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Flashback to 1987: Catching up with Sandara Kelso-Robb

Tue, 13 November 2012

Sandara Kelso-Robb was a Shell LiveWIRE Award Winner in the Northern Ireland Final in 1987 with her business, Sandara Kelso Hats.
She is now a social entrepreneur, working for the Lloyds TSB Foundation for Northern Ireland and we caught up with her to find out more about her entrepreneurial journey.

What can you remember about your involvement with Shell LiveWIRE?
I still remember it very clearly – it was a huge opportunity and I was shocked when I won because my business was for such a niche market. The award had a very high profile in Northern Ireland so it was quite competitive. I really enjoyed representing Northern Ireland in the UK finals in London, which made the local and national press and provided great PR for my small business. My trophy still takes pride of place in my office!
Sandara Kelso-Robb Award

How have things changed for you since you won your Shell LiveWIRE award?
As my business focused a lot on marketing I decided to do a post graduate diploma in Marketing with CIM. I spent some time in the States on an Entrepreneur Development Programme with the University of Ulster and Boston College, which was a fantastic opportunity, and when I returned I realized I didn’t want to be a hat designer forever. I started work in marketing with the Third Sector and after a series of promotions became Chief Executive and Company Secretary of the NI Mother and Baby Appeal where I raised funds to support research into infant death and disability and parental support services.

10 years ago I took up my current post of Executive Director & Company Secretary of the Lloyds TSB Foundation for Northern Ireland. I am responsible for the awarding of around £2million per annum to support people who are disadvantaged or disabled, which is a wonderful job and a huge privilege. Indeed one of the Foundation’s strategic themes is to support social entrepreneurship, which I’m a strong supporter of.

How have you had to adapt as an entrepreneur over the years?
I’m a social entrepreneur now involved with a wide range of social enterprise initiatives and the skills I learnt when I was running my own business are completely transferrable. I have an enterprising spirit when it comes to anything I’m involved in and this interest and flexibility enabled me to co-found Northern Ireland’s first Women’s Giving Circle – something which is both pleasurable and humbling.

What has been the biggest obstacle you have overcome in business?
Had the internet been available when I was in the hat business originally that would have had a hugely positive impact. Exporting was very difficult, local customers were not overly interested in high fashion hats and of course there was neither Etsy nor the opportunity for on-line retailing. I managed to trade successfully without the internet which is the lifeblood to many small design businesses now. Also Northern Ireland was in the middle of the Troubles which added additional challenges to local designers and manufacturers.

What are your top 3 tips for a young entrepreneur about to set up in business?
1. Believe in yourself
2. Have a trusted objective third party review your business plan
3. Never believe other businesses are as successful as they say they are!

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