Posted: Thu 4th Feb 2021
Enterprise Nation recently partnered with Tower Hamlets to launch the Pivot Project - a support programme designed to help 50 small businesses in the London borough respond to the impact of COVID-19.
Selected applicants are receiving bespoke action plans for their business as well as professional advice and equipment worth up to £1,000 to help them implement changes.
We asked three successful applicants to share their stories.
Urbiana: 'It's amazing to think that only a few months ago we were virtually invisible online'
Akriti Puri, the founder of Brick Lane-based jewellery company Urbiana, left her job in the City to pursue her entrepreneurial dream in 2014. And she hasn't looked back, with Urbiana curating bespoke, handmade, fair-trade and ethically produced jewellery from local artisan designers.
"We take great pride in supporting the Tower Hamlets arts and crafts industry by providing a platform for designers and craftsmen to sell their jewellery and accessories", Akriti said. "In 2020, though, COVID took its toll. Like many businesses around Brick Lane we rely heavily on footfall and tourism. For a few months there weren't any sales at all.
"We had to change the way we worked; to find an alternative to the traditional display case. We focused all our energies into improving our online presence and rethinking our digital marketing strategy. We applied for a Tower Hamlets Pivot Project grant to help fund our vision. £1,000 may not seem like a huge amount of money, but it proved to be a real game changer for us."
Since receiving the grant, Akriti has attended a number of Enterprise Nation webinars on digital marketing and social media, which allowed her to formulate an action plan. "With help from yourselves and Tower Hamlets, we created stores on both Amazon and Numonday," she explained. "We also listed Urbiana on Google My Business, Yelp and TripAdvisor. And we discovered the power of social media - a market that we'd previously overlooked.
"We spent time and money on ads and content creation to strengthen our presence and build our brand on Facebook and Instagram. Reaching a wider audience through these new channels has helped ensure the survival, and shaped the future, of Urbiana. I'd like to say a huge 'thank you' to the entire Tower Hamlets and Enterprise Nation teams."
Sazzy & Fran Café: 'Supporting a small business is keeping someone's dream alive'
"When Fran and I met in 2015, we soon realised that we shared a love of plant-based food and good coffee", said Sarah 'Sazzy' Harrison, co-founder of Sazzy & Fran Café. "So we decided to open a café offering exactly that. We serve innovative, homemade food in a beautiful plant-filled space. Our specialities include our freshly baked sourdough bread, vegan cheeses and warm cinnamon swirls. And of course, great coffee. Customers can even purchase our plants, too."
Like many small business owners, Sarah and Fran were forced to change the way they worked last year. "Following government guidelines we had to focus more on our takeaway offering," Sarah added. "Although this was something that we'd always done, it was never our sole source of income. To attract passers-by, we wanted to buy a new display fridge so that we could proudly showcase our range of on-the-go products. So we applied for a Pivot Project grant."
Since receiving the grant, Sarah and Fran have been busy keeping their new fridge stocked - and discovering new routes to market. "We've always been really proud of our vegan salmon - 'Zalmon'," Sarah explained. "It's actually made with marinated carrots. We've recently launched the product as a deli item into seven local stores. We're thrilled that people are enjoying it, and we're happier still knowing that local businesses are supporting one another through these unprecedented times."
I Can Make Shoes: 'We've opened the door to a more profitable and scalable business model'
I Can Make Shoes is a shoemaking school in Bethnal Green. Established by Amanda Overs in 2010, it offers classes that are designed to make the shoe-making process as easy as possible. "Our technique is not taught anywhere else in the world. The process requires no heavy machinery or specialist equipment, making it possible for anyone to get involved," said Amanda.
"Before the pandemic my team and I hosted classes and workshops in person. I decided to pivot my business by offering classes and tutorial videos virtually instead. But to do this I needed to purchase recording equipment, and being unable to operate in-person meant that there was little money coming in. I decided to see what support was available for small businesses like mine, and discovered the Tower Hamlets Pivot Project grant scheme.
"The pivot proved to be an amazing success. Online customers benefit from shoemaking tutorial videos and instructional eBooks, plus access to an online community of shoemakers. This month alone we've seen 50 new enrolments, which equates to around £19,000 in revenue. We now plan to expand our reach and invest in larger quantities of supplies to help reduce our overall costs. The project has saved our business from closure. I can't thank the Enterprise Nation team enough for their support!"