Interview with Renée Elliott

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SmartUp client, Beluga Bean Academy, equips people with business and life skills through in- person and online courses, connection and support. They work with people who want to achieve their goals, create ease and find happiness.
With International Womens’ Day firmly in the front of our minds, we interviewed Beluga Bean co-founder Renée Elliott – a pioneering, values-led female entrepreneur who considers business and life to be a ‘whole person’ process. We asked her questions around career, family and how women can thrive in business. We hope you enjoy and find her insights as inspirational as we did!

Can you tell us a bit about your background and career before Beluga Bean?

I came to the UK when I was 21, and for years I worked as a journalist. I developed a real interest in the food industry. From early on I was asking the big questions: Why do we have so many diseases when the body can heal itself? Why do we show so little regard for the health of animals, our environment and ourselves? Is there a better way?
Ultimately, I wanted to transform food and retail in the UK.
In 1995, I founded Planet Organic, the first organic supermarket in the UK and now a successful multi-million pound brand. Whilst growing the business, I was a crusader for organic foods and my mission was ‘to promote health in the community’. I wrote books and fought the policy battle against genetically modified crops. It was a time before organic became mainstream like it is today and it was really great to be a part of the movement.

What was one of the main business lessons that you took away from the experience of growing Planet Organic to the success it is today?

Values-led business is good business.  At that time, Corporate Social Responsibility and having a ? was nowhere near as common as it is today. It was something I was passionate about and formed Planet Organic into a truly values-led business. A lot of peers and other business owners I came across didn’t see this as important – however, there were a few companies pioneering in this space alongside us.
I realised very early on that a values-led business is more successful at not only attracting customers, but also attracting and retaining a great team. There have been so many studies now about how it impacts the bottom line – and is becoming more relevant as younger generations want to work for values-led businesses.

How did you transition into starting Beluga Bean?

By 2009, I had 3 young children. I became torn and was struggling between running a (by that time) very successful large business, campaigning and bringing up children. So we moved to Italy and I started working part time, focussing on my family.
We came back in came back to the UK in 2013. That is when I started developing the idea for the Academy. In that time I was hosting young Italian girls studying at university in our home. Whilst they were staying with us to improve their English, I was coaching them on all matters around their wellbeing. I noticed that talking about life skills, career, nutrition and mental wellbeing was having a fantastic impact. The girls were flourishing. That is when I had the business idea to mentor women. Also drawing on my experience from starting a business and balancing this with raising a family.
And so Beluga Bean was born! Initially to coach and mentor young women – then we broadened out to be accessible to more people.

What are the main audiences that Beluga Bean helps and in what way?

Our main audiences are entrepreneurs, parents or parents-to-be and professionals.
To build out our offering and how we can support people, we create  courses that address these areas of wellbeing: Physical, occupational, psychological, economical, social and spiritual.

Which of your programmes have women found particularly useful?

We notice that post-natal depression is becoming too much of a norm. There is lots of support in the build up to the birth, but afterwards a lot of mothers are isolated and don’t have their village around them – the support network of mothers, aunties, grannies and other women to help. Our Nest programme organises new mothers in mind and life so that all they need do is be with their baby with ease and joy.  The course also includes a piece for women going back to work, as many women find that transition difficult and stressful.
We coach them to overcome common challenges in this situation and feel good about themselves.
There is such a need for this course, not only in England, but in many many other countries, that we have made parts of it available online – through our knowledge sharing platform. We want to make it more accessible and the digital version enables this.

What is your approach to helping people start their own business?

In our Launch course, which is taking entrepreneurs to launch their business or young businesses to pivot, 50% of our time with clients is on the Business Plan and 50% is supporting their personal journey. Starting a business and growing it takes a lot out – so we ensure that an individually is personally prepared, coaching through subjects such as self care, resilience and transforming negative patterns.
The aim of this is to ensure our clients are empowered throughout the strategic planning process.

With more and more women taking leadership positions, what do you think women add to a business environment?

We are the biological caretakers, meaning that women are often more thoughtful. Although this is a broad statement to make, you see in business that women generally take a more considered approach.
A huge positive of this is it brings more measured thinking. But we work with women to ensure the negative sides of this care don’t creep in. For example, there has been a lot of research around make and female approaches to going for a job. A woman will go for a job and highlight what she can’t do – and a man will focus on what he can. It is this apprehension that we help women overcome.

What would your top piece of advice be for women in business?

‘Trust yourself.’  Women are often second guessing themselves.  And by yourself, I don’t mean your head, I mean trust your gut. My gut has never been wrong and the only times I regret in my career was when I didn’t trust my gut and pay attention to that little red flag.
It starts with you. A model I teach is: trust, respect and communication. Listen to the communication, trust your gut and then respect your decision. It is important to follow all of these techniques in all relationships, starting with yourself and then both professional and personal relationships. If it doesn’t feel right, it usually isn’t!