Gemma Lewis is the founder of Eat Dark Matters, creating delectable brownies and selling them at markets and fairs across the southwest of England, as well as online. Gemma was an early business to receive a start up loan – here’s how it helped her business grow, and what she’s doing now.

In March 2014 I registered our interest on the Virgin StartUp website, but I didn’t think it would amount to anything. By that point I had been running Dark Matters for about a year, whilst also working part-time in café – everything I made was put back into the business.

The next day I received a phone call from Business West, a Virgin StartUp delivery partner. At that point, getting a loan seemed like a big commitment, but as I heard more about what it involved I realised it could really help our business. Soon I was paired with a business advisor who helped me to write a business plan, and within three weeks the money was in my account.

This money allowed us to take steps we hadn’t been able to up until then. We were able to book large (and costly) summer events, buy more much-needed kitchen equipment, and – crucially - finish driving  lessons (then pass my test!) and buy our first Brownie Mobile in order to take us to events!

Eat Dark Matters

 While I hadn’t really thought beyond the money when I registered at first, the support that I received made a huge difference too. From paying for our pitch at Jamie Oliver’s Big  Feastival, inviting us to Virgin HQ to flog our brownies to their staff, having us cater their incredible Women In Business events and featuring us numerous times on their blog, they’ve  continued to go above and beyond for us.

Now it’s been almost three years since we received the loan, and the business is going from strength to strength! I’m still working at home from my private kitchen, and each week is a juggle of online orders, private and wholesale customers, usually topped off with a couple of days solid baking before a busy weekend of event or market trading. But I wake up every day excited for what it holds and thankful for the fact that I'm the only person bossing me around!

There are big changes going on for us. We've been focusing a lot more lately on developing our vegan range, as not only is this a thriving and popular market at the moment, but also having worked in baking and confectionery for nearly 10 years I am hyper aware of the environmental and ethical impacts of the dairy and egg industries, and I've taken the decision for the business to minimise its impact in these areas as much as possible.

We are also planning a move from Bournemouth to Bristol, both for personal and professional reasons, which is both terrifying but incredibly exciting! This shouldn't affect the business a huge amount, as we'll be transitioning during the quiet months of early 2017, but if all goes well by Easter I'll have a dedicated Dark Matters workspace and kitchen!

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