“The skincare and beauty market is so very serious. We’re trying to make perceptions and participation in the industry fun and positive – not just about looking good…”
Finding a gap in the market – as any entrepreneur will tell you, it’s the secret to business success. In today’s marketplace it’s no easy task – but after identifying a unique opportunity in the UK cosmetics industry, one enterprising young Nottingham graduate is poised to take her business to the top.
Inspired by the latest in innovative Asian skincare treatments, Lili Zhu (Film and Television Studies, 2015) has established Lian Mask to sell animal-themed Asian serum masks – thin bamboo extract serum sheets, with panda or tiger designs, which are pressed on to the skin and cleanly peeled off after use. With the help of the University’s Ingenuity Lab, and a £5,000 Asia Business Prize win in the Ingenuity16 entrepreneurship competition, Lili is about to take the UK cosmetics industry by storm.
Ahead of the launch of this year’s Ingenuity competition, we chatted to Lili about why she chose to set up her own business, what it takes to succeed and what advice she’d give to other budding entrepreneurs…
“It’s been a truly amazing experience”
“When I came to the UK to study, I found that the Asian serum masks that are so popular in the East were not available in the UK,” said Lili. “My parents have their own company, so I come from a very business oriented family. I saw an opportunity to start an entrepreneurial venture of my own and went for it.”
“There’s an expectation that we’re engaging with products in the skincare and beauty industry just to achieve a flawless appearance. But our perspective is that skincare products should be effective but also enjoyable. We want to change the perceptions of the industry to make it fun and positive, and to encourage people to embrace their individuality.”
Even with your unique selling point established, it’s not easy to get a business up and running. So how did Lili get started and overcome any challenges along the way?
“Being part of the Ingenuity Lab has provided me with a huge range of opportunities to meet entrepreneurial people, from founders and employees of other start-ups to the lecturers and students in the lab. This level of connection has been vital to help my business grow,” said Lili. “Taking part in the Ingenuity competition has also been a huge help. It gave me chance to review my business concepts and strategies, and provided access to many esteemed experts who supported me to refine my ideas. Although I won the Asia Business Prize, which has brought extra financial support to the business, I think the most important lesson I learnt from the competition is to enjoy the ride. The important thing is to learn, not to win.”
“Because our brand and the products are new to the UK, building up an initial presence in the market has been the biggest challenge,” said Lili. “It can also be difficult to learn to trust your employees with your vision, but success comes when you are able to let go of the reins and put your ego aside to learn from your employees and encourage growth. In China, employee-boss relationships are much more regimented. But I want to give my team space and freedom, ensuring that everyone is working towards the same goal but respecting that some people may choose to get there differently.”
Now that Lili is an established entrepreneur, is there any advice she’d give to those thinking of starting their own business?
“Always ask for help,” said Lili. “The process of starting a business is so complicated and overwhelming, it’s impossible to accomplish it on your own. Be humble and always ask for advice from your colleagues, friends, family and established professionals in the industry. You’d be surprised how much they can, and are willing, to help you.”
Ingenuity17 - share your eureka moment
We’re excited to open applications for this year’s Ingenuity competition! Open to students, researchers and alumni of our UK, China and Malaysia campuses, there’s an amazing £100,000 of prizes up for grabs in this year’s competition.
It just takes a simple five minutes to apply – all you need to do is complete our registration form and tell us a brief outline of your business idea. Applications close on 27 January 2017.
Posted on Thursday 27th October 2016