Innovation and enterprise blog

The British Library Business & IP Centre can help you start, run and grow your business


This blog is written by members of the Business & IP Centre team and some of our expert partners and discusses business, innovation and enterprise. Read more

28 May 2015

The Guardian Small Business Showcase

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The Guardian Business Showcase is an annual competition, run by the Guardian Small Business Network, which aims to highlight and reward innovation and good practice in UK small businesses. This year Nigel Spencer, Research and Business Development Manager at the British Library Business & IP Centre, was invited to sit on the judging panel.

The judges comprise an impressive selection of successful entrepreneurs, journalists and investors including Simon Duffy, co-founder of Bulldog Skincare; James Caan, founder and CEO of Hamilton Bradshaw; Claire Burke, acting editor of Guardian Small Business Network; Simon Walker, partner at international law firm Taylor Wessing; Fiona Walsh, business editor at; Jim Cregan, founder and managing director of Jimmy's Iced Coffee; Anna Bance, co-founder of Girl Meets Dress and of course our own Nigel Spencer.

The judging process has a clear format; every few weeks’ judges are sent a ‘judging pack’ with entries from businesses which showcase innovative and practical ideas in six areas:

  • Smarter Working:   improving business efficiency
  • Home innovation:   operating effectively from home
  • Cashflow Management:   managing cash flow effectively
  • Marketing & PR Excellence:   promoting their business in a creative and effective way
  • Rising Star:  examples of outstanding performance by talented individuals
  • Small Business of the Year; businesses that have made great progress in their first 18 months

The entries come from a very broad variety of sectors ranging from online gaming, heating, kitchenware and financial software to socks and underwear! Nigel said that, “This variety means that reading the entries is entertaining and a constant source of surprise, but it also provides a real challenge in comparing businesses operating in very different markets.” Nigel has judged competitions before and always tries to apply criteria in a scientific and objective way, but finds it difficult to apply a critical and dispassionate assessment when he is aware of the effort that had gone into developing each business. Every business in the competition is precious to the people that started them and the prestige they will gain from success in the competition means that the stakes are high.

Nigel works with small business owners and entrepreneurs every day in the Business & IP Centre and those looking to expand and develop are always asking how they can create a buzz around their business. Awards are one certain way of doing this, they can help you distinguish your business from the competitors and enhance your brand – doing so can be a challenge for any small business with limited resources. Entering a competition is a great way to generate PR and endorsements from the media and the panel of business expert judges. Moreover, having the title of ‘award winning’ is confirmation that consumers can trust doing business with you.

Nigel gives his top 5 tips for entering competitions:

  • Read the selection criteria very carefully and make sure that your entry addresses all of them
  • Provide firm statistical or financial  evidence of the beneficial impacts of actions or decisions you have taken
  • Tell a story.  Present a challenge you faced, describe the actions taken and then describe how these successfully met that challenge.
  • Consider how others could learn and be inspired by your experience, and highlight the key learning points.
  • Don’t be afraid to let your energy and enthusiasm for your business shine through in the way you tell your story.

The team at the Guardian Small Business Showcase have collated the judges’ marks and produced a shortlist of three finalists for each category. The winners will be announced on the evening of 11 June 2015, best of luck to all of the finalists!

If you are looking for advice on how to start and run a successful business and increase your chances of winning an award or competition drop in to the Business & IP Centre in the British Library. 


26 May 2015

Welcome to Paul Lindley - our new Ambassador

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Paul Lindley + products
Photo source: Ella’s Kitchen

Here at the British Library Business & IP Centre we are excited to announce Paul Lindley, Founder of Ella’s Kitchen, as our new Ambassador. Our Ambassadors come from a diverse range of business sectors and bring a variety of specialisms to their roles in helping to raise the profile of the Business & IP Centre services on a national and local basis. 

Prior to being a big business owner Paul started as Ella’s dad and like many parents had trouble getting his daughter to eat. To encourage Ella he used games at dinner time to make food fun and he also got to work in the kitchen creating food that was not only healthy but tasty too. And thus the idea for Ella’s Kitchen formed and started Paul on his journey from dad to entrepreneur to successful business owner.

Today Ella’s Kitchen is the biggest baby food business in the UK, turning over circa $100m last year, with products sold in over 30 countries around the world. Paul’s vision driving Ella’s Kitchen is to improve children’s lives by giving them a healthier relationship with food. Children are at the heart of everything they do - rather than aiming their products at parents, they make them appeal to the children themselves. Everything from the packaging and recipes to the names of products are directly influenced by children. 

Photo source: Ella’s Kitchen

As a dedicated dad and business man Paul is now focusing on a new start-up, Paddy’s Bathroom, a range of fun natural and organic toiletries for toddlers named after his son. Similar to the idea behind Ella’s Kitchen, Paul’s new venture also has a social message at the core of the business model - for each drop of water a child uses to wash him/herself a village in Rwanda gets a drop of clean water too.

Here at the Business & IP Centre we were keen to connect Paul to other socially driven entrepreneurs. In February of this year we invited him to speak to over 350 small business owners at our Inspiring Entrepreneurs event. Paul gave invaluable tips and advice to other entrepreneurs looking to scale up. 


In fact, Paul had used the Library himself at the early stages of researching Ella’s Kitchen. Since then the Library has expanded its business and intellectual property resources and service to include a wide range of practical workshops, webinars, 1:1 advice sessions and networking events, delivered by Library staff and business experts. To date, over 400,000 people have used the Centre, with research showing that over a third of them are driven by making a social and environmental impact – just like Paul. 

