How Virgin StartUp’s UK accelerator helped Peppermint’s founder strengthen her ‘why’

Kelley Sheenan, the Brisbanite behind Peppermint – an independent fashion and lifestyle magazine with a focus on sustainability – recently returned from London where she participated in StepUp, a mini-accelerator program run by Richard Branson’s Virgin StartUp (VSU).

[Related: Winning Creative3 Pitch helped Darren Tonkin’s photo sharing app ‘cut through all the noise‘ and “If you can tell a great story, the battle is half won”: Creatively Squared on pitching success]

Sheenan was selected for the program by the Queensland University of Technology’s creative tech hub Creative Enterprise Australia (CEA), which holds the exclusive rights to placing Australian startups in StepUp.

Peppermint’s founder and editor in chief told Dynamic Business that StepUp was “great for connections – from many different perspectives”.

“Although we’ve been in business for 10 years now, it’s important to keep learning and to work out ways to continue moving forward, growing and scaling,” she explained. “Being introduced to such great industry experts from many fields and learning from their mistakes and knowledge is beneficial to any business, and not something that is easily accessible. Virgin was great at helping us make important connections. There were also many innovative and sustainable businesses attending that will be great for future Peppermint content!

“Plus, meeting and networking with other founders is incredibly valuable to small business owners. It can be so isolating when you are a sole founder trying to find your way through what is often a ‘closed-door’ industry. So, speaking to other founders and sharing experiences and insight is invaluable, no matter which stage of the journey you are at.”

Kelley Sheenan, founder and editor in chief, Peppermint

Asked to identify a key takeaway lesson from the StepUp accelerator program, Sheenan replied: “It doesn’t matter how long you have been in business – whether you are a start-up or have been in business for 10 years like us, it is incredibly important to know why you do what you do and to use that to determine your focus.

She continued, “Your ‘why’ is everything. It may seem like a super obvious takeaway but taking the time to stop and go back to the beginning and strengthen my ‘why’ was just what I needed at the right time. It’s easy to get bogged down in the logistics and running of a business but working ‘on’ the business and not just ‘in’ it is crucial. Scott Leonard from The Champion Agency was a fantastic speaker and his session on refining your ‘why, how and what’ was very insightful on defining your brand foundation, listening to outside advice (including the criticisms) and a reminder that evolution is not an option, it is mandatory.”

Sheenan operates Peppermint out of CEA’s coworking space, the Coterie, and credits the creative tech hub with playing an essential role in the success of her quarterly publication.

“We’ve had great support in the physical and financial sense,” she said. “This includes a completely affordable office space in a hub with many other creatives… never underestimate the importance of not overreaching in rent and your premises – I have seen it be the demise of many!

“Connecting us with other founders and offering mentoring and support has also been invaluable to our ongoing success – CEA have provided many fantastic opportunities for accessing industry experts, from workplace lawyers and marketing specialists to business mentors and advisors. There have also been many great contacts and creatives in the building that we have worked with along the way who were integral to our business, from web developers and designers to SEO specialists.”

CEA’s acting CEO Mark Gustowski said he and his team have watched Sheenan and her colleagues “work tirelessly” from their office space in The Coterie over the last few years.

“As a strong team with a clearly aligned passion for style and sustainability, Peppermint has been able to carve itself a unique position in the Australian market,” he said.  “The collective mindset behind Peppermint made them a standout company and we’ve been delighted to hear about their success since attending VSU’s mini accelerator.”

“Having the right market is the key to a successful brand and that’s the purpose of programs like StepUp – to provide the best networks that open access to new market opportunities. This is the outcome for Peppermint who are now following a number of leads as a direct result of the program which could equal significant growth for their company.”

Gustowski noted that CEA will be opening up applications for its pinnacle event, Creative3 Pitch, in early May.

“The winner of the pitch will be awarded  flights and accommodation in London for them to take part in VSU’s StepUp,” he said. “They’ll also secure their place at the Creative Business Cup in Copenhagen where they will represent Australia and have the chance to be seen by top investors the world over. No one else in Australia is offering these placements and it’s been incredibly gratifying to see those who’ve gone through those channels experience a trajectory to rapid growth. We are proud to provide this to startups who demonstrate true grit.”

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