Bristol virtual events platform working with Google and Intel to expand after £1m first year - Business Live

2022-06-28 11:55:31 By : Ms. YING ZHENG

Founded by entrepreneur Lisa Carter, Discussion Box has established a client base of global tech giants

A Bristol entrepreneur, whose tech company has grown into a £1m business within a year, is set to scale her latest venture in a bid to “democratise” the events industry.

Lisa Carter founded virtual events platform Discussion Box in 2019, after more than a decade working in the trade, including running her own small events business.

The platform, which counts Google, Intel, Palo Alto Networks and Hitachi among its clients, currently hosts private online events to help organisations connect with prospective clients and new audiences.

After seeing the potential of video conferencing technology to allow more people from diverse backgrounds to access and be heard at key round table events and conferences, Ms Carter began building the firm from the ground up.

Initially working from home while taking a career break to raise her three children, and with no external investment behind her, Ms Carter assembled a software development and sales team and began pitching Discussion Box services to global tech giants.

In its first year of trading in 2021, the company - which now employs 12 people at a 2,100 sq ft office on Colston Avenue in Bristol’s city centre - generated £1.2m, and has seen a 50% revenue growth in Q1 of its second year.

The firm is now set to launch a software as a service (SaaS) sister company under the Discussion Box brand in the summer. Ms Carter told BusinessLive this will create a “one-stop hub” for virtual events, building on the platform's business-to-business offering on a subscription-based model.

The SaaS platform will allow companies to list their upcoming events for users to browse and attend events relevant to topics they are interested in, with 30 categories ranging from business and finance to parenting.

Ms Carter said: “My purpose for the platform, and one of the reasons I chose not to seek investment, was I wanted to have control of really changing the narrative and status quo, to ensure not only is it a great technology platform but it's inclusive by design, and really gives a stage to people and audiences globally.

“There are so many voices that are not heard because they don’t have the accessibility, they come from marginalised groups."

Ms Carter said she had experienced being "left out of conversations" that could have been "pivotal" to her career, which is why she wants to help others.

“This platform is allowing me to open doors and pull out chairs for others to gain access to information that could be life-changing," she explained.

The entrepreneur said it was important for businesses to create a diverse workforce that “truly looks like the world that we live in today”, adding many of the companies Discussion Box works with were supportive of its female leadership.

"We’re a woman-led company; our chief revenue officer is a queer woman. Inclusivity really means a lot to me," she said.

Together with the company’s chief revenue officer Jemma Charles, Ms Carter will run a free week-long sales academy in Bristol later this year, which will be open to women considering a career in sales or looking to advance their existing businesses.

Ms Carter said the in-person classes were intended to “give back to the community and empower women”. Attendees will be able to learn core skills of the trade, including how to pitch, find commercial opportunities and identify key decision-makers within organisations.

Ms Carter said: “The typical CEO of a business doesn't look like me. I think just being a woman in business, let alone a black woman, comes with its challenges.

“I’ve taken that elevator up, it’s very important for me to send it back down to the next woman or person so they can also rise to the top and build a team.

“In my career and as a young girl I was always told that as a woman and a black woman I’m going to have to work 10 times harder than maybe my peers because I’m a black woman and these things sometimes stand against you - and it has."

Ms Carter said she had needed to work harder to overcome certain challenges and stereotypes, especially after she had her first child at 18.

"A lot of stereotypes come with that and made things harder for me so I’ve had to work 10 times harder to get to where I am today," she said.

“That’s why being on Colston Avenue is very significant for me. It almost feels like reclaiming spaces with the fact that the Edward Colston statue was pulled down. I was born and raised in Bristol so that was a very historic and significant moment for me.”

In addition to progressing Discussion Box, Ms Carter is also set to re-launch her “passion project” jewellery brand Nikao, which she established at London Fashion Week in 2016.

Nikao garnered global attention, with coverage in fashion magazines Vogue and Cosmopolitan , after Beyoncé listed it on a directory on her website of black designers who the singer felt should be recognised in light of the Back Lives Matter movement.

Ms Carter said sales “exploded”, with stock quickly selling out after the Destiny’s Child star’s recognition.

She added: “I loved Beyoncé anyway. I admire her, her talent, her work ethic. For my brand, especially at the time as she had only featured US brands so I was the only British brand initially that was featured in the directory, it was overwhelming.

“Especially because it was unexpected. I had this influx and demand coming, so it was exciting to see my work appreciated like that, especially by someone on such a prominent platform.”

Ms Carter said she had delayed her return to design to this year in order to establish a “solid foundation” for Discussion Box.

The businesswoman added while she initially had not wanted to “compromise the integrity and the values” that she wanted to build her tech venture on, she did not want to put a limit on its potential growth.

Ms Carter said: “At the moment we’ve been able to generate enough revenue to build the SaaS and get it off the ground for summer. I believe it has the potential to be a huge success, so we will certainly need to look to investors to support its growth and scale the platform.”

She added it had been “incredibly exciting” to see the success and growth of a business she had started from home.

Ms Carter said: “It’s very rewarding as a businessperson, but also as a mother, because I'm building a platform that can belong to my children, or is going to create a more secure and sustainable life for my children and their futures.

“It just feels great to have something that is just my own and that I can truly shape to match my vision, and support how I feel the narrative needs to be changed and the events industry in general needs to be changed.”

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