Paul had this to say about his new role: “I’m honoured to become an ambassador for such a game changing organisation.  The British Library’s Business & IP Centre has the credibility, assets and potential to fundamentally improve the likelihood for any British entrepreneur to succeed.  It’s open, assessable and of such quality to aspiring entrepreneurs that I’ll be humbled if acting as an ambassador can help spread awareness and its use.”


Roly Keating, CEO of the British Library, is pleased to welcome Paul as an Ambassador; “We are proud and delighted to welcome Paul Lindley as a Business & IP Centre Ambassador. He’s a great advocate of entrepreneurship as a force for good. Paul’s expertise and experience will help us to continue to champion entrepreneurs and small business owners from all walks of life, helping them to launch and develop their businesses."

Watch more videos of Paul Lindley and other guest speakers from our Inspiring Entrepreneurs series here.

22 May 2015

Inventing Chocolate with Amelia Rope

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Starting your own chocolate business is something many of us only dream about. Amelia Rope is one woman who has immersed herself in the chocolate industry and has come up with new and innovative flavours to tantalise our taste buds. But how does one become a chocolatier or even begin to make the dream of owning a chocolate business a reality? Amelia is a current participant on the Business & IP Centre Innovating for Growth Programme and we had the chance to ask her some of our questions. 

Photo credit: Lucy Young

Hi Amelia, where did the idea come from to start your own business?

I have always wanted to have my own business from a young age.  Looking back I think I always wanted freedom and independence from anyone controlling me financially. During my 20’s and early 30’s I was a PA for small businesses, large corporates, hospitals and doctors surgeries.  I qualified as a massage therapist, studied nutrition, herbal medicine and qualified as an aromatherapist and my last ‘proper’ job before starting my business was as a Practice Manager. It took some time to finally get where I am now – I founded Amelia Rope Chocolate in September 2007 and now my chocolates are sold in hotels and department stores across the UK, in the US, Dubai and Malaysia. 

I appeared on Masterchef twice - I am definitely not a chef but it gave me the courage to contemplate life amongst food. Also having a life-coach helped me believe in myself, and encouraged me to take a risk which helped me convert from a Practice Manager to a chocolatier. Another key turning point was when a well-known food editor flippantly said I could be the next Juliette Binoche (I don’t think they had any idea I would take it literally!) and when my chocolate diamond geezer Patrick Reeves, who believed in me so much, put in a commission for 1,000 chocolate bars to get me kick-started. I was then lucky enough to meet Ewan Venters (then Director of Food Halls, Selfridges) who spotted my first two bars and stocked them in Selfridges. 

Photo credit: Mary Wadsworth

Tell us about what makes Amelia Rope Chocolate so unique

I believe small businesses are unique in that they allow the personality of the business owner to shine through in their products, and this allows them to really make their mark in their industry.  Chocolate confectionary is generally a completely crowded market. However, when I entered the premium chocolate bar market there were very few of us – in fact it was not such a flooded market then as it is now as there isn't as much space in this area.  When you look at the brands in this sector you will see each of our own characters/individual stamps coming through. I love splashes of colour, design and have always had a very distinct palate for what I like to eat, loathe and crave.  Put all of these together, and a mind which whirls around with lots of ideas, and I suppose you will get something different!  Some of my recipes are traditional, but the end flavour I believe is different. Perhaps this stems from the way I create my recipes which are as if I was developing an aromatherapy blend.  My love of sea salt influences my flavours and chocolate is such a good medium to carry salt: especially milk and white chocolate. 

How did you know there was a market for your premium chocolate bars?

By complete luck! My bespoke products just hit the spot with consumers immediately after a press drop off to most of the national newspapers and magazines.  My business featured in Stella Magazine, and it just rolled on from there.  The chocolate bars were my most effective product to market in the range. I also went to the Business & IP Centre, whenever I had time to learn about trends, markets and begin to think of strategies and I still visit the Centre today when researching markets and developing my business plans. 

Photo credit: Mary Wadsworth


What hurdles have you had to overcome in your journey so far?

The main hurdle is lack of funding to really propel forward at the pace I want to.  My aim was to crank it up and have an opportunity to sell out within five years.  It is also difficult to achieve a good work/life balance – for so many years I worked every day and for crazy hours.  I found I let go of friends, family and relationships because my business consumed me.  Now I take time off at the weekends (unless it is the busy seasonal times or I am travelling on business), go out at least 2-3 times a week in the evening and go to the gym regularly.  Mentally and physically I feel so much better as a result. I have very high expectations of myself and all the people I work with but each hurdle has been worth overcoming to get where I am today.  

How did you first hear about the Innovating for Growth Programme?

On twitter and I immediately went to the website to explore more.  I was amazed when I won a place and it has delivered way beyond my expectations. It has given me a chance to really focus on my business.  For some time I have wanted to strip my business right down to its core, cross-examine it in a critical way and then to put appropriate pieces back together, alongside bringing new facets in such as streamlining my production.  With a team of experts and one-to-one sessions my learning curve has been intense, tough and challenging at times, but I have learnt so much and feel in a much better position with my business than when I started.  Life is about learning and transforming – with Innovating for Growth I have begun to do both and I can’t wait to see how much further I grow with the help of the programme to build a good, effective team to support me and my business and grow significantly both in UK and globally.

Photo credit: Mary Wadsworth

What tips would you give to any entrepreneurs looking to scale up?

When you set up try and bear in mind that your product may be a hit, which will lead to scaling up.  Have a plan about how your product can do this, the costs involved and how it will work for your brand.  Applying for Innovating for Growth can certainly help anyone on this journey. Be prepared to have a good stash of cash too!

If, like Amelia, you want to scale up apply for Innovating for Growth today.

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Innovating for Growth is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund