Education must never be a dirty word

Business Impact: Education must never be a dirty word

Education must never be a dirty word

Business Impact: Education must never be a dirty word

Despite the abundance of benefits it could bring to wider society, prisoner education still remains a taboo subject, says James Tweed, the founder of digital learning company, Coracle

It’s easy to take access to education for granted. When you’ve got used to going to school every day, spending a few hours in a library, or even just going on YouTube to find information, education can start to seem mundane. In a digital society, most of us walk around with access to vast amounts of information literally sitting in the palm of our hands. 

Yet for some small but substantial groups, such unfettered access is not taken for granted and is far from the norm of their everyday lives. Groups such as prisoners, homeless people and the very poor don’t have access to education in anything like the way the rest of us do. This is in part both the cause and the consequence of the harsh lives these people lead. 

Rights to education

Education is supposed to be a fundamental human right, enshrined by a declaration made by the United Nations. For years researchers, analysts and academics, as well as most sensible governments, have recognised its potential to transform lives.

As well as contributing to confidence, fulfilment, independence and career prospects, an individual who has completed upper secondary education can expect to live six years longer than an individual with the lowest level of education. These benefits are reflected in wider society, too; societies that witness higher participation in education tend to experience higher levels of happiness, civic participation and better health outcomes.

But for those segments of society who remain part of a marginalised and vulnerable population, the right to an education remains largely ignored. 

Locked out

Prisoners are among the most poorly educated groups in society. A lack of education and skills means finding work is difficult and, once they have a criminal record, it becomes harder still. This leads many to return to crime.

For example, 47% of prisoners in the UK have no formal qualifications when they enter custody. Offering those in prison a laptop – as Coracle does – is a chance for them to build skills and creativity. It’s also a humanistic solution to reoffending that can work towards bridging social inequalities.  

Breaking this cycle could save billions. Estimates suggest that for every $1 spent on correctional education in the US, $4 to $5 are saved on reincarceration costs. It’s good for the prisoner, their families and also for wider society. A lot of crime takes place close to where a perpetrator lives, so it’s also the poorest communities that stand to benefit the most.

In October 1989, the Council of Europe adopted a set of recommendations outlining the needs and responsibilities of the education of imprisoned people in Europe. Despite this becoming enshrined in policy recommendations, the gap in access to education persists.

Digital society

Our society is becoming digital on every front. We use apps for everything, cash is disappearing and being able to use the internet is taken as a given. But there’s a digital divide opening up and prisoners are on the wrong side of it. Anyone who emerges from prison after a lengthy spell finds themselves in a very different world.

From contactless card payments to digital passports and self-service checkouts, the digital revolution is changing society at an immense speed. Giving prisoners the opportunity to learn the digital skills they need increases their chances of successful reintegration into their communities. This is vital if we are to address the continued exclusion of ex-prisoners from mainstream society.

Recognising this gap, I founded Coracle – a digital learning company which provides inmates with access to education. What started as a project in my local prison now reaches 50 prisons across England and Wales.

Employment

It is evident that employers still have a way to go when it comes to offering former convicts opportunities without negative bias. At current, the proportion of offenders in employment one year after release is a meagre 17% in the UK. By equipping offenders with the educational capacities needed to gain employment, prisoner education bridges the skills gap that exists between the prisoner population and wider society.

By providing crucial skills that have the potential to transform people’s lives, prisoner education is a vital area of social investment. Ending the revolving door of sending vulnerable people back into prisons year on year is possible, but it requires a collective effort rooted in humanising offenders and understanding their needs. 

In short, prisoner education can no longer come last. It’s a priority worthy of our collective efforts, that offers shared benefits for us all. Widening access to education beyond the formal education system is the best way to build hope and develop potential.

James Tweed is the founder and managing director of digital learning company Coracle, which allows prisoners to access content safely from organisations such as the Open University without using the internet.

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Inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs seeking social impact

Business Impact: Inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs seeking social impact

Inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs seeking social impact

Business Impact: Inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs seeking social impact
Business Schools must ensure they provide the support needed to those wishing to launch ventures that can contribute to a more sustainable planet, says GBSB Global Business School’s Xavier Arola

To be a business leader, you must be able to instigate real change. Innovation must be at the heart of your motivation, and that is why GBSB Global Business School believes that it is vital to give future business leaders the platform to grow and develop their ventures.

Through our ‘G-Accelerator’ startup hub, we aim to engage with individuals concerned with bettering the world and society by employing sustainable business models that are not only socially responsible, but also financially and environmentally sustainable too.

Early-stage support for ‘Triple Impact’ ventures

With a strong focus on both innovation and technology, the G-Accelerator targets next-generation entrepreneurs, particularly those with disruptive ideas that intend to launch businesses that will help contribute to a better society. The aim is to allow entrepreneurs to reach their potential by providing solid support and the necessary resources to succeed.

Once a year, the G-Accelerator has an ‘Impact Call’, a six-month pre-accelerator programme that provides training, mentoring, networking, and financial support services to early-stage entrepreneurs focused on developing a venture with a ‘Triple Impact’ – i.e. ventures that are socially, economically and environmentally sustainable.

The Impact Call offers a roadmap of 20 weeks from the first steps of ideation to the market, from product development to managerial skills and acquaintance modules. As such, the G-Accelerator aims to source and support those who want to develop their own business in a short but highly efficient timeframe.

The support, training and networking opportunities are invaluable. Those with access to the hub have access to a network of other entrepreneurs during and after their programme that spans not only across Spain, but also across the world. There are different profiles and development stages between the entrepreneurs and startups in this programme, and the exchanging of insights, concerns and results are of clear value.

