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

22 August 2017

From barrier to business opportunity: a spotlight on 121Captions

Being an entrepreneur with a disability can come with its challenges but has also brought great opportunities for our Innovating for Growth alumnus, Tina Lannin. Here, Tina shares her story about how an urgent need in live-captioning services inspired her to found 121Captions. The company has gone from strength to strength, expanding to serve new markets at home and abroad; while also picking up some Stelios and diversity awards along the way.

What was your background before starting 121Captions, and where did the idea for your business come from?

While freelancing as a forensic lip reader I also worked as a financial controller for the charity Hearing Link, who ITN would often call on for help as our offices were across the street. I took part in their coverage of high profile events such royal weddings and christenings, interviews with tennis players and coaches at Wimbledon, as well as footballers the World Cup for their real-time Twitter feed – all good fun. The captioning side of the business came later on, which I saw as simply adding another string to my bow.

It was at Hearing Link that I met speech to text reporters (stenographers and palantypists) who would join our meetings and write what they heard in shorthand, their laptops then translating the shorthand into English, so the deaf staff could read the live captioning and follow what was being said.

Barrier blog 1

The pool of speech to text reporters in the UK is tiny; there are fewer than 30 available for 14 million deaf and hard of hearing people. Can you imagine that? There is such a huge need for this service but not enough service providers are available. Around 2008, I saw this service being delivered remotely in Australia and could see this was needed in the UK and Europe. There are different ways to deliver this service and I focused on quality, speed, hardware and software reliability, and deaf awareness – all aspects which are vital to the deaf viewer. As a deaf person myself, I am very keen that the deaf client gets the best service possible so that they really do have equal access in the work or learning environment. And it was this motivation that inspired me to begin 121Captions and getting help to scale it was how I came across Innovating for Growth.

What challenges has the business faced along the way?

Our current challenges are growing the business effectively without losing our personal touch, and managing the ever-changing world of technology! Technology moves so fast these days and we have to move with it, and make sure our service continues to work well and to work within the client’s environment. To that end, we now provide captioning services from a UK server which, with our enhanced security features, meets the security requirements of our government and corporate clients in the UK.

Other key challenges have been to ensure we are able to meet the demands of our clients by providing them with a high quality service whilst managing their expectations; we do this by being transparent and clear on how we expect clients to work with us. We do not really advertise: our business comes to us by word of mouth.

We then have to manage the supply of service providers, and ensure they meet our requirements. It has helped that I have a good knowledge of the industry and I am a client myself, so I know a lot of the service providers already and have good relationships with them. To me, my business is not just a service: it’s all about the clients and the service providers. They are the heart of the business.

Barrier blog 2

What has been the businesses biggest achievement so far?

We were the first to bring remote steno captioning to the UK, the Middle East, and South Africa. We are building the business in the Middle East and gaining respect for the work we do in that region, which is fantastic as there is nothing available for deaf people and my deaf friends out there.

We have some great partnerships and clients such as Twitter, Google and Sky. Our clients range from corporates and city banks to universities – yet we also provide service to the deaf individual who claims Access to Work funding for interviews. I get a lot of job satisfaction when I am able to help a deaf person to develop their career through advocating for their access needs, using my career counselling skills to advise them, and finally providing them with a captioning service to give them equal access at work.

I love that my work has a positive effect on the lives of other deaf people and benefits them so much; this is what I see as my biggest achievement.

 Do you think it’s more difficult for a disability-led business or are the challenges just different?

The challenges are different and also more difficult. It’s more costly as I have to rely on (hearing) staff to help with phone calls, as I can’t hear on the phone at all. I rely on email more than a hearing person would and have to wait for people to respond, rather than have instant answers. The access issues are time-consuming and expensive to implement.

 But in a way, we have it a bit easier with marketing and sales. Being deaf myself, I live the business and I am the business. I know so much about captioning services as I have used them every day for years. I have a real passion for captioning to be available to everyone and to work as well as it should. Everyone should have equal access to information without asking for it or fighting for it to be made available. When it is available, it should be of the best quality. I know all the ins and outs, what makes captioning work well and what can cause captioning to fail. This is much more persuasive to a client than someone who is just in this business for a profit. Tina shares her ‘7 keys to entrepreneurial success as a deaf or hard of hearing entrepreneur’ on her website.

