Emma lights the way for her rural business

26 Jul 2017

Light up North is an innovative small business based in the rural area of Saltburn-by-the-Sea. For owners Emma and Dave, learning digital skills through local Online Centre Destinations@Saltburn as part of a project funded by the Prince’s Countryside Fund, has meant they’ve been able to take their business to new and exciting levels.

Light up North boasts a simple but unique product, creating personalised artwork for events, home decor and exhibitions using electroluminescent (EL) neon wire. It’s the brainchild of Emma Krause and business partner Dave Freeney, and it all came about when Emma hired Dave as an electrician.

“Dave rewired our house when we first moved to Saltburn,” explains Emma, a 42-year-old mother of three. “The job took longer than first thought and we had lots of conversations about making a special decoration for our new house.

“The neon light we’d been looking at was very expensive and not ideal for an interior - it looked more like something you’d find in a chip shop. Dave’s background is in commercial lighting but he’s so creative and he told me that he’d done some exploratory work with EL wire, which back then was a new thing that had been developed for high-end car dashboards.

“Unlike traditional neon made of glass filled with gas, EL wire can be used like embroidery. It’s much cheaper, more adaptable and more appropriate to have in your living room. That’s how the idea was born.”
When they first started out, Emma and Dave were doing a lot of things offline and they couldn’t help but feel that there was a digital element missing.

“We’re a small enterprise and were literally working off the dining room table,” explains Emma. “I was drawing all of our designs by hand and it was taking me days. Between us we have really great skills but what we weren’t particularly strong in was our use of IT.”

Emma had been using the computers and printing facilities at local Online Centre Destinations@Saltburn. After chatting to manager Paul Davies and seeing the posters advertising their support services for small rural businesses, funded by Good Things Foundation and the Prince’s Countryside Fund, she decided to arrange a one-to-one session.

“I booked in for some targeted training,” explains Emma. “I was aware of how vital digital can be to a business, especially a startup like mine, because the internet can be a great free resource. I just knew that we could work smarter and be more efficient.
“One particularly helpful thing that Paul taught me was how to use Photoshop to produce designs more efficiently. Now I can get them done and across to the customer for approval in an hour or less.

“He’s also helped me with spreadsheets and to create email templates. Everything we’ve done has been tailored to my business needs and it’s had a massive impact on our business model and what we’re able to produce.”

On top of learning digital skills, Emma says that the rural setting in which they’ve started up their business has had a positive impact for them and for the local area.

“I think the ruralness is an advantage,” explains Emma. “Light up North has created three jobs in Saltburn. Our turnover isn’t huge but all of our turnover stays here - we use a local framer, a local courier, and we’ve just moved into a space that was previously derelict, so all of that economic impact really benefits the area."
Since starting out about a year ago, working together with the Saltburn community and developing digital skills with the team at Destinations has really propelled Light up North to new heights.

Emma says: “We’re in a really lovely position where we’ve passed the ‘is this going to work?’ stage. We’re in a big period of lots of growth - literally moving off the dining room table and out of the garage.

“We’ve done one exhibition so far and that’s going out to several more destinations - Whitby, London and more. We’ve got different projects with interior designers in the pipeline and we’re settling into our new base.

“It always cracks me up that I’m part of the Northern Powerhouse now - it’s a good place to be. I still think I’ve got a long way to go and I’ve got to invest the time, but every hour I spend with Paul, I estimate that saves me ten hours a week. The time I invest in that training comes back to me tenfold.

“I’m so happy I signed up for the sessions at Destinations. There’s a very lovely atmosphere there and I knew Paul was the key to making my life easier and my business less frustrating. All the hard work is totally paying off and we feel really blessed.”