Projects with the potential to create value for society

In partnership with the University of Vic – Central University of Catalonia (UVic-UCC) and the University of Northampton’s Institute of Social Innovation and Impact (ISII) in the UK, the G-Accelerator’s Impact Call is sponsored by the Catalan Government’s Ministry of Business and Labour and the European Social Fund.

Our shared mission with these partners is focused on promoting the impact economy. So, we look for projects where the creation of added value for society is the central element of the business model. By doing this, we intend to promote the circular economy and focus on real needs under the principles of sustainability, viability and feasibility.

Over the years, numerous successful ventures have developed through the G-Accelerator programme. The first is MIN Organics – an e-commerce platform that specialises in selling organic menstrual products in bulk, allowing women to overcome stigma and customise their menstrual cycle according to their individual needs. Founded by Anna Comas, MIN Organics [formerly, MYOX Organics] won Best Startup in the Pre-Seed & Seed category of the G-Accelerator Impact Call Programme 2020-2021 edition.

Then there is Orpheus – an enterprise focused on monitoring air quality and other criteria to improve people’s welfare, energy efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions while minimising costs. Orpheus won Best Startup in the Early-Stage category of the aforementioned Impact Call edition.

There is also Agua NEA – the first 100% plastic- and BPA-free mineral water brand in Spain, offered as an alternative solution to the hospitality industry’s massive plastic consumption. This startup is another beneficiary of the G-Accelerator Impact Call 2020-2021 edition.

Whether the idea is in its infancy or has already received partial funding, GBSB Global Business School invites individuals to apply to the programme in order to get expert mentorship and guidance in seeing their dreams become a successful reality. In a world where input is needed at a rapid rate to slow down the effects of climate change, we believe all Business Schools and universities should provide the support needed to those wishing to launch a venture that can contribute to a cleaner, more sustainable planet.

Xavier Arola is the G-Accelerator Programme Director at GBSB Global Business School, which has campuses in Spain and Malta. Xavier is also Head of Careers & Entrepreneurship Services, and a Professor of Investments and Entrepreneurial Finance at the School.

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Business Impact: How space can fuel innovation on Earth
innovation

How space can fuel innovation on Earth

How the space economy can help business schools advocate for purpose-driven startups and sustainable business practices. Rana Sobh, dean of the College of Business and Economics at Qatar University, on the winners of the Global Space Sustainability Challenge

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What it’s really like to be an executive at a startup – and how it’s different from being a director or manager

Business Impact: What it’s really like to be an executive at a startup – and how it’s different from being a director or manager

What it’s really like to be an executive at a startup – and how it’s different from being a director or manager

Business Impact: What it’s really like to be an executive at a startup – and how it’s different from being a director or manager
Is being a startup executive really that different from being a manager or director? Yes, but probably not in the ways you think, says the author of 'Lead Upwards', Sarah Brown

Prior to becoming a startup executive, my view into the role was limited. I saw how the ‘executives’ behaved in our one-on-one meetings and while presenting to our entire company during all-hands meetings. I noticed how they emailed, messaged, and comported themselves at the office. I observed how they spoke in our companies’ all-hands and how they behaved at holiday parties.

I watched them, as most startup employees do their leaders. (If you’re reading this, know that people are paying attention to your behaviour.) But my view wasn’t close to the full picture of what their roles demanded. At various companies I’d worked for, many of the executives’ calendars were fully booked in meetings so often I wondered how they got any work done. What were they doing during these blocks? Beyond their ‘busy-ness’, I wondered what that translated to in terms of what their jobs required on a day-to-day, weekly, or quarterly basis.

Inner workings of startup leadership are hard to see

Now that I’m an executive, I understand that the bulk of work done by an executive’s team is challenging to grasp as an individual contributor or even mid-level manager. While there’s been a movement to increase transparency across the startup ecosystem and more companies openly share their operating principles and salaries to their employees and even to the public, much of the inner workings of a startup leadership team are hard to see if you’re not a part of it.

‘The more senior you are, you execute less, and you have to be efficient with your time and need to empower your team to achieve your goals,’ says marketing executive Rachel Beisel. ‘You’re in a lot of meetings because you’re often the facilitator between departments and between employees in those departments.’

The reason that executives spend so much time in meetings is that decision-making is their most important responsibility. While startup leaders will always execute to some degree at earlier-stage companies (including the founders and CEO), their ability to strategise and decide is whythey exist at the company.

‘As a founder, I have decision fatigue,’ said AQUAOSO CEO and Co-Founder, Chris Peacock. ‘I expect my executives to constantly make good decisions in their areas, even in the absence of all of the data.’

Executives are charged with managing managers, meaning their direct reports generally have their own reports. This ‘skip level’ hierarchy requires executives to empower their reports to make good decisions and own theirareas.

The level of hands-on work you do as an executive will vary based on your startup’s stage and maturity. Early on in a startup, you’ll be spending more time on execution, doing things like shipping a new landing page, or editing copy, or creating financial models. These deliverables are a big part of how your success is measured early on. But as your company grows, you’ll need to delegate and manage other people who can do those things while you manage their productivity.

A week in the life of a startup executive

A sample startup executive’s schedule:

Daily

• Checking dashboards to view metrics and results measured against quarterly and/or yearly goals.

• Providing feedback to campaigns or other work products of teams within your team, usually at key milestones – early to verify direction (for example, this product roadmap change aligns to our strategy for the business/team) and ‘buy-off’ at final stages of delivery (yes, this press release has my seal of approval for publication, and my job is on the line if we screw it up).