 You grew the business with the help of our Innovating for Growth programme. What did the programme help you achieve?

I achieved a lot of great and very helpful one-to-one guidance on how to run the business more effectively. I gained clarity on the purpose of my business and how to set goals, making it a much sexier organisation to work for. We have a more professional image and service, which in turn has helped us to bring in more clients and hire more staff.

The team at Innovating for Growth offer a very supportive environment and I would not have been able to access such expertise elsewhere.

Are you an ambitious business owner looking to scale up, like Tina? Innovating for Growth is a free three-month programme to help you turn your growth idea into a reality. Find out more and apply before Wednesday 6 September to be in the next cohort.



16 August 2017

The Business & IP Centre’s Start-up Day is back!

The Business & IP Centre has been helping entrepreneurs from all walks of life to start, protect and grow successful business for over eleven years, providing access to the UK’s largest collection of intellectual property resources, business data and market research alongside free and low-cost training and support in our inspiring, accessible space. In this time we have supported over half a million people, and enabled the commercialization of thousands of new ideas.

To celebrate these achievements, and to mark the tenth anniversary of the Centre, we held our first ever Start-up Day on September 27 2016 where we invited any London with a business idea to come and find out how the Library could help them achieve their entrepreneurial ambitions. This high-octane event day saw over 700 aspiring entrepreneurs attend a jam-packed programme of workshops, training and inspirational talks, including a keynote address from the Library’s Entrepreneur in Residence Julie Deane, founder of The Cambridge Satchel Company

Julie Deane speaking at last year's Start-up Day


Isabel Oswell, Head of Business Audiences, said of the Start-up Day 2016:

There are lots and lots of people out there who have a business idea but aren’t really sure what steps they need to take to turn that seed of an idea into a reality. The aim of Start-up Day has been to encourage people to access the amazing Library collections and training that give them all the skills and market knowledge they need to increase their chances of business success. It has been wonderful to see so many aspiring entrepreneurs kick-start their business plans by attending today, and beginning to build their networks. We look forward to welcoming them back to the Centre over the coming months and years as these fledgling business ideas begin to take flight.

This year, we’re planning for a Start-up Day that’s bigger than ever! We’ll have events taking place not just in London, but simultaneously in partner libraries right around the UK through our Business & IP Centre National Network, encouraging more people through the country to take advantage of library resources to start and grow businesses.

The London programme features over talks from entrepreneurs and business experts on a diverse range of essential business topics including:

  • How to charge your worth
  • How to get your business in the media on a budget
  • How to write a great business plan
  • How to get your business online
  • How to start a successful fashion business - and much, much more.

We will also be bringing the founder of Cobra Beer, Lord Karan Bilimoria, to our stage to share the story of how he brewed up business success, growing Cobra from a small start-up in 1989 to a brand that turns over £60 million and has a 90% market share of all Indian restaurants in the UK. Other speakers include the first ever winner of BBC’s The Apprentice and founder of the Bright Ideas Trust

Attendees at Start-up Day 2016

We are also excited to be supported in our efforts to help thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs put business ideas into practice by both the Google Digital Garage who will be running hands-on master classes at all eleven of our Business & IP Centres, and Virgin StartUp, who are joining us to share information about the government-backed Start-up Loans opportunity to raise seed funding to get your business off the ground. At all of the Start-up Day events around the country, you’ll also have the chance to see, touch and feel some of the practical marketing tools offered by Vistaprint to help you get your brand out there, including printed leaflets, banners and those all-important business cards. Start-up Day 2017 takes place on Thursday September 21 (09.30-19.30 in the British Library, and at various other locations across the UK). 


How I brewed up success
Lord Bilimoria, founder of Cobra Beeer, will speak at the British Library's Start-up Day

Book your free place to attend your choice of over 20 events, talks and workshops now by visiting our booking page . All sessions are free to attend, but places are limited and are selling quickly so don't delay and secure your place to get the know-how you need to turn your great idea into a booming business.



