion, as well as from TERN (The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network).

Oz

Oz, founder of The Scissors of Oz

Oz is the proud owner of The Scissors of Oz, a creative hair and healing Hub in Peckham. Her ethos goes beyond hair, providing a space for other womxn to test business ideas in collaboration with her and her space, exchanging skills and running workshops. A fundamental part of the business's ethos is 'breaking stigmas of conventional pursuits of “beauty”.

Oz is preparing for re-opening when she is able to and explains "my next step for our relaunch is to introduce more sustainable ways of hairdressing , use of products and services. I'm aiming to look into new ways of reusing items for environmental benefits and sustainability, as well as running workshops to empower people through hair."

She used Start-ups in London Libraries in Southwark saying "the SiLL project has given me the confidence and support every new business owner needs especially if you are going at it alone. My mentor Dean is very understanding and experienced and he is there to guide me with every step I take. It’s nice to have someone by your side who really cares about getting you to where you want to be."

Channing

Channing Cloirec founder of Channing's Shining Cars

As a 21 year old with English as a second language, accessibility was a key consideration for Channing Cloirec when taking part in any sort of business support programme: "I'm not well-placed to start any business without experience in the UK. SiLL is the best way to find exactly what you need with reactivity. Without SiLL I wouldn't have been able to realize the formalities of the company."

Channing's car export business, Channing's Shining Cars, is continuing to grow and develop. Since registering in July 2019 he has built a healthy profit margin, and displayed impressive growth of his business, including recently selling his 15th car! His new venture is called Pops n Bangs, a car lottery. 

Aleksandra

Aleksandra Horwood founder of Happy Stance Yoga

After being made redundant, Aleksandra was looking for ways of using her practical skills and passion for yoga into something that could provide a salary. Focusing on our ever-increasing older population, her idea was to create a specialised yoga and meditation programme to improve the quality of life for this demographic. She wanted to create a different environment for older yoga lovers, making it less intimidating, more welcoming and focusing on exercises that would help specifically with mobility. She has recently adapted her business, Happy Stance Yoga, to offer Zoom sessions for older isolated people to help with fall prevention and ensure they are getting their daily exercise.

And just a few weeks ago, Aleksandra ran a stretching and meditation session for our SiLL team to help us during this high-pressure time, so we can testify to her ability as a guide!

She says: "I attended all the SiLL workshops and it was breath-taking how in no time I learned about all the practicalities so I could move on and test my business idea. So many people have ideas, but they do not know there is a treasure box in the reach of their fingertips. It is free and highly professional, effective and tailored-made for each individual, each business idea." 

Moses

An example t-shirt from Moses' collection - Carib Brit

Moses launched his Greater BRiTs campaign at the Start-ups in London Libraries Greenwich Christmas start-up market, which took place at Woolwich Library last year, after taking part in the core SiLL workshops. "These two workshops gave me invaluable information on the support available to business start-ups, most of it free of charge. As a result of information I received from the workshops, I was able to successfully trademark and protect my BRiT logo."

Moses explains: "the Greater BRiTs campaign came about as a positive response to heal a divided Britain from the feeling of general anxiety about the future of the UK post the Brexit referendum.  The British people have the creativity, inventiveness, energy, perseverance and resilience to see Britain thrive." Moses developed Greater BRiTs with the mission of "celebrating Britain's Unity, Inclusivity and Diversity". Moses has designed a BRiT t-shirt with over 300 customised messages to reflect the diversity of the British lifestyles, personalities, professions and communities.

We may not be currently in your local library but the Start-ups in London Libraries workshops are now all online. Visit the Startup in London Libraries website for all the information and to register for the next round of free webinars. 

This programme is run in collaboration with ten London boroughs: Bexley, Croydon, Greenwich, Haringey, Lambeth, Lewisham, Newham, Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.

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28 January 2020

What's your New Year's Resolution for 2020?

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We have been speaking to some of our  BIPC businesses as part of our brand new #HighStreetHeroes feature on Instagram. Every Monday you will find insight into their business journey, their best pieces of business advice and you will also have the opportunity to ask them any burning questions you may have. Make sure to follow us to find out more about our buzzing community of entrepreneurs. In the meantime, as January is all about self-reflection, evaluation and setting aims, read on to hear more about some of our High Street Heroes' New Year's Resolutions, and how they are hoping that these targets can help their business: 

Amanda, I Can Make Shoes

Amanda the owner of I Can Create Shoes in a white shirt

'My 2020 resolution’s to plan my workdays in 1-hour increments the night before. This increases my productivity massively. I’m also going to meditate in the mornings. This helps me keep a light-hearted happy attitude throughout the day.'

Lauren, Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium

Lauren owner of Dinah the Cat Emporium with a cat

'This year, I've set myself the New Year's Resolution of improving our sustainability practices, particularly when it comes to waste management, the chemicals we use in the cafe and reducing packaging use where we can for merchandise. Maintaining a stable and responsible business is always the goal for us: the hospitality sector and High Street in general are quite volatile and our goal is to continue to do what we are doing to maintain our current strength.'

Chloe and Abigail, Buttercrumble

Chloe and Abigail of Buttercrumble in pink

'We tend not to set New Year's Resolutions. However, we do follow a mantra: refocus, refresh and restart. The quietness of January always offers an opportunity for personal and business development.'