• Cross-functional meetings with other executives or departments.

• Reading up on the latest news in your market or industry vertical.

• CEO syncs and department team meetings.

• Checking in on project management updates from your team on Slack, Asana, or another communication tool.

Weekly

• One-to-one with your direct reports; ensuring your reports and their reports are succeeding, and the team is tracking to Objectives and Key Results (OKR); troubleshooting any issues; and tracking their career goals.

• Weekly updates cross-functionally to other teams and your CEO.

• Measuring progress against OKRs.

• Feedback and/or signoff on key projects in your department.

Monthly

• One-to-ones with your direct reports; ensuring your reports and their reports are succeeding, and the team is tracking to OKRs; troubleshooting any issues.

• All-hands presentations to the entire company and/or business unit.

• Board updates.

• Updates to your CEO and/or cross-functional stakeholders.

Quarterly

• Reporting on a Quarterly Business Review (QBR) and/or Objectives and Key Results (OKRs).

• Evaluating strategic decisions weighing performance and/or new data.

• Board updates—deck, pre-read materials, and/or live presentation in a board meeting.

• Setting OKRs for the next quarter or half.

Annually

• Annual reviews and retrospectives, including reporting wins, failures, and what you’ve learned to your CEO, fellow executives, and the board.

• Annual planning, forecasting, headcount, and budgets.

• Financial models and planning – tracking CAC and LTV.

• Supporting fundraising efforts.

• Performance reviews for your teams and yourself (sometimes semi-annually).

Your daily, monthly, quarterly, and annual activities depend on the maturity of your department and company. Smaller startups may forgo annual planning and instead rely on quarterly planning cycles. You and your CEO may meet three times per week vs. once, so take the above with a grain of salt.

Other differences between non-executive and executive roles: accountability

Startup executives are accountable for delivering business results to company shareholders, including your co-founders, fellow executives, the board and investors (your founders’ bosses), and other employees. As an executive, you have the most ownership (which most likely includes equity) and accountability of anyone on your team. Unlike individual contributors or mid-level management, startup executives must build business strategies and execute them. Jennifer Rice, a leader at Pavilion,refers to the concept of building business opinions (vs. being an order-taker) as ‘having a theory of business’.

As a marketing executive, I am expected to form and communicate data-driven opinions on how to generate demand within target accounts to increase my startup’s market share and grow revenue. My CEO and cross-functional peers can help and my team will provide input, but, ultimately, I own and put my name on a plan. I need others to believe in the plan, but first I have to believe in it and champion it. When it succeeds or fails, I am the one who’s responsible. No one will hand these plans to us to go execute as startup leaders as they did when we were mid-level managers (although great ideas can and do come from anyone on the team). It’s on us to strategise and enable our teams to deliver results.

This is an edited extract from Lead Upwards: How Startup Joiners Can Impact New Ventures, Build Amazing Careers, and Inspire Great Teams by Sarah E Brown (Wiley, 2022).

Sarah E Brown is a mentor at the Techstars and Backstage Capital accelerators and the Founder of Flatirons Tech, a diversity- and inclusion-focused group from Boulder, Colorado in the US.

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Three topics every successful entrepreneur gets legal advice on

Business Impact: Three topics every successful entrepreneur gets legal advice on

Legal structure, documentation and intellectual property. Solicitor and ‘entrepreneur in residence’, Michael Buckworth, looks at three areas that all startup founders need to get right

I advise founders to speak to a lawyer at the very start of their journey. There are so many potential pitfalls that can be avoided by getting the right advice upfront. However, there are three topics that come up time and time again, and these are as follows:

1. What legal structure should I use?

The country in which you choose to set up your business will have its own tax and corporate rules, so it’s important to be aware of those. However, in general terms, you have a choice as to whether to set up in business as an individual (as a ‘sole trader’) or operate through a company.

To set up as a sole trader, in most countries all you need to do is notify the tax authority that you’re self-employed. You then pay taxes on the profits that you make from your business, mots often at the end of the year. It’s nice and easy, and quick to get up and running. However, there is a downside: if something goes wrong, you’re personally liable for any losses. Other negatives of being a sole trader are that it is far harder to build a scalable business – you can’t raise investment by selling shares so you would have to borrow money instead – and many businesses don’t take sole traders as seriously as they take companies.

A company is a separate legal person owned by its shareholders. It can enter into contracts, borrow money, employ people, and sell shares in itself to raise money. In most countries, there is a type of company structure that has limited liability. This means that (in most circumstances) the company can go bust, but the personal assets of its shareholders and directors are protected. This is a big bonus for entrepreneurs embarking on the risky enterprise of setting up a startup.  The downside of companies is that they tend to be more expensive to set up and operate. You generally have to file accounts and returns with the regulator and comply with prescriptive rules when it comes to taking on new shareholders and raising investment.

How to decide which structure is right for you? My rule of thumb is that if you view your business as a hobby, something that will sit alongside your full-time job, work as a sole trader, at least to start with. However, if you plan to grow and scale a business as your key focus, go straight for a company.

2. What documentation do I need to have in place, and when?

Agreements have many purposes, but the most important is to exclude liability and limit risk – without an agreement in place with a counterparty, you have unlimited liability if something goes wrong. With that in mind, the most important document you will ever put in place is that with your customer. Your business faces risks as soon as it starts trading, so get your customer contract in place prior to launch.

If your business will process personal data (identifying information about individuals) you will need to publish a privacy policy that is compliant with the rules of your jurisdiction and those in which your customers are based. You will also need to ensure that you are compliant with the relevant rules as well, which may well require additional documentation.

One document that is often missed relates to the grant of ‘sweat equity’. Often, cash-poor entrepreneurs incentivise and remunerate co-founders and service providers by granting than shares in their company instead of cash. For tax reasons, shares may be issued upfront in contemplation of work that may well take place over an extended period of time. If that is the case, you need an agreement in place that regulates the work you require and provides a mechanism for clawing back the shares if providers don’t perform their obligations.

3. What do I need to think about in terms of intellectual property?

Everyone talks about intellectual property (IP), but what is it? IP refers to all the intangible stuff that is created as you go about setting up your business: your product name, logo, website design and content, social media images and videos, and any other visual or written work. Together with your product or service, these are important assets of your business, and you wouldn’t want anyone else to copy your IP and pass it off as their own.

Every person who contributes to your business is potentially a creator of valuable IP. However, in most countries, if that person isn’t an employee of your business, any IP they create belongs to them and not to you – even if you pay them for their work. Consequently, you need to ensure that any IP that they create is transferred to your business, and this is done by getting them to sign an IP transfer provision, either as a clause in a contract with them, or as a standalone document. My top tip to every entrepreneur is to get every contributor of IP to sign an IP transfer at the very beginning of the relationship – and this includes every co-founder.

Michael Buckworth is the author of Built on Rock: the busy entrepreneur’s legal guide to startup risk (Practical Inspiration Publishing, 2021). He is a Solicitor and the Founder of Buckworths, a UK law firm that works exclusively with startups and high-growth businesses. Michael is also an ‘entrepreneur in residence’ at London South Bank University and University College London.

Leaders and entrepreneurs in focus: Toby McCartney, CEO and Cofounder at MacRebur

Leaders and entrepreneurs in focus business impact open-road-to-green-future

‘We hope to make a positive impact in reducing the effects of climate change.’ The CEO and Cofounder of plastic road company, MacRebur, outlines his work, vision and style of leadership

‘All innovation disrupts for good and is essential for creating a better world,’ says Toby McCartney, CEO and Cofounder of plastic road company, MacRebur.

McCartney’s company, founded in 2016, seeks to put waste plastic to good use in road construction and resurfacing. In this interview with Business Impact, he outlines how his business vision took its cue from his ‘eco warrior’ daughter and why regulations can slow down attempts to innovate and improve processes. ‘The UK is full of innovative companies that are desperate to help and be a part of the solution to climate change,’ McCartney says.  

Can you tell us a little bit about your current role and what it involves?

My work as a CEO is nothing like you would imagine. Each day is different, as we continue to grow our business. One day I will be speaking with local authorities or business leaders from around the world, the next I’ll be at the MacRebur factory bagging up product for shipping to our latest project.

What are some of the challenges and opportunities you’re currently facing, both as a leader and as an organisation?

Plastic waste is a huge problem across the globe, and it’s great to see both governments and large businesses finally sit up and take notice.

However, the process to implement a simple and effective solution, such as our waste plastic roads is a difficult one – there are lots of rules and regulations in the UK that can delay the process. The UK is full of innovative companies that are desperate to help and be a part of the solution to climate change, and we should be called upon to help in any way that we can.

Do you feel that leading a company has enabled you to make a positive impact? If so, how?

The day that sparked my vision for MacRebur was at my then-six-year-old daughter’s school assembly. She is a real eco warrior, and during the assembly she was asked what lives in our oceans – her answer was ‘waste plastic’.

The work we’ve done at MacRebur has played a part in helping to create a better world for future generations, and we hope to make a positive impact in reducing the effects of climate change, creating a solution for plastics that would otherwise end up in landfill or incineration.

Please outline the importance of sustainability to your company’s strategy and why you feel it is important to business approaches as a whole today.

Sustainability is essential to MacRebur’s strategy: processing waste plastics that can’t otherwise be recycled and adding them into asphalt for road construction and resurfacing. Our main mission is to help solve the waste plastic epidemic, while also enhancing the asphalt used to make better quality road surfaces around the world.

Sustainability is hugely important when it comes to business approach. With the UK’s 2050 net zero target, companies across all industries need to innovate to reduce their effect on the environment.

Which three words best describe your approach to leadership (or your management style) and why?

‘Disrupting for good’ – these are the three words I live my life by and run my business on. All innovation disrupts for good and is essential for creating a better world.

What tops your list when looking for new hires at manager level and above?

When I look for a manager, I look beyond the skills they have, and into the values that are important to them, the identity they own and purpose they have. They must be self-managing and confident enough to take a risk and make a difference.

Did your Business School/university experience help get your business off the ground? If so, how?

I didn’t gain anything from school the first time around – I walked away with no qualifications to my name. However, something that stuck with me was my school’s motto, which was the Latin words ‘nil sine magnor labour’, or ‘nothing without hard work’. This is something that has stuck with me and has influenced some of the biggest decisions in my life. I later returned to education and secured a bachelor’s degree. This helped me come up with the idea for MacRebur, after attempting to discover the same genetic code found in the plastics we have in our homes and the bitumen used in our roads.

What single piece of advice would you offer undergraduate and postgraduate students of business and management who plan to start their own companies after completing their studies?

No matter what you do, you will never have success without first putting the work in. Work hard and the rest will follow.

Mentorship schemes in business are becoming increasingly popular. Who would have been your dream mentor when you were at the outset of your career and why?

I’ve always been inspired by Sir Richard Branson – I think there is a lot to be said for his phrase ‘dare to dream’. He even replied to a letter I sent to him when I was just nine!

I’ve been lucky enough to meet Sir Richard a few times. One of which was when I won the Virgin Media VOOM award in 2016, after pitching to a panel of business experts, including Richard himself. Winning the award was a brilliant launchpad for MacRebur, and many of the first meetings I had around the world came from Richard’s help and advice.

Toby McCartney is the CEO and Cofounder of plastic road company, MacRebur.

Leaders and entrepreneurs in focus: Alec Dobbie, CEO and Co-Founder at FanFinders

Close up shot of red darts arrows in the target centre. Business target, focus, goal success and winner concept.

Making goals ‘numeric’, the changing role of a CEO and the importance of having a consistent leadership approach – the Co-Founder of a performance marketing company talks to Business Impact

You need to set tangible targets to determine if your entrepreneurial venture is working or not, says Alec Dobbie, CEO and Co-Founder, FanFinders – the performance marketing company behind Your Baby Club, a platform that connects brands with parents.

‘Make it numeric,’ Dobbie says. ‘Whether that’s ‘X’ number of users or a certain amount of revenue – these [goals] help you determine whether you’re on the correct path or if it makes sense to pivot.’

Get more advice on running a business and an insight into the changing role of an SME’s CEO in this interview with Business Impact.  

Can you tell us a little bit about your current role and what it involves?

Month-to-month, there is some consistency in my role as CEO as far as devising our strategy and forward-planning. But, day-to-day and week-to-week, the reality of running any small business is that your position evolves constantly.

We’re in the middle of recruiting for our finance team, so this week I’ve been lending some support in that area, while last week I was assisting our software developers. It differs as priorities shift or circumstances change, because an SME doesn’t have multiple layers of teams just waiting in the wings to replace others. Individuals have to be able to step into other roles and take on different responsibilities. This keeps it really interesting.

What single piece of advice would you offer undergraduate and postgraduate students of business and management who plan to start their own companies after completing their studies?

Go and do it. Don’t wait for a perfect opportunity to do it, make it happen. Work hard at something and use pre-set goals. You need a way to determine what ‘good’ or ‘terrible’ means in your market and how you get there; and make it numeric. Whether that’s ‘X’ number of users or a certain amount of revenue – these help you determine whether you’re on the correct path or if it makes sense to pivot. I’m not suggesting you quit early, but I am suggesting that you have the flexibility to move away from something that isn’t right.

Mentorship schemes in business are becoming increasingly popular. Who would have been your dream mentor when you were at the outset of your career and why?

It would be one of those people who just got up and did it, so perhaps someone like Peter Jones. I admire those who have achieved off their own backs but not pontificated about it too much. It would be nice to say Mark Zuckerberg or Sergey Brin [Google Co-Founder], but they operate in a different world to me. Otherwise it would be someone truly defining and inspirational, like Dame Stephanie Shirley [a UK businesswoman who, starting in the 1960s, worked to create job opportunities for women with dependents and adopted the name ‘Steve’ to help her in the male-dominated business world].

What are some of the challenges and opportunities you’re currently facing, both as a leader and as an organisation?

As an organisation, it’s finding new ways to connect with people in a competitive digital market. People continually relocate to different platforms and their habits change, so it’s making sure you stay ahead of the curve – ‘cutting edge’ not ‘bleeding edge’.

For me, it has been becoming more organised and making time for myself. The likes of exercise and meditation are just as important as any ‘work’, because if you’re not the best ‘you’, you’re not going to be that at work either.

Do you feel that leading a company has enabled you to make a positive impact? If so, how?

I always reflect that eight years ago this business didn’t exist at all and was just an idea. We now provide the opportunity for people to work somewhere fun. Internally, we’ve been able to implement things that we think matter, like unlimited holidays, fully remote working (before the pandemic) and giving people back that 10 hours they were spending commuting each week. On a strategic level, I think our ambition has always been to build software that creates better experiences for users and, as we look to introduce personalisation, this objective remains the same.

Which three words best describe your approach to leadership (or your management style) and why?

1. Consistent: it’s vital to be consistent in your approach and feed this across the business.
2. Fun: because if we’re not enjoying our work, we should just pack up and go do something else.
3. Accessible: making yourself available to new ideas and engaging people at all levels can really help foster innovation.

What tops your list when looking for new hires at manager level and above?

Regardless of level, for companies of our size we’re looking for cultural fit. Can they work within the structure we have and with the other people in our team? Some people wouldn’t suit working here, because there might be too much independence. If you need a check-box list of tasks provided or managing throughout the day, this environment wouldn’t be a great fit. They need to be hardworking, proactive and self-motivated. All of those are at the top of the list, because we have an established culture of autonomy.

Alec Dobbie is CEO and Co-Founder of performance marketing and consumer intelligence company, FanFinders. With more than 20 years’ experience as a developer, Alec and his co-founders started FanFinders in 2013, with the aim of evolving marketing to parents. Its self-coded consumer platform, Your Baby Club, now has almost 6 million members and operates on two continents.

Leaders and entrepreneurs in focus: Anthony Chadwick, The Webinar Vet

A vet focusing on a tablet.

Founder of The Webinar Vet, Anthony Chadwick, explains how a growing pet population during the pandemic represents both an opportunity and a challenge for a business focused on vets’ continuing education

‘Bringing webinars into the veterinary profession helped to make vets’ and nurses’ lives easier as well as protecting the planet by reducing travel miles,’ says Anthony Chadwick, Founder and Chief Veterinary Officer of The Webinar Vet, an early adopter of this mode of learning.

