Introduction and Interview by David Wagstaff
This interview with Kath Austin is part of a series of articles from entrepreneurs, compiled with the goal of providing other business owners and soon-to-be business owners with a realistic view of what it takes to run a business and some of the challenges commonly faced.
I first learned about Kath as she applied to be part of the Entrepreneur’s Network. I saw she was a sustainable entrepreneur, a topic in which I have passion. Then the title of her company, BeeBee Wrap, made me curious, so I read some more. At this point in this series, I had mostly offered these articles to entrepreneurs in the United States, Kath is in the UK, but I loved her story and loved what she was doing for our planet.
There is something really amazing about entrepreneurs that take on something bigger than themselves and contribute to solving a major issue. Sustainability has been an interesting space for many entrepreneurs and large companies.
They have found that when they take steps toward being more sustainable, they not only are helping the environment, but it’s good for business too. One of the classic examples is that large, high-end hotels used to wash all the sheets and towels in every guest room, every day. A sustainability business consultant suggested giving guests the choice; wash all or reuse.
What they found is that their guests really appreciated that the hotel was looking out for the environment and many guests were willing to reuse the same towel for multiple days. So, who won? The beauty of it is, everyone wins. The hotel saves money on cleaning expenses, laundry detergent, and employee time. Guests win because they can make a choice to help the environment. Just as important, the environment wins as well.
Perhaps not surprisingly as you read more of Kath’s profile, you see she is making a difference and volunteering for many good causes, including hospice and Strawberry Fair for kids. From what I’ve read, it seems fitting that Kath was SME Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017 and has won other honors as well.
As we move on to the interview, we see that Kath falls into the camp of an accidental entrepreneur. She took on an issue she cared about and soon it became a business. At this point in our series we have seen the following as key reasons for becoming an entrepreneur:
- People were born that way –at least they knew from an early age that they liked business and wanted to run their own company one day. For these folks, it’s mostly a matter of when to start their 2nd, 3rd, or 4th business, given their first may have been a lemonade stand.
- People did not have the intention, but life circumstances lead them to become an entrepreneur. For example, they had children and needed a more flexible work schedule, or they had aging parents and needed a better work/life balance.
- Kath represents the third category. She became an entrepreneur because she believed in something and wanted to make a difference. In Kath’s situation, it was combating pollution, but for other people, a business may stem from one of many interests.
Sometimes people fit into more than one category. For example, I have always loved business, but when I was given a chance to start a business with a social purpose, Alfrea Wellness, everything just aligned, and I left a high-paying job to found and fund a startup that made a difference in the environment and the health of people.
It’s incredibly satisfying when you have the chance to do something you love and to make a difference in something you care about. Currently, I’m on a mission to make a meaningful, positive difference in the lives and success of 100,000 entrepreneurs.
I love entrepreneurship, so why not give back to my community? I already had the platform of the Entrepreneurs Network with over 56,000 members. But I recognized that the LinkedIn platform wasn’t allowing group members to really make a positive difference for one another, and that’s when I decided to build a website (https://eprenz.com) to provide meaningful connections among entrepreneurs.
We are currently in the process of launching multiple programs to help entrepreneurs connect with one another and to help them succeed. The articles, Interviews with Entrepreneurs, were our first step in this process. Now we are in the process of launching three additional initiatives:
- Peer Advisory Group (PeerConnect): A group where CEOs can meet with other CEOs to share business challenges and serve as a group to hold one another accountable. Peer groups have been proven to be a very powerful tool in helping people accomplish more than they can on their own. This group is designed as a round table discussion where everyone has equal time and the session is run by a facilitator.
- Lead Referral Group (LeadConnect): A group where CEOs and business development team members can meet with other professionals from their own country/region or with global entrepreneurs around the world. This is a round table discussion where everyone has equal time and the session is run by a facilitator.
- Mentorship Group (MentorConnect): A group where both established entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs can learn from an experienced mentor. This is still a round-table discussion style, but the facilitator provides answers to questions. We are also planning to add some webinars on topics including business model development, value proposition design, how to create a pitch deck, and more.
So, this is a pretty big digression, but I did want to introduce the group to our new initiatives and it seemed fitting as part of the topic of starting businesses we love and making a positive impact. I see my role in this as a social entrepreneur. I’d like to make these groups as affordable as possible so that many people that would like to learn from them can participate.
I think you will find Kath’s interview fun and exciting as she pursues her passion and makes a difference. She is building a very successful, fast-growing business.
1) What led you to become an entrepreneur?
Becoming an entrepreneur was never my intention, I don’t know who truly sets out to be an entrepreneur. What happened was that I decided to do something myself to combat plastic pollution. Before I knew it, I was referred to as an entrepreneur. I associated that word with world-famous business leaders like Richard Branson and Elon Musk, but it applies to people like me too, the grassroots founders of start-ups.
2) A brief description of your business and what are your aspirations for it?
BeeBee Wraps are a reusable, compostable alternative to clingfilm printed with contemporary designs. They work far better than plastic to keep food fresh as they are breathable. Our core mission is to reinvent food storage treading, lightly on the earth as we do.
3) What things have you done with your business that you are proud of or work really well?
Our project with Sky Ocean Rescue was a huge success. Celebrities lent their designs to feature on the BeeBee Wraps and we created a range of four prints which were sold in the Sky Plastic Free shop as part of their #PassOnPlastic campaign. It has worked so well that a new avenue for BeeBee Wraps emerged. We can now create bespoke BeeBee Wraps for companies, charities, and campaign groups.
4) What were some of your biggest challenges along the way?
There are challenges around every corner. Growing fast dictated the need to rethink the production process as well as our supply chain. We refuse to use standard cotton, so finding a reliable and transparent organic cotton producer was tricky.
5) Have you overcome the challenges? If so how?
We worked with Cambridge Consultants to design and build a bespoke production process that is far more energy efficient and has increased our waxing output by a factor of 30. The next challenge will be how we scale our business even further! Our supply chain is under constant scrutiny to be more ethical and reliable. Our current cotton supplier is the best we’ve worked with so far and has been able to provide us with transparency during the manufacturing process.
6) What have you learned and what would you like to share with other entrepreneurs?
Building strategies for guarding your health is crucial. My shoulders are not broad enough to take all of the worries that running a business brings. I have found at times it’s easy to slip into a hyper-adrenalized state which affects my sleep, appetite, health, and ultimately the people around me and the business. And I’m only two years in!
One of the turning points was me was when I appointed a board of directors. The top-level support is completely missing when you occupy that spot alone. My partner, David, is an executive director, and when he joined the business he took the reins in Finance and Operations, which is something he naturally excels at.
7) Is there someone or a group of people you would like to meet? For example, investors in the electrical industry, and mentors in the publishing industry. A knowledgeable SEO person. Specific is helpful.
I would love to speak to more buyers and merchandisers. With our core range and new bespoke wraps, we can offer a sustainable gift solution for corporates and charities.
Kath Austin | Founder
SME National Entrepreneur of the Year 2018
BeeBee Wraps Limited | Unit 2 Ronald Rolph Court, Wadloes Road, Cambridge, CB5 8PX
T +44 1223 778816 | M +44 7971 498937 | BeeBeeWraps