AFTER telling MSPs last week that the country needs to encourage women to become entrepreneurs to help boost economic growth, an award-winning businesswoman shares some of the secrets of her success.

Name:

Sara Roberts.

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Age:

42.

What is your business called?

Healthy Nibbles.

Where is it based?

Loanhead, Midlothian.

What services does it offer?

A healthy snack service for corporates and the community, delivered through vending, snack boxes, wholesale and white label products sold under other firms’ brands. Our vending machines are connected to the internet, 100 per cent cashless with multi-buy facilities, a wheelchair user display option and full nutritional and allergen information presented prior to purchase through our touch screen interface. Customers can also search the range to find products that suit their dietary requirements.

To whom does it sell?

We have a diverse client base, serving everyone from FTSE100 companies to more traditional corporate customers like accounting firms, law firms, and advertising and marketing agencies.

What is its turnover?

Our turnover for 2017 was £150,000. Following the acquisition of new clients we expect to grow turnover to £2 million by the end of 2018.

How many employees?

Four full-time and we are looking to double that number this year. We also have a brilliant mix of part-time employees and advisers.

When was it formed?

2014.

Why did you take the plunge?

Several years ago, I sat at the hospital bedside of my father. It was three a.m. and I was hungry. The only food available was from a vending machine. Standing in front of the vending machine, it suddenly occurred to me that there were no healthy options, and there was a poster beside the machine with the message ‘diabetes and obesity kill’. To me, it was staggering that in a place where people are trying to get better the food options weren’t always conducive to good health. After that experience, there were several situational ‘prompts’ over the following months, particularly as I had given up sugar and often worked from client offices where there seemed to be no healthy options.

During the research phase, which took approximately six months, we were able to bring together what we felt was a great selection of snacks and drinks for our launch range. Over the years we have worked hard to build a strong reputation with up and coming food producers. This has enabled us to build listings of over 300 products which enable us to curate the perfect selection for each site.

We have worked with a market leading manufacturer to customise a vending machine for the needs of the corporate wellbeing market.

The firm has won a range of awards including Start Up Business of The Year in the Business Women Scotland and Women’s Enterprise Scotland Awards for 2017.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

Prior to starting Healthy Nibbles, I founded and ran a brand semiotics and innovation consultancy for eight years based in Nairobi, Kenya. My husband and I chose there because we wanted to experience a different culture. Brand semiotics is all about how human beings create meaning; the analysis of how consumers attach meaning to brands and the application of this insight into brand development. Through the agency I worked with multi-nationals helping them to communicate their brand in a relevant way. This experience has helped Healthy Nibbles reach the stage we are at today, and in particular to connect and engage with our customers.

I wanted to start the business in Scotland for family reasons.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

Early stage grants secured with the help of Business Gateway Midlothian, and debt financing provided funding in the beginning. As we gained traction, we secured £100,000 seed investment in 2017 and are closing a round this month.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

I really enjoy meeting new clients and taking them on the journey of nutritional wellbeing. Our overarching goal is to help our clients create a healthy and engaging office. One of the keys is to establish consistent communication.

What do you least enjoy?

Bureaucracy, negativity, and failure.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

To turn what feels like a sedate and dated industry into a modern and exciting one that offers corporates a tangible and practical way to support their staff’s wellbeing. People have questioned whether there is still a market for vending in this day and age. Our answer is yes, but the industry needs to have a face lift and that’s what we are doing.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

Scotland has a well-supported ecosystem for start-ups. Business Gateway Midlothian provide us with a wide range of support services from strategy workshops to protecting Intellectual Property in the early stages of the business. As we have grown, the Business Gateway team has been able to help us access advisers on specific areas such as carbon neutral waste management. More widely, response times could be improved, whether access to funding or support, there is a need to reduce application times to fit more closely with small business needs. Further work on supporting female entrepreneurs is essential; if women started businesses at the same rate as men, this would deliver an additional minimum contribution of £7.6bn to Scotland’s economy.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

Stay true to your values and vision.

How do you relax? I enjoy spending time at the beach, with my family and travelling.