Part of Chadwick’s role, he says, is ‘to set the cultural tone’ for the businesses he leads. He believes that this is a way to avoid toxic environments creeping in by letting others affect the and helps ensure that those he employs ‘love what they do and have fun’.

In this interview, Chadwick talks about the importance of having a great attitude, why some vets are keen to develop business skills further into their careers, and why he thinks you should learn by working for others before setting up your own company.    

Can you tell us a little bit about your current role and what it involves?

I’m the founder of Alpha Vet International. We have four business units within the umbrella company: The Webinar Vet; Simply Vet; WikiVet; and Conference Virtually. I’m the Chief Veterinary Officer in these businesses. My role within the company is to magnify the brands through my writing and networking as well as the meetings I attend. We are a unique business within the veterinary profession because we take care of continuing education for vets and nurses, as well as recruitment.

Did your Business School/university experience help get your business off the ground? If so, how?

No, vets weren’t taught business skills at vet school. When I qualified, many vets learnt these skills as they became more senior in the practice and eventually became partners. Now, most practices are owned by corporate entities. This allows vets and nurses to concentrate on their clinical skills unless they want to get involved in business. Some vets and nurses will go on to do business qualifications like MBAs or more specific certificates in veterinary practice management.

What single piece of advice would you offer undergraduate and postgraduate students of business and management who plan to start their own companies after completing their studies?

Don’t! After qualifying from Business School, it is always good to go out and learn the practical skills of running a business by working for another company where you can gain invaluable practical experience and make your mistakes. I think this will help you be more prepared when setting up your own business and more likely to be successful.

Mentorship schemes in business are becoming increasingly popular. Who would have been your dream mentor when you were at the outset of your career and why?

The Chair of my board is a man called Rob Noble. He has been a great mentor to me in helping me to grow my business. The key, though, is to have a mentor because it will help your business to develop quicker if you are getting wise advice.

What are some of the challenges and opportunities you’re currently facing, both as a leader and as an organisation?

I stepped down as CEO of The Webinar Vet at the beginning of our financial year to help grow the Simply Vet brand. There is a shortage of vets in the UK as well as a growing pet population during the pandemic. As with everything, this is both an opportunity and a challenge. Vets and nurses are in danger of burning out. Simply Vet’s mission is to make use of the available resources more efficiently and, hence, prevent widespread burnout.

Do you feel that leading a company has enabled you to make a positive impact? If so, how?

I’ve been a vet for more than 30 years. When I set up The Webinar Vet in 2010, there was no online provision for vets and nurses to carry on their continuing education. We had to attend evening meetings or conferences in other cities or countries. This was expensive in time, money and resources and left many of us stressed and tired. Bringing webinars into the veterinary profession helped to make vets’ and nurses’ lives easier as well as protecting the planet by reducing travel miles. As a committed environmentalist, I’m glad that the company contributes to the solution rather than the problem of climate change.

Outline the importance of sustainability to your company’s strategy and why you feel it is important to business approaches as a whole today.

I think we need to be interested in more than just sustainability. The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in Europe. We do webinars on sustainability to encourage vets to be leaders in their communities. We are an Investor in the Environment Silver level business working towards Green. We assess our carbon footprint and try to mitigate it. We offset our own carbon emissions. We plant trees for every new member we acquire and have planted a wildflower meadow at work. These are just some of the things we have done in the business.

Which three words best describe your approach to leadership (or your management style) and why?

Encourager, servant, enthusiast.

My role in the business is to serve others and help them to develop personally and professionally while they are with us. I am also there to set the cultural tone. Some businesses can have toxic environments. This is when the leader of the business allows the lowest common denominator to set the culture and atmosphere. I want people to love what they do and have fun.

What tops your list when looking for new hires at manager level and above?

Great attitude. Being able to connect with their team. Problem solver rather than a problem finder, and being aligned to the vision and values of the company.

Anthony Chadwick is a serial entrepreneur and the Founder and Chief Veterinary Officer of The Webinar Vet, a provider of online veterinary education. He is passionate about providing high quality education and services to veterinary professionals in an accessible and affordable manner which is also sustainable for the environment. The Webinar Vet training has reduced travel mileage by several million miles since starting in 2010 with concomitant carbon reduction.

Leaders and entrepreneurs in focus: May Flanagan, Global Green Family

A person is carrying an eco-friendly fabric shopping bag with a green leaf logo stating 'eco'. The person is standing behind a bright solid orange background. This is symbolic to focus on being green.

Pursuing purpose while running your own company and the opportunities presented by remote working to empower others. An interview with the Founder of a website that aims to ‘make sustainability simple’

‘I am able to get a positive message out there about saving the environment and our impact on it as consumers,’ says May Flanagan, Founder of Global Green Family, a website that aims to change the way people think about everyday products and raise the standards of sustainable living.

In this interview with Business Impact, Flanagan underlines the importance of networking for other budding entrepreneurs and outlines why Bill Gates’ penchant for lifelong learning makes him her ideal mentor.

Can you tell us a little bit about your current role and what it involves?

As the Founder of Global Green Family, I am always thinking of what’s next for our organisation and the brand itself. I also spend a lot of my time strategising, analysing Google Analytics, and staying on top of trends to make sure that I am always aware of what’s going on with our organisation and what’s new in the sustainability industry.

Did your Business School/university experience help get your business off the ground? If so, how?

I did business studies and information technology (IT) at school as an A-level student in the UK. These subjects definitely sparked my interest to study accounting and finance at university. Looking back, I think having a good understanding of these subjects helped me get my business off the ground because I had the skills necessary for its upkeep, such as learning how to budget and having an eye for detail in all aspects.

What single piece of advice would you offer undergraduate and postgraduate students of business and management who plan to start their own companies after completing their studies?

If I were to offer a single piece of advice, it would be to network. There are a lot of opportunities that will come your way if you get your brand out there.

Mentorship schemes in business are becoming increasingly popular. Who would have been your dream mentor when you were at the outset of your career and why?

My dream mentor would have been Bill Gates because of the noteworthy qualities he possesses as a leader.

He has passion for what he does, which is supported by a deep knowledge in his area of expertise. Bill Gates also has this winning, ‘always learning’ attitude and an eagerness to gain more knowledge and expertise in the tech industry. Bill Gates is also resilient – he is committed to his craft day and night in the pursuit of success, even when faced with many challenges.

What are some of the challenges and opportunities you’re currently facing, both as a leader and as an organisation?

As a leader, I think the pandemic has had an influence on how people feel and this has definitely changed priorities for me.

Being flexible in my approach to running the company has been challenging. However, through remote working, new opportunities have arisen and I get to help make people feel more empowered during these trying times with my website.

From the organisational perspective, I find it challenging to keep organic search visitors increasing as user intent is changing. Plus, Google’s algorithms are updated regularly so it can be really challenging for my website to rank higher and remain one of the best in our niche.

Do you feel that leading a company has enabled you to make a positive impact? If so, how?

Definitely. Through Global Green Family, I am able to get a positive message out about saving the environment and our impact on it as consumers. I am happy that I am able to educate people and have an influence on sustainability.

Please outline the importance of sustainability to your company’s strategy and why you feel it is important to business approaches as a whole today.

Sustainability is everything we stand for, as exemplified by our organisation’s tagline, ‘Let’s Make Sustainability Simple’. It is our ambition to transform the way we all think about everyday products in our lives. We also aim to inspire people to use eco-friendlier organic natural materials that will enrich our own lives and have a better impact on the planet we live on.

Which three words best describe your approach to leadership (or your management style) and why?

Empathy, humility, and empowerment (of others).

‘Empathy’ because understanding the people that work with me and seeing how they feel is crucial to me because that has an impact on their work.

‘Humility’ because of the importance of understanding that the people that work with me have their own aspirations. I  try my best to help them on that journey by recognising their perspectives and letting them know they are doing well.

Lastly, ‘empowerment of others’ because I believe everyone is equal and unique in their own abilities and are presented with opportunities to succeed. I truly believe that if people are happy at work they will do their very best not because they have to, but because they want to. That’s what truly makes a difference, because as they say: ‘People are your biggest asset’.

May Flanagan is a digital marketer, fashion writer, and the Founder of Global Green Family, a website that aims to help consumers to be more mindful of their impact on the planet.

Leaders and entrepreneurs in focus: Nicky Story, Supplies for Candles

Dark minimalist space with reading book and candles. Business Impact article image for leaders and entrepreneurs in focus: Nicky Story, supplies for candles.

An entrepreneur who has seen his fair share of setbacks, Nicky Story offers advice based on his experience and five tips for growing a successful business

‘“Overnight success” is a total misnomer,’ says Nicky Story, a 29-year-old entrepreneur and owner of successful online companies, Supplies for Candles and the Soap Kitchen, with more than 100,000 customers and 100 employees across two UK locations.

After graduating with a degree in business and management from Leeds University, Nicky set up his first enterprise from his dad’s garage but found the road to success is riddled with pitfalls and that it can take years and some serious failures and lessons to get there.

In this interview for Business Impact, he details his experiences, before offering five tips for growing a successful business.

Tell us about your first setback as an entrepreneur

I was working on my own in the freezing cold every day with no support and I was just failing. I was utterly miserable and I didn’t want to get out of bed anymore to even pack a few orders in the garage. I didn’t want to do it – whatever I did, didn’t work. I had no money, or motivation, and realised that my business, as it was then, wasn’t going anywhere. My parents were so worried that I sought help and was prescribed antidepressants.

What made you want to try again?

This one year working for someone else made me realise what kind of boss I didn’t want to be. This guy wasn’t a great leader and lots of the staff were unhappy. I remember sitting in the office thinking, ‘when I run my own company, I’ll never act like you do or treat my staff like you.’ I also knew that owning and running my own business was exactly what I wanted to do.

I quit my job, bought some wax, glass and fragrance and set up Supplies for Candles in 2016. Just six months later, sales started to boom and I needed a helping hand. I employed my best friend and everything took off.

What advice would you give to business graduates and budding entrepreneurs?

My message to other entrepreneurs and business leaders is keep going. Business can be tough, but it can also be incredible. One of my favourite quotes is from the late, great Muhammad Ali who said: ‘Don’t quit, suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’ I have this quote in my gym and I think it’s a great motto to live by in life, but also in business.

I want to encourage entrepreneurs, from their kitchen tables to their online marketplaces that they can do it! But, it takes determination, flexibility and teamwork.

Five tips for growing a successful business

In the below, Nicky Story offers five tips for entrepreneurs who are seeking to set up and sustain a successful business:  

1. Determine what drives you

Even after four years of failure, I knew I didn’t want to work for somebody else, I wanted to make a success of myself. Everything I learnt in the four years of a failing business and also within employment for a year, I applied to my business, and see that experience not as wasted time, but as lessons learnt that are now enabling me to reach my full potential. I kept visualising what I wanted and that kept me motivated daily.

2. Understand yourself and your market

The market I went into initially wasn’t big enough and that’s why it didn’t make money… and I wasn’t in the right place in myself either. That year in employment really helped me to see the kind of entrepreneur I wanted to be and why it was so important to me. We often forget about the ‘why’ in pursuit of the ‘what’ and for me, it’s not just about being successful, but bringing other people with me.

3. Be fearless

One of the biggest lessons second time around was having the resilience and confidence to just go for it — I’d lost everything once already and decided it was time to take some risks. I learnt to be fearless — I invested all my money into marketing to make Supplies for Candles work — I really drained it down to my last £1 GBP this time. Previously, I played safe and was constantly so scared of it failing that I was really conservative but continued to fail anyway. This time, I took some risks in order to gain.

4. Generate good quality content

Top tips, how to guides, blogs, videos… focus on your content — it all helps with customer interaction. We aim to make it easy too — so once our customers have viewed the content they can click and add everything to the cart in one go. We know that the more quality content we produce, the more sales we get on the back of it.

5. Be prepared for the long haul

Cue Muhammad Ali – don’t quit. Your dream is worth pursuing. And now that we’ve determined that success isn’t going to come overnight, you can develop realistic strategies based on realistic timescales. If it happens more quickly, then great, but it will help you from becoming despondent. Keep going!

Nicky Story is the Director and Founder of Supplies For Candles, and Director of the Soap Kitchen.

How prioritising prices has hurt businesses, consumers and the planet

Business Impact article image for How prioritising prices has hurt businesses, consumers and the planet.

Price wars push manufacturers to produce more for less, at the expense of employees and the environment, and often result in products that consumers are ultimately unhappy with, says Mei Xu, author of Burn

When I set out to look for a niche in the home fragrance industry, national big-box retailers like Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Bed, Bath & Beyond engaged in heated competition for consumers. These stores offered everything from diapers and shampoos, to fashion items, competing for the same middle-class American demographic.

Trying to find a space in this daunting, pre-Amazon-dominated, global retail landscape meant that I had to contend with price. How does Target compete against Walmart when selling the same box of Tide detergent and bottle of Pantene Shampoo? The answer, of course, is price. Over the years, retailers advertised more and more discounts and coupons on core products, even if it meant losing margin on those items. They figured that if they could lure consumers through their doors to buy the detergent or shampoo, these customers often stayed to purchase other staples as well as impulse items like fashion, toys, and even candles.

Retailers’ race to the bottom

While national brands in the US, like Tide, have more established retail pricing, smaller brands which lack consumer brand recognition often can’t compete. Consumers expect to purchase their ‘go to’ brands at discounted prices, making their everyday purchase an impulse buy.

Retailers’ race to the bottom has meant that manufacturers are forced to ‘value engineer’ their entire sourcing and production processes. When retailers offer a discount of 20% or more, often to stay competitive during seasonal or holiday promotions, global factories must race to find cheaper suppliers to save on packaging materials, accessories, and raw ingredients.

Consider the example of candles, a product that has five essential ingredients: wax, colour, fragrance, wick, and vessel (or ‘holder’). When competing on price, factories could substitute refined petroleum wax for unrefined alternatives; switch quality fragrance oil formulas – the results of long hours of R&D – with cheaper alternatives; and replace pure cotton wicks with blended synthetic wicks that cost half the price.

Unfortunately, consumers cannot detect these manufacturing decisions when shopping. Factories know how to make cheaper products look appealing on the shelf. It is only when consumers burn the candle at home that they can appreciate the differences. As they often discover, candles with low-quality wax emit a gassy, almost petroleum-like odour. Rather than having a predictable flame that evenly consumes wax, non-cotton wicks have trouble trimming themselves, resulting in large, sometimes dangerous flames, or candles self-extinguishing as their wicks become submerged in pools of melted wax. Instead of diffusing beautiful fragrance notes into the home, such candles can send dark soot into the air and damage walls and ceilings.

Over my career, I often saw consumers returning those candles to retailers, demanding reimbursements. This represented a financial and reputational loss for retailers, factories, and supply chains, but there was little recourse if they wanted to remain in business.

Repercussions of a relentless focus

As large retailers competed with one another on price, factory owners squeezed more production out of each shift, creating a stressful and toxic work environment, while securing lower-priced raw materials that degraded the environment. This relentless focus on lower prices has been driving manufacturing into developing countries where abundant labour and a lack of worker and environmental protections enable this global low-price manufacturing and retail system.

We often hear stories about fires in garment factories that claim human lives, or waterways near textile mills becoming so polluted that residents suffer long-term health problems like cancer. When factories produce goods with the cheapest possible materials the result is that workers, communities, and the environment ultimately suffer.

I founded my company, Chesapeake Bay Candle, not to compete on price, but simply to create wellness-oriented and fashionable products that were creative and affordable. After pursuing this for more than 20 years and establishing three factories in Asia and the US, I feel that I have discovered a formula that benefits workers, protects the environment and serves the consumer. It was the best choice for my business and could hold the answer for many more retailers as well.

Mei Xu is a Chinese American entrepreneur and the Founder and CEO of three global companies – BlissLiving Home®, Chesapeake Bay Candle® and Yes She May, the latter of which is an e-commerce platform designed to help women-owned brands survive and thrive.
Xu is also the author of the memoir, Burn (Wiley, 2021).

BGA members can benefit from a discount on the RRP for Burn, courtesy of the BGA Book Club. Please click here for details.

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