Journeys from Bayes: Friends to business partners turn passion project into support for London’s homeless

Bayes alumnae work with charities across London to provide basic essentials to help those in need.

A pair of Bayes Business School alumnae are giving back to the community by supporting London’s fight against homelessness.

Leiho, the idea of MSc Marketing, Strategy and Innovation graduates Thuta Khin and Joey Li, provides basic essentials to those in need, with the aim of improving self-worth, wellbeing, and confidence. Working with smaller charities and projects that directly help those experiencing homelessness, Leiho wants to make a difference, one pair of socks at a time.

The start-up has already donated items including sanitary pads, winter essentials, thermal socks, hot meals and underwear – catered to each month of the year. But it may never have happened at all, with now co-founders Thuta and Joey’s individual business plans in 2019 heading in different directions, and the idea of creating a business together was not even an initial consideration.

“I didn’t have any expectations about starting my own business before beginning my studies,” said Thuta, who says Leiho has now worked with more than 30 charities. “But, at a Bayes business seminar, I met an alum who told me about the opportunity to do so. She was part of CityVentures and was an international student too. That was the start of my entrepreneurial journey.

Thuta and Joey met on the course and began to develop ideas, practising pitching as their business plan developed. Joey’s initial idea of Leiho – which means ‘how are you’ in Cantonese – began life as ‘Gentlemental Socks’, but it was only on the back of a critique from their fellow students and tutors that the idea became more refined, transitioning from mental health to homelessness.

“For our initial idea, we did the market research, validated the market, but the constructive criticism we received helped us understand what worked and what didn’t. We were able to pivot and as we felt passionate about supporting homelessness, it gave us the platform to be more impactful.

“We had a passion about charity and mental health and wanted to do something purposeful.”

InDecember 2019, Leiho launched and sold its hero product – bamboo socks – at a Christmas market and donated socks to various charities like Highway House, Streets Kitchen and more. But as the pandemic hit a few months later, Thuta and Joey found the transition to online a challenge as they couldn’t donate essentials because of restrictions.

“We worked with online market places, and customers were conscious of the difficulties we faced and were very giving. We were able to build an online community with people who were passionate about our mission. We collaborated with local charities who were supporting communities during Covid and were able to launch new products, including water bottles, tote bags, beanies and t-shirts.”

Leiho is now able to donate five per cent of its revenue towards funding basic essentials and has again transitioned – this time to serving workshops and charities, in addition to donating essentials. They also work to support employment, improving social skills and offering cooking classes to show residents how to make affordable and healthy meals.

Thuta said it was the experience of the MSc that refined her and Joey’s creative knowledge, building up skills including conducting market research and surveys, analysing data and exploiting gaps in the market, plus learning about brand management and perception.

“A year ago, we were stressing about where we needed to be, but we have decided, instead of wasting our energy, we should take smaller steps. We want to offer more than donations and support more valuable projects through workshops and upskilling. We want to work more closely with charities and expand nationwide.

“We learned everything on the go, and we have had a few crisis moments. I’m grateful to have a co-founder so we can lean on each other’s backs. We have also had a couple of volunteers that work part-time, and we want to expand our team for those looking for experience ofworking with start-ups.”

Thuta and Joey have worked with Marius Stancu, Startup Incubation Manager at City, University of London, to find students who are working on start-up projects to gain experience.

Mr Stancu said: “Thuta and Joey are a great example of how supportive and dynamic the entrepreneurial community is at City/Bayes. After the support they have received from the CityVentures team (including being endorsed for the Start-up Visa) and from other startups in the community, they are now eager to give back to the community and support others on their entrepreneurial journey. Their growth has been remarkable and the impact of their work is great to see."

Dr Simone Krummaker, Associate Dean for MSc Programmes at Bayes, said: “This is another wonderful example of the ways in which an MSc can bring together bright and progressive minds to make a difference. Thuta and Joey are just two such examples, and we will be watching their journey with interest.

“This programme allows students to develop skills that are relevant and necessary in today’s businesses and in modern-day entrepreneurship. At Bayes, we value co-working among students and work alongside our alumni community – this ethos allows for ideas to grow and develop, and I am confident the principles of caring, learning, and acting will continue to serve us well in the future.”

To find out more about the MSc in Marketing, Strategy and Innovation at Bayes Business School visit the website.


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