From saving the planet to saving your feet, Laura Birrell, former energy and sustainability consultant had enough of a life of laces and took some drastic measures putting together her business Sticky Heelz with what was originally tape and plasters.

Laura Birrell is the founder of Sticky Heelz, previously a consultant in the energy and sustainability field. She has come a long way from looking after the planet to looking after your feet. A fashion enthusiast with a specific focus on footwear, the shoe just fit for Laura when she decided to come up with her own solution to her mismatched shoe size. Now having secured a lucrative US deal for her impressive product and already having it sold in Superdrug and Boots’ Irish website, it’s clear Laura is comfortably walking up the stairway to success.

Laura is a multi-award winner at Great British Entrepreneur Awards, receiving the Fashion and Beauty GBEA award in 2020 and the Health and Wellbeing Entrepreneur of the Year GBEA award in 2017. Sharing her business journey at Sticky Heelz with Zoe Cornish, People Director at Funding Options, Laura gives the rundown on the problems she faced and her own innovative solutions.

Read more: How winning the Great British Entrepreneur Awards changed the game

This year for the 2021 awards finalists were announced in a collection of workshops all based on category, all presented in partnership with Funding Options. Each announcement came alongside an up to 20-minute interview with a previous GBEA winner and the big shortlist reveal.

Taking a stand

In the mood for shoes? The UK certainly is, with the annual amount spent on footwear in 2019 standing tall at 10.9 billion pounds, according to statista.com. While there’s been a drop in 2020 for our friends at the foot of the industry, this is to be expected with less people venturing outside in something nice amidst the pandemic, rather opting for indoor slippers and sweatpants instead.

Whether or not we’re going to be spending another few billion on shoes is yet to be seen, though with lockdown restrictions currently being lifted no one would be surprised to see some more cash put into fashion.

“I embarked on this road of product development with no background in this”

Sticky Heelz launched in 2015. The anti-slip pads was going for a generous £5 a pop for two pairs, designed to stop shoes from slipping and blistering, the product can now be found across the world with a presence in the US, Canada and of course the UK. 60% of people have mismatched feet according to Laura and that was something she clearly intended to stand against. Initially the idea came to her once her options for footwear became limited to strap-ons and lace, and Laura couldn’t take it anymore.

Laura began to stuff her shoes with her own prototype solution. Using an amalgamation of Velcro, gel-pads and plasters she had created a very effective mess. Realising her solution worked, she knew she could help other women who had the same problem. “I thought, if this works for me, it might work for other women as well,” she says. But before saving women as she had saved herself from a lifetime of laces, she needed to make the product more presentable.

Like many other entrepreneurs Laura went down many avenues for funding. Starting off on the right foot, Laura went to her local business gateway. After pitching her idea she managed to secure a grant, but that wasn’t the end of it. Laura joined up with Entrepreneurial Spark, a hub for entrepreneurs and their businesses which allowed Laura to identify a variety of funding competitions she could participate in.

Sprint to success

Winning £40,000 in 2016, Laura’s idea went from a comfortable walk to a full-scale sprint. The funding allowed her to take her business forward and further secure private investment from another company. Laura’s large portfolio of funding isn’t unheard of amongst new entrepreneurs, many having a long list of attempts, successes, and some failures when it comes to securing funding from a variety of sources. Laura is a testament to the method of trying everything you can to increase your chances of success.

Queried on tips and tricks, Laura told of the mindset she had and the strategy you need to make it as a business. “Being able to stand out to provide a solution in the marketplace is very important,” she says.

Don’t be discouraged if you can’t think of a brand-new idea however, with all the products on the market some are bound to have some cross-over.

Laura’s product itself has been a tried idea many times before, the difference being she did it right. Reflecting on all the customers coming back to her with praise after having tried all the other similar products on the market and calling hers the best, she credited her success to the correct implementation and execution of her product.

Sometimes a unique idea can simply be to improve on a product already on the market in a way no one has ever done before, and sometimes, you need to stick with what’s tried and tested. “Have the agility to sell and export online,” says Laura. Online sales have played a big part in keeping a lot of businesses afloat during the pandemic and lockdown and while not many people are going to formal events in their dancing shoes these days, Laura’s business has taken a lot less of a hit through its ability to ship all over the world. There are no borders in online business, something helping entrepreneurs and start-ups make a pandemic pull-through.

“To get through the filtering process of 4000 people is amazing”

Amazing seems to be a fitting word for Laura’s journey, from an amazing business with amazing deals to receiving amazing awards. Laura sung the praises of the GBEA telling of the fame and hopefully fortune it brought to her already practical product. “It gives you that credibility because people are coming to you and thinking you must be good to win such a competitive award.”

These days, GBEA gets over 4,800 applicants a year and even being shortlisted can do wonders for a passionate entrepreneur. Laura is now in high demand for collaborations and has a much easier time promoting her business to buyers, gaining even more credibility thanks to her multiple awards.

Laura has some advice to impart upon those success-hungry entrepreneurs ready to listen: “Be mindful of your time and manage your focus.” She also highlights the importance of not being distracted by others giving advice for their specific business and circumstances.

Not to mention the importance of numbers, she adds. These days everything is about money, and businesses are at the forefront of that ideology. “A buyer wants to know that you know what your margins are,” she says, so study up! Know your numbers, know yourself and most importantly know your business and you might just end up like Laura who filled in not only a gap in her shoes, but a gap in the market. 

Watch the full interview below.