Joe, Krio Kanteen

Joe from Krio Kanteen in a black shirt

'My New Year's Resolution for 2020 is to not be so possessive over my business. I've realised that sharing responsibilities can be really beneficial for business growth. The trading of ideas and expertise also keeps things fresh and allows your business to remain innovative.'

Mickela, HR Sports Academy

Mickela from HR Sports Acadamy smiling in a blue jumper

'This year, I'm setting myself 2 New Year's Resolutions:

1. Stop being a control freak and trying to do everything myself

This year I will become better at delegating tasks to other members of staff and up-skilling people within the organisation to help ensure that I do not get overwhelmed with workload and I stay focused on developing the business 

2. Take more time out for self care

Doing simple things like getting my nails done, having facial and massages, mediating and working out to enable me to relax, recharge and refocus. Physical and mental well-being is so important for everyone, and with the demands of running a business it’s easy to forget to do the little things which will prevent you from burning out.'

Natalie, Acacia Facilities

Natalie from Acacia Facilities in a leaf print shirt

'This year, I'm going to step out of my comfort zone to develop new beginnings within my personal and business life, exploring new abilities to create a better life balance.'

You can find our #HighStreetHeroes feature on our Instagram page every Monday. 

20 November 2019

A Day in the Life of… Rupert Holloway, founder of Conker Spirit

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After giving up his day job as a Chartered Quantity Surveyor, Rupert Holloway, decided to set out on a new career path which he was passionate about, after some good, bad and ugly ideas, Conker Spirit was born.

Rupert Holloway, founder of Conker Spirit

What is the day in the life of an ‘entrepreneur’? for want of a better word – and I wish there was. Well, I can tell you he's restless, feverously ambitious and has a sense of entitlement to anything he puts his mind to. It begs the question, then, as to how this is balanced with life outside the business, namely (in my case) a happy wife and kids…

Despite this sometimes overbearing drive for achievement, I’ve somehow managed to shun the stereotype of working every waking hour of the day – being the part-time father, the absent husband…I hope this opinion is shared by my wife! I do have my weekends and the majority of my evenings are spent chilling with my wife, Emily, on the sofa.

Conker Spirit's bottle of gin, product example.

I’ve mused over how I’ve managed to pull off this magic trick, and I think I can put it down to two main factors: by building a great team at Conker so that the fundamental functions of the business don’t solely rely on me; and by building my life and work around each other – they are not at odds, and most of the time not at war.

This work-life balance stuff really fascinates me. After all, it was one of the main drivers for ditching my day job to build my own business. Back then, six years ago, I wanted to even-up the stakes.

Today there is a less brutal split between my two worlds of ‘work’ and ‘life’, and also in the person I am in the office and at home. I’m no longer ‘bipolar’ in my persona. When I was a Quantity Surveyor, I remember the feeling of literally switching to 'Surveyor' Rupert as the lift doors opened on the sixth floor of that Southampton office building. Now, because I do what I genuinely love and nothing is forced, work and life seem less at odds with each other.

What’s more, my work life and home life feel like one and the same. Emily works part-time in the busiess and has quickly become integral to every decision and problem we solve. As a result, Conker is our (4th) baby. It really is a wonderful thing and I feel very lucky. I know that having ‘the wife’ in the office would fill some with wide-eyed dread, but for me, I miss her the days she's not there.

While my work-life balance is perhaps more even-keeled than the archetypal entrepreneur life might suggest, the real battle comes with being ‘present’ in the now. My mind is often full of the next Conker conundrum I’ve got to solve, rather than living what is going on in the room. It’s a challenge sometimes to remain 'present' and focused on the moment with the family, rather than deliberating the next major decision to be made.

Conker cold brew

Having made some drastic decisions six years ago to follow my heart in my career, I’ve realised that life is as complicated as you make it. There are days that can be very complicated indeed – more complicated, I think, than we are biologically and mentally designed to cope with.

A couple of years ago we bought a house a one-minute walk from the Distillery and the local school, further aligning and synchronising my work-life dance. With three kids to distribute Monday to Friday, our mornings are completely car-free. The school run I had always feared is now a complete doddle.

But the real gem is that picking the kids up from school is just a 20-minute chunk out of my day. I know that many people don’t have the same luxury, and I try and take it whenever I can.

While this makes me feel pretty lucky, I don’t actually believe in ‘luck’, or rather that’s not what I’d call it. I believe ‘lucky’ people are simply more ‘available’ to take up new opportunities and exploit them. It’s not a divine intervention, rather a flexibility built into your life and mindset that allows you to make the most of the best option that presents itself to you.

We hang an awful lot of meaning, guilt and obligation to what has been, honouring past decisions and investments, rather than seeing each new opportunity or challenge objectively. Shunning these shackles of the past is the real skill of the entrepreneur, and of anyone choosing their next subject at school or changing their career path. The key is being free to adapt and evolve to a new situation, and not making life so complicated that you are not ‘available’ to grasp it.

You can hear more from Rupert from the Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Leaders in Luxe event recording on our YouTube channel, along with the founders and co-founders of Jennifer Chamandi, House of Hackney, The Jackal and ME+EM.