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 Start-up Day is a free event, funded by the European Regional Development Fund.




15 August 2017

Three golden principles to master the art of public speaking and presenting

Whether you’re pitching for business, dealing with a crisis or thanking your team for their hard work, the ability to speak confidently in front of others is an important business and leadership skill - so important, that the internet is awash with hints, tips and do’s and don’ts that promise to make you a brilliant speaker.

In the heat of the moment however, when you’re about to speak, it’s sometimes hard to remember all the advice that’s out there. In this blog, award winning presenter and author of Insider Secrets of Public Speaking.  Nadine Dereza shares her Three Golden Principles for successful presenting:

Nadine 1

 1. Authority

The audience is listening to you, so be in charge. Be credible, feel comfortable and own the room. Know more about the subject than you have put in your speech and be at ease with the subject matter. You are an expert on the topic, and your opinion matters. 

Audiences like to be guided. If it gradually dawns on them that you’re nervous, they will start to worry about you and stop listening.

Public speaking is an act of leadership, and if you lack authority on stage, the audience will assume you lack authority off stage too. Your job as speaker is to focus on delivering the key messages that the audience needs to hear, and one of the most effective ways of dealing with nerves is to really know your subject.

Part of being authoritative is being in control of your performance space, and arriving early to check the slides and video footage are all working and do a sound check if you are using a microphone, will help bolster your confidence - there is nothing worse than unexpected feedback from a microphone or a rogue PowerPoint slide.


Nadine 2

 2. Authenticity

Be the best version of yourself, rather than a second-rate copy of someone else. Audiences like to feel that they’ve been let in to see the ‘real’ you. Get rid of the idea that to be a ‘good speaker’ you have to deploy ‘tricks’: good speakers are, above all, themselves.

What do people like about you? What are the qualities that attract people to you? Play to your strengths rather than worrying about your weaknesses.

We all have unconscious habits that we adopt when under pressure, and if your presentation has been recorded, you should review footage of yourself. You’ll catch any distracting hair touching and shuffling from side-to-side that you do without thinking about it. Watching a replay will teach you a lot about yourself.  

If you really do suffer from nerves, shift the focus from yourself, and turn that nervous energy into enthusiasm for delivering your speech.

Nadine 3

3. Audience

The audience is the most important part of any speech or presentation. Give the audience information in a way that is useful to them. It’s really not about you.  

You won’t please everyone all the time, but think about who you are talking to, and what sort of information they need, be it facts, a personal story, inspiration or a heartfelt thank you.

Audiences are not passive: they are either actively engaged or they are turned off. Be conscious of this, and if you sense they’re not engaged, turn the speech into a conversation that draws people in, have a few anecdotes or statistics that will help you achieve this.

 Audiences respond well to a speaker who is having a good time: with authority and authenticity, it gives you that indefinable ‘something’ that says ‘I should be here speaking in front of you’.

 Try and try again

Wherever you are speaking and whatever you are speaking about, try to feel satisfied with what you have done. If you don’t, ask why not - and think about what you could do differently next time.

Follow these Three Golden Principles and your speech will be remembered, talked about and possibly acted on, for all the right reasons.

 Nadine Dereza is an award winning journalist, experienced business presenter, conference host and co-author of the book Insider Secrets of Public Speaking. She has presented for CNN, BBC, Sky TV, SABC, Global Business TV, Simply Money and Associated Press. As London Markets Correspondent for the Financial Times and Summit TV, she was awarded ‘Financial Journalist of the Year’. Nadine chairs, moderates and speaks at conferences and live events for a diverse range of clients across many industries and sectors in the UK and abroad. And through her company PS Programmes Nadine delivers coaching programmes to individuals and teams, which include presentation skills, media training and crisis media management training.

For more advice about how to speak and present to inspire, motivate and influence an audience, why not come along to one of Nadine’s Speaking and Presenting workshops at the The British Library Business & IP Centre. The next session takes place on Monday 18th Sptember and you can book your place here