Prior to starting up their own enterprise, Nicola was working as a disabled students' advisor at Oxford. Her daughter, Gemma, was showing off her talent as a fashion designer all around the world, working for companies such as Esprit, M&S, and DKNY in New York, London, and Germany. The two shared a passion for design -- especially designing cards -- that led them to decide the time had come to tackle the business world together. They chose to do so by starting up their own small business, and thus was The Bees Knees born.
Wisely, the two spent some time researching the existing greetings card market in the United Kingdom, looking for an opportunity for a new start up business to make their mark. Gemma had been developing her photography to the level of professional quality, leading to several exhibitions of her work. It seemed only natural to use put her experience and trained eye to work. The pair decided to design and sell trend-based greeting cards showcasing Gemma's photography.
Since opening in 2010, the company has taken off, doubling the previous year's turnover in both 2011 and 2012. With a secure and growing hold in the British market established, it was time for the company to set its eyes upon new markets overseas. To do this, however, The Bees Knees needed to upgrade their website so that it was more accessible and friendly to overseas clients.
Nicola, now serving as the company's Managing Director, noted that the United Kingdom Business Funding Centre's independent information resources pertaining to government funding shemes helped them locate the government passport to export programme they would apply for. "We had no knowledge of grants, government awards, etc. before starting the business. So, [the UKBFC was] very helpful," she commented of the details she was able to access.
The Bees Knees received £1,000 in the form of a business development credit under the European Commissionís de minimis aid regulation ( EC regulation number 1998/2006), a regulation that allows EU member states to exempt up to £200,000 over three years that is provided funding recipients looking to participate in commerce across the European Union. "It was straight forwards and we did not have any problems," Nicola says of the process. "We were given our own business development advisor who was very helpful as we focus on export as a key market."
Nicola admits the financial assistance was not a substantial sum, and that they were required to match the amount, pound for pound, but she has her sights set on the future. She explains: "Ö it [the £1,000] did not make that much difference except to give us confidence to apply for more funding, knowing it can be got -- and for larger amounts."
With this in mind, Nicola still considers the family's small business to be in its early days. She looks forward to the day when the venture can afford to pay everyone involved a more reasonable amount. The government money their received should allow them to do so faster thanks to the new international markets it has helped open up.
As for other entrepreneurs, Nicola has some advice to share. "If they are looking at export, then this scheme is well worth looking at, and the use of a personnel advisor is very helpful."
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