Blog : biku

Speaking with Lara Sengupta, founder of CorkYogis

Speaking with Lara Sengupta, founder of CorkYogis

‘In time it might change but at the moment it’s quite hard for social businesses to get investment’

CorkYogis founder Lara Sengupta on Dragons’ Den confusion, the future of CorkYogis and what’s needed for social business to thrive

To be honest I was completely terrified for two months before! You go to the audition for Dragons’ Den and then they give you a two-three month period where you know you’re going to be filmed but you have a gap between the filming. I was in India for those two months, doing some work with the charity over there. But the whole time, I was literally, terrified. You never know, sometimes you see a really lovely person with a great product and they [the Dragons] just tear them down. It was scary but at the same time it was good to push me out of my comfort zone. I was in there for an hour and a half, so in the 15 minutes that air, you don’t know which way they’ll swing it. They painted me in a good light – which was a relief.

I was prepared to be pulled apart on the financials, but in terms of the comment like, ‘oh, you seem confused, are you a business or a social enterprise’, I didn’t really know what to say. As far as I’m concerned, a social enterprise is a business and there are examples of amazing social businesses that do make money, a lot of money in fact. But people love them because of their social impact. I didn’t understand the comment really, and I didn’t want to reply, because I didn’t want to trip myself up! A lot of investors made their money at a time when social business didn’t really exist so I think it’s difficult for them to understand it as a business concept. I think in time it might change but at the moment it’s quite hard for social businesses to get investment. People have advised me to enhance the social aspect of CorkYogis when talking to customers but they say hide the social aspect as much as possible and lead on your ‘business side’ if you want investment.

TOMS inspires me. I knew I wanted to follow that business model with CorkYogis – we want our customers to be able to see what impact their purchase is making. Change Please is another social enterprise – completely different – that inspires me. Partnering with the Big Issue, they train homeless people as baristas, helping people get back in to work. TOMS didn’t get external investment. The founder sold his old business to fund TOMS. And Change Please got funding through the Big Issue. I don’t know a social business that has received big backing from investors in its early days.

We stand out in terms of our product as well as our social purpose. What makes our cork yoga mats different is that they are a lot more robust. We have done a lot of trial and error. The cork is very thin, so it doesn’t chip or crack as some other mats do. We work with a lot of yoga studios in London, especially hot yoga studios as our mats are really good for grip when you sweat. We’re currently focusing on getting in to the big studios like Gymbox. TriYoga has just started using our mats, which is exciting.

Everyone has business plans right at the beginning, but the way a business grows and develops is so different to how you think it’s going to be. We’ve had to keep adapting as we go. We’ve just started working with a sales team – which is great. They deal with the meetings with the prospective buyers – which is really handy as that is my worst nightmare! I guess hiring people to do jobs that you absolutely hate (read: are not very good at!) is the best way to spend money even if you don’t have a huge budget! Our focus in the next 2-3 years is to just keep growing, organically. We are splitting our time, focusing on increasing sales through the website and also targeting yoga studios. I would love to expand to the US eventually. So, yes, we’ll just keep working on the foundation and see where that takes us.

We’re working with the charity Destiny Foundation in India, who combat human trafficking and the challenges faced by the survivors of human trafficking by helping women learn employable skills. For every natural CorkYogis mat purchased, we provide a contribution towards a training course for one girl. It’s still early days, but maybe in the next year or so we’d also like to start our own charity, partnered with CorkYogis, so that we could develop our own courses and be able to better record, I guess, where the funds are going and the specific impact that they’re having.

I’m not sure if it’s possible to change investors’ views and standpoints, I think it’s more about different investors coming through. There needs to be more information available about how social businesses can raise funds. Most of the information out there is on how purely profit businesses can raise capital. And this is the route a lot of social businesses try to take – and it might not be the right or best one. Hopefully, the more exposure social businesses get, the more information there will be about how we can thrive.



CorkYogis launched in April 2016 by Lara Sengupta. The company’s core product is its ‘luxury cork yoga mat with a social purpose.’ CorkYogi’s product range includes cork yoga mats, cork yoga blocks, yoga accessories and yoga packages. You can find CorkYogi products on their website and also on Woocommerce, Amazon and eBay.


Until next time #liveslow, #livesustainably

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News from the isthmus

News from the isthmus

Hello my treetop lovers,

As some of you already know, we decided to divide and conquer! I have been in Panama for the past couple of weeks now, hunting down potential investors, following up leads, speaking to potential partners and just getting the bíku name out there.

Back home

I must say it has been great to be living back home after so many years away. In some ways I feel the same way I felt when I first moved to the UK, a period of adjustment and getting used to the way of life. Having left Panama at 17/18 years old you could say I have lived away for most of my adult life. So it’s getting used to the changes that have happened in Panama since I left.

Even though only two weeks, it has been a bit difficult at times but we are prepared for this and as they say – you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.

Follow those leads

I’ve been knocking on those doors, email ‘stalking’,, whatever it takes to get bíku off the ground. I have some exciting meetings lined up in the next few weeks – and Zabrina has got some exciting things in the pipeline back in London, so watch this space.

I want to leave you with something that I read a while ago: inspiration is like bathing, it’s very effective but it must be practised on a regular basis(!).

Stay inspired mi gente.

Until next time, #liveslow!

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Whether Willy Wonka or Bocas Bonkers…it’s all about chocolate

Whether Willy Wonka or Bocas Bonkers…it’s all about chocolate

As many of you will know, we’re not just developing a treehouse retreat, we’re also developing a chocolate farm. Part of the bíku land is a cacao plantation. Bocas del Toro – home to the bíku retreat – is the cacao-growing region of Panama. And boy does it produce wonderful cacao. To stay on the pulse of what’s going on in the chocolate world, we’ve been going to the Chocolate Show for the past couple of years. Any excuse to eat chocolate!

This year did not disappoint; bigger and better than ever. There was great effort promoting Peru and the Dominican Republic, among others, as cacao producing countries. Our aim is to get Panama representatives at the show one year – to introduce people to the delights the small isthmus has to offer.

I wanted you to get to know three companies I met this year that really wowed me with their business aims as well as tantalised my taste buds!

Harry Specters


Harry Specters is a very special chocolatier indeed. As its strap line suggests, ‘Enjoy the chocolate, Love the cause’, the company is driven by a greater social purpose. The company offers employment to young people with autism, but goes beyond that by providing a number of programmes to boost confidence and self esteem. Find out more. It’s truly inspiring to see how the social impact element is core to what the company does. As if this wasn’t enough – the chocolates are exquisite. I picked up a couple of early Christmas presents from their stall. I’m not sure that I’m going to be able to keep my mitts off the gifts before December! My family might have to do with empty chocolate boxes on December 25!

Beau Cacao

Offering single estate chocolate using cacao grown in Malaysia, Beau Cacao’s chocolate is stunning – the epitome of indulgence. The company sources the cacao beans directly from small-scale farmers and handle the production themselves – all in all better for the farmers, better for the industry and better for the chocolate! It’s great to see a company so passionate about what they are crafting and offering to us chocolate lovers, as well as about the sourcing of cacao and the sustainability of the business.

I couldn’t resist picking up a couple of chocolate bars (as pictured): Asajaya 2014, 73% – beans grown by Mr Chang(!) – amazing caramel tones, rich and smooth; and Serian 2014, 72% – beans grown by Mr Cyril(!) – a much more earthy, smoky flavour. Honestly, chocolate like nothing I’ve tasted before. My favourite thing? The fact that the company tells you who has grown the beans and the year in which the beans were harvested – genius.


I spent a good amount of time speaking to Luis Mancini from CACAOTALES – thank you for your time Luis, and sorry that I took up so much of it! Luis is a cacao farmer, from Peru. He feels strongly about supporting the farmers, giving them the best price for their cacao, and in doing so ‘helping them rediscover their dignity and pride’. Luis set up CACAOTALES to find other cacao smallholders in Peru, like himself, and facilitate direct trade – connecting the best farmers with the best artisan chocolatiers.

I’ll be in touch Luis – looking forward to future collaboration.

A great day out, ate at least half my weight in chocolate (and don’t regret it a bit!)

Until next time, #liveslow!

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Chasing the dream

Chasing the dream

Well well well…

I guess the time of talking is over and the time of doing is now. I am going back to Panama in a few days (three days and counting!) to seek investment for bíku. In all honesty, I am nervous as hell, I guess because I want this to work – not just for me and my partner but for the local community in Bocas del Toro, and for my family. I am excited to be going back home to do this. It feels right to be on this journey.
I remember a speech that Steve Jobs did some years ago. He said you can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect the dots looking backwards. I now understand what he meant by that. I needed to go through my life journey to get to this point, but don’t get me wrong, I believe this is just the beginning!

Last day in the ‘office’

As I write this blog I am preparing to go in for my last day of work at Ace Hotel. I can’