Sandrine Galbert, BA Business Studies graduate turned online entrepreneur
Business studies graduate Sandrine Galbert credits LSBU's supportive environment in the success of her online business selling Afro-Caribbean products
Originally from Martinique, Sandrine briefly studied fashion in Paris before arriving in London aged 19 with just a backpack and a French/English dictionary. Founder of online marketplace Macob, which specialises in products from Africa and the Caribbean, she credits her degree at LSBU with helping her find her direction.
“When I arrived in London I spoke no English and my money was stolen almost immediately, so I had to live on the streets for a while. Luckily a friend from Paris was running a model agency and I managed to get a job as a booker with her. But even at that early stage I knew I wanted my own business.
"My first love was fashion. I felt very at home in that world and within a couple of years I’d started my own model agency. I was good at it and got my models great work with successful designers, but looking back I can see that I wasn’t properly equipped to do it alone. I knew all about the fashion side but my business knowledge was patchy.
"Having my daughter meant I made different choices and changed course. I eventually gave up the agency to focus on her. It was the right thing to do at the time and I have never regretted it. While looking after my daughter I decided to get a business qualification and started doing an access course at Westminster Kingsway College in the evenings. That eventually led to me enrolling on the Business Studies course at LSBU.
"Studying for my degree made me more determined to launch another business and do it properly. My understanding of business was so much greater after the course. It was like night and day. I could see and learn from the things I’d done wrong in the past. The tutors were excellent and I particularly enjoyed group work with other students – sharing ideas and experiences was invaluable for me. Looking back I wish I’d started my current business while I was still at LSBU, as I had access to great facilities and a readymade pool of talent in the staff and my fellow students.
A nurturing environment
"The atmosphere at LSBU was incredibly supportive. From Mrs Magni in the Student Office to the dyslexia tutor the University provided, I was given all the help I needed to realise my potential. Irene Brew-Riverson, Business Enterprise Manager at Westminster Kingsway College, has been amazing. She helped to find my first student placement, who will be joining me in 2017. Without people like this believing in you, running your own business can feel a bit like building a house from scratch on your own with your bare hands!
Launching a business on a shoestring
"The idea for my current business grew gradually. Every year I’d go to three or four big Afro-Caribbean events in England – festivals, fashion shows, exhibitions and markets – each time I’d notice how people would flock to the market stalls to buy soaps and creams made from Caribbean plants or accessories from Africa. I got to know the women who ran the stalls, saw that demand was increasing and an idea began to form. I spent all 2016 preparing to launch the business, developing the website and testing products.
"I used lots of the skills I learned from my degree to set up my business. I was able to apply skills in accounting, marketing, strategy, networking and more to make it a success – it’s something I really enjoyed. It’s not just about the skills either. It’s also given me the confidence and belief I needed, as well as teaching me how to identify new markets, identify new business opportunities and develop marketing strategies.
"I launched Macob on a shoestring. It’s an online marketplace for vendors selling products from Africa and the Caribbean. The focus is on three categories: home decor, beauty and wellbeing, and jewellery and accessories. I’ve got 200 vendors whose products I’ve checked and approved. The first phase will be complete once they are all on the platform. I’m a great believer in Fairtrade and in empowering women to control their own businesses and earn a good living.
Growing the business
"My next project is to develop my own range of plant-based products. When I was growing up in Martinique, everyone relied on medicinal plants and herbs for health, beauty and well-being. We didn’t go to the doctor or the pharmacy, we went to the garden! I will need funding for new product development but I can already picture a range of treats and treasures. Mango butter, coconut and honey scrub …
"There are so many ways to define success. If you can make your living doing something you are passionate about, and without treading on other people to get there, then I’d say you are succeeding at life. I’ll feel truly successful once I’m able to create jobs for other people. That will come with the launch of my own product range. For now, success is about getting all 200 vendors selling on Macob and seeing their businesses grow alongside my own."