‘There’s so much free business advice out there - you just need to know where to look’
Thinking about launching your own product, but no idea where to start? That was the situation for mum-of-2 Kate McKenzie after she devised a clever ‘Word Window’ to help dyslexic children to read. With her product now on sale, Kate shares what she’s learnt on her entrepreneurial journey so far, and her advice for other kitchen table start-ups…
“I’d never thought about starting my own business”
“I’m dyslexic and found reading at school really difficult, shaming and embarrassing. I just couldn’t do it. I discovered if I sat quietly and pretended to read I’d get left alone. But that backfired as I got older, and was told to read out loud in class which I simply couldn’t do.
When my son started school he found it really challenging to read and it brought it all back for me. I tried to think of ways to make it easier for him to put sounds together and form words. I used my fingers to separate the words, and this became the premise for my Word Window product.
However I was working as a performing arts lecturer at the time and just parked the idea. I’d always worked 9-5 jobs with security and regular money coming in. Starting my own business wasn’t even a consideration.”
“Everything changed during Covid”
“It wasn’t until Covid hit, and I was on maternity leave with my second child, that I did anything more with my idea.
“At that point my son was 7 and while his reading had improved, he still struggled. I’d started to put together a business plan to offer workshops helping parents read to their children. But my idea for a Word Window was always in my mind, so I made a simple version out of cardboard and split pins and took it along to a design company, 3D Product Design. I wasn’t sure what they’d say so I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing. I only told my husband the night before my appointment!
“They really liked it and around the same time, I met a mum at a baby group who ran Building Business in Northampton. She helps other women start businesses and we talked about my business idea. She was amazing, signposting all the places I could get business advice and helping me with funding.”
“I had no idea any of these places existed”
“My first problem was money. Everyone I went to for investment wanted match funding but I had absolutely no money. My friend pointed me towards the British Library Business & IP Centre (BIPC) who gave me £3,000. She then suggested I try Wenta, a not-for-profit who work with financial providers to help secure funding for small businesses. They gave me a 50% match and then I was introduced to Bedford University who match funded too. This got me to the point where I got the piece manufactured and I had the patent in place. I had no idea any of these places existed, or would help with funding, and I’m so grateful she was able to signpost me and share her advice.”
“Harder than expected”
I officially launched Word Window in October 2022 and if I’m honest, it’s been slow going. I thought the product creation and patent was going to be the hardest thing, but actually it was the easiest.
Infiltrating markets is a whole new ballgame, and one I wasn’t prepared for. I’d hoped to sell my product to schools but it’s more difficult than I’d anticipated. Schools are no longer connected to local authorities so there is no universal way of contacting them and getting engagement. Because my product is brand new, getting parents to know Word Window exists and to use it is a really hard slog. Without a massive marketing budget it’s a very difficult situation. For now, I’m working as well as running my business. I’m still in education and playing the long game. Hopefully Word Window will take off and help anyone struggling to read as I did.”
Kate’s top tips for kitchen table start-ups
Head to your local library
I’d gone from working full time in a college to setting up my own business. I didn’t know anything about the world out there for entrepreneurs or the help available. For me, the library was a place to get a book, it wasn’t a place where I could be signposted towards business specialists or IP experts. Most local libraries will be connected to a central library so speak to yours to find out more.
See what you can get for free
Lots of companies will offer an hour’s advice for free. And if you need market research data, don’t just assume you have to pay for it. BIPC holds all sorts of data and resources that are free to access so have a good look through to see if they’ve got what you need. It’s surprising what information and help you can get for nothing.
Accept it won’t be perfect at first
You can’t think too much and you can’t make it too perfect before you go for it. You have to just believe in yourself, even when it seems things aren’t working, and keep the faith.
If you’re launching a new product, don’t tell anyone about it! To register your own Intellectual Property (IP), you have to declare you’ve not shared your concept with other people. Luckily I’d heard about that, so kept my idea to myself.
Appreciate it’s lonely
Running your own business is a lonely place. Everything relies on you. When your computer stops working for example, you can’t call IT. I’d made a mess of my website and there was no one I could call. You also quickly realise you really don’t know what you don’t know. Take all the help and advice available, and have the self-belief that you can get there. Good luck!”