How to turn your idea into a business
You’ve had that lightbulb moment, a flash of inspiration with a brilliant idea that you think could be the next big thing. But how do you turn a fantastic idea into a business? Experiencing her own lightbulb moment as a student midwife after learning about the difficulties breastfeeding mothers face in public, Olivia Swift (Midwifery, 2015) established Lotus Maternity, providing stylish yet practical clothing which allows mothers to breastfeed discreetly. Returning to the University this month to speak to midwifery students about her journey from maternity ward to boardroom, we asked Olivia to share her top tips for establishing your own business.
“Having a great idea is a start, but you need money to help get your business off the ground. There are so many costs involving in starting a business, from developing your product to establishing your brand.
"I started my business through the Prince’s Trust Enterprise programme, which I would really recommend. You get lots of support, including business mentors and access to loans if you need them. I was a midwife so launching a brand and a product was all new to me, and having an experienced mentor to help you every step of the way was so important. There are lots of different schemes out there that can help you.”
Increasing your knowledge
“I didn’t do a business economics degree or a finance degree or a marketing degree - I did a midwifery degree. So I’ve had to do lots of additional learning. I’ve done courses through University schemes and through the Prince’s Trust, such as the Explore Enterprise course.
"You may need to build your knowledge base, but remember all of the skills and expertise you gained through your degree. I’m so thankful for my midwifery degree at Nottingham, because that’s what gave me the insight and idea for my business. Without that, I never would have developed Lotus Maternity.”
“There are many bumps in the road that you can’t account for – and I’ve had a few challenges that have brought me to tears. Two weeks before I launched Lotus Maternity at a big exhibition in London, I had problem after problem with my manufacturers. The fabric supplier had ordered in the wrong product so I had to quickly trial new cloths and materials, which led to problems with the dying company because the organic cloths I wanted to use wouldn’t hold the dye, and then the textile manufacturers revealed they would have to cut the new fabric samples to a different pattern. All of this was in the space of a week! When you’re an entrepreneur, you want the product to be perfect, and when everything is going against you it’s upsetting. But facing and overcoming those challenges helps you to grow – and it’s all part of the fun!”
“The business environment is quite heavily dominated by men, but in some ways, I think it can be an advantage to be a female entrepreneur. There are so many support networks out there for female entrepreneurs. I’m involved in lots of groups, such as Aspiring Business Women and the Blue Stockings Society. They’re all specially for women in business – there’s a consensus that women need to support each other where we can.”
“It’s important to be aware of the different career paths you can take after University. When you’re studying a degree that generally has a set career path, such as midwifery, it can be difficult when you get to a stage in your career where you wonder if it actually might not be for you. I think it’s important to showcase the different career paths that are available.
"When you’re starting your own business, you can get focused on one task and then the next and then the next, and forget how far you’ve come. It’s important to look back but also be ambitious for the future. I want to grow Lotus Maternity as an international business – I want to be the sort of brand that people recognise and trust across the world.”
Make your idea a reality
If you’re thinking of starting your own business, the University’s Ingenuity Lab is here to help. With support, services and mentoring from experienced entrepreneurs and specialist consultants, find out how the Lab can help you turn your ideas into reality.