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Small Palms: Chloe Palmer (BSc 2013)

Chloe Palmer (BSc 2013)

Small Palms (products)

Small Palms (products - tub)

6 June 2016

Biomedical Sciences graduate, Chloe Palmer (BSc 2013), set up her healthy snack company, Small Palms, in just three months. Here, she talks about the inspiration behind her business idea, and how quickly she’s having to learn on the job.

Small Palms was my nickname while I was at Bristol. My surname is Palmer and I’m a mere 5’3’’ so it was pretty fitting! I worked in London after graduating, but had an inkling that I would want to start my own business (called Small Palms, of course) one day.

After two years, I already had ‘itchy feet’. Planning wedding shows was a fun first job, but I knew it wasn’t a long-term career path for me. I’ve suffered from many food intolerances over the last ten years, and they were becoming almost unbearable, so I started to think about making healthy treats.

I only began to develop my idea properly after a conversation with a complete stranger about how coconuts are ‘in’ right now, and come from palm trees. Bingo. I stayed up brainstorming all night, wrote down all sorts of wacky ideas and completely missed a Halloween party I was supposed to be at, but I was on a roll. When you know you have a good idea, you’ve got to go with it!

Setting up my business happened very quickly after that. Within a week, I had registered Small Palms as a company, contacted my local authorities, bought web domains, and qualified in manufacturing (without having attempted to make a product yet…). My plan was to make coconut granola, I tried – and failed miserably. I realised that I might have jumped the gun slightly - I couldn’t cook and had never been interested in cooking. What was I doing?

I spoke to an old lab partner and fellow entrepreneur, Alex Hoppenbrouwers (BSc 2013), that same evening, who advised me that granola was ‘so last year’ and I should try energy balls instead. I was sceptical, but bought a bunch of fancy ingredients and created around 30 different flavours. About 26 of them were semi-edible, so I stripped them back, thinking about what I would actually eat, and refined the recipes until I had a finished product.

For seven months, I worked on Small Palms in the evenings and at weekends alongside my full-time job. Thankfully it was worth it and within three months, I was trading. My first meeting with a prospective retailer was pretty memorable. They asked what my RRP was, and I had to ask them what RRP meant… Oh dear. I’ve never studied business or marketing so everything has been new, but that’s what also makes it so exciting - I’m literally learning on the job. I think that’s the best way to gain experience though: you pick things up quickly because you want to learn them. After all, your business is only going to be as good as you are – much like your degree.

I was very spoon-fed at school, so adjusting to life as an undergraduate was a big change. In my first term I failed all my modules and the Dean called me to his office to ask why. I told him I was having too much fun, but that I would pull my finger out for the next set of exams. I was very motivated, I love learning – and I love proving people wrong even more – so failing my first year would have been the worst thing that could have happened. In the end, I probably only missed three lectures in three years. That was one of the most important lessons I learnt as a student – to be as proactive as possible as no one else could do that for me.

My degree in Cellular and Molecular Medicine hasn’t directly influenced my business idea, but it has helped me develop in other ways. I’ve always had a bit of a bizarre brain:  I’m academic and creative. I love science because it makes sense – formulae and equations are logical, and you need attention to detail to understand complex signalling pathways and physiological systems – but I’m also arty and imaginative. I’m very driven, but knew I wouldn’t be able to hack life in the city long-term so Small Palms has given me a really good balance between mental stimulation and a fun, fulfilling career path. I absolutely love running my own business – it allows for a freedom that you rarely find in a 'nine-to-five' job.

Now, my biggest challenge is accounting. I find it easy to keep track of incomings and outgoings, but am now teaching myself about cash flows and profit and loss. I’m also learning about forecasting – knowing when I was going to run out of ingredients was simple at the beginning, but now my orders have increased, I have to be 100 per cent accurate.

If you’re thinking about setting up your own business, go for it, else you’ll always wonder ‘what if’. Especially while you’re young: I think I’d be a lot more cautious if I was older. A couple of years in an established company first was great experience though – I learnt a lot of do’s and don’ts.

There’s lots in the pipeline that I can’t shout about at the moment, but I’m speaking to more potential stockists in London and hope to reach other cities by the end of the year. I’d be over the moon if I could go international one day and I’ve just employed a production manager as I no longer have time to make everything myself. I love playing around with new flavours though, so I’m sure we’ll have some weird and wonderful products in the coming months!

Further information

For more information, please visit smallpalms.com or follow Small Palms on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.