4 min read
‘Plan well and know your market’: Juice founder’s advice for university spinouts
As engagement soared at the university, the department began presenting its work at conferences across a range of sectors and, following discussions with various large employers, it was clear that there was a commercial opportunity.
In 2015, Everyday Juice Limited (aka Juice, or EJL) was founded as a B2B subsidiary of the university. Following the company’s fourth birthday, Juice exited the university in June 2019 to fully realise its potential.
We spoke to Gary Butterfield, cofounder and executive director at Juice, to find out more.
What problem are you trying to solve?
When we first created Juice we identified two key problems: first, the university’s health and wellbeing offer was difficult to identify, navigate and communicate, resulting in a poor user journey. Second, we wanted to give colleagues the opportunity to engage with each other through mutual interests.
We also recognised that the more diverse the university’s wellbeing offer would become, the more people and financial resource would be required to manage it. It would, in effect, become a victim of its own success.
Can you talk us through your product?
With the two challenges in mind we created a single, easily recognisable identity in Juice that would be the overarching brand for everything to do with staff health and wellbeing at an organisation.
We brought the entire offer into one online place, making it simple for a member of staff to navigate and see what’s on offer. It also automates the end-to-end booking process so that no matter how large an offer becomes, it would remain resource-light to manage.
We were also mindful that not everybody can, or wants to, attend activity provision – and we didn’t want to disengage those people. In response, we created the Health Hub, our weekly updated depository for health and wellbeing-related content.
The Health Hub utilises the New Economics Foundation’s “Five Ways to Wellbeing”, a research-based framework that underpins what we do. We’re currently working with a number of organisations to build the framework into other aspects of the employment lifecycle.
What advice do you have for founders of university spinouts?
We had a world-leading Russell Group university in our corner, helping us to open up doors and test new offers. They put their confidence in us as our first paying clients for the Juice Platform.
I’m pretty good at finding the right people on my own, but having the university’s backing helped us to create opportunities much quicker. The university was an arms-length major shareholder though, they weren’t there to get stuck in, and that was fine as we agreed that approach together early on.
You do though need to go into these arrangements with your eyes wide open and plan for all eventualities from the outset. We didn’t do this, mainly because of a lack of experience and guidance – and it bit us in the backside at times.
Plan well, know your market and how you’re going to get in front of them, and don’t expect your growth to be anything like what you put on your forecast sheet. Most importantly for those spinning out, know how involved your university is going to be and agree to this in the first instance. You don’t want to get to a position where you’re at loggerheads.
Is there anything that you would do differently if setting up or spinning a company out?
Working in partnership with the University of Sheffield was an incredibly rewarding experience for us, but it did come with some challenges. I don’t think I would change the initial setup of the business because it got us to where we are today and we’ve never been in negative cashflow.
However, I think I put too many eggs into one market for too long and didn’t pivot quickly enough when growth slowed. I would also ensure that I knew the financial options better so that we could properly take advantage of what was available to us.
What’s it like being a tech company in Yorkshire?
We were born in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, and it’s a fantastic city to be based in. However, through the company sale we’re now in the process of moving everything to my home city of Leeds, West Yorkshire.
Both cities have a diverse tech scene, and they’re both exciting places to be, but I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the tech scene here in Leeds as we grow and to forge new and exciting partnerships with innovative businesses.
Organisations like Tech Nation and Leeds Digital Drinks will be key for this I think. We’re soon to launch a new proposition into the NHS, and the fact that Leeds boasts large offices for many of the biggest NHS organisations means it’s the perfect place to be.