Scaling up

Navina Bartlett has scaled up her ambitions for her food business with the help of GrowthAccelerator.

Navina Bartlett has moved from marketing consultancy to setting up her own business promoting Indian fast food and her business plans have been boosted by a government-backed coaching scheme which gave her the confidence to scale up her ideas.

Navina had been living in London for many years. After her daughter was born 10 years ago she was a senior account manager in a company run by women. It was not, however, a particularly empathetic environment for a single parent. She claims she was told that as a part timer she would effectively never be promoted and would not get any client-facing work.

She was the first person to drop her daughter off at nursery and the last to pick up, sometimes getting a fine for being late. “It was all too much,” she says.

One outlet for her stress was working on her cookery business Coconut Chilli, which she set up in 2007. She would visit people in their homes and teach them to cook a full Indian meal.


She decided to make a change and around five years ago she moved to Bristol where she had contacts and where there was a thriving creative industry. Initially, she took a freelance flexible role in a small digital start-up. She has not looked back since. She says she cannot now see herself fitting into a traditional employee role now.

Navina got involved in the local food scene. “There are lots of good producers and talented chefs in Bristol,” she says. She started running the StrEAT Food Collective in 2011, working with the local council, in order to sell her food. She says there were lots of farmers markets and big events, but neither suited her, and there were no real trading opportunities for small ethnic food vendors. “I wasn’t going to sell my food on a Sunday morning and, as a single mum, I didn’t have the capacity to go to a festival for four or five days,” she says. The Collective organised pop-up night markets where Navina could sell her food for three or four hours. However, it was more of a hobby than a business as she was not making any money out of it.

Recently, though, her business energies have been ploughed into Coconut Chilli, which launches officially in April.  It offers a range of heat-and-eat dishes inspired by ingredients that grow in India’s hill stations, high-altitude towns used to escape the summer heat. She says the biggest challenge has been finding the confidence to launch it. “When men decide to launch a business they often have a support network. Women often have children who they have to prioritise. That can make for a difficult juggling act,” she says.

Last May she got in contact with GrowthAccelerator, a government-backed business coaching initiative, and was paired up with a growth coach, Mike Tiesdale, who has more than 20 years’ experience in supermarket retail. “He asked me what was stopping me from scaling up the business. I realised I had been limiting myself because I did not think I could do it. It was a mindset thing. It was just about managing my time and using my contacts from my previous roles in London and my skills set,” says Navina.

Mike helped her tweak her business plan and gave financial advice on costings and profit margins. The two work together so well that Mike has taken on the role of Chief Finance Officer in Navina’s business so she can focus on marketing, managing the suppliers and dealing with sales leads. Navina found out about GrowthAccelerator through business networks in the south west. She did the GrowthAccelerator core programme which lasts for six months. Following that she took the leadership training course, which GrowthAccelerator match funds. She was paired up with another mentor for this, a woman who has been running a food networking organisation. They worked on a sales strategy. “She has lots of experience working with buyers so she knows the nuances of what they need,” says Navina. 

Working mums

She says having her daughter in school has made a real difference to the business, as has being choosy about the people she works with. All her suppliers have a lot of experience in the business. Many are also working parents so they understand that she has her daughter around after school.

Navina works from home, but all the things she needs for her work are in the cloud so she can more or less work from anywhere, including when she is in India. She has done a lot of market research, visiting offices with her meal pots, and getting people to tweet pictures of their lunch to build up a buzz before the launch. Navina says she is a a bit of a geek, but likes to chat, which makes her good at taking advantage of social media to promote her food by connecting with food bloggers and industry influencers. She runs three twitter feeds and also has a blog on the Coconut Chilli website.

She has employed three working mums to help her with administrative work and is a big advocate of employing working mums, particularly given that technology now means people can work virtually more easily. She says the mums who work with her have good skills and experience. “I am very aware that I can brief them and trust them to get on with it,” she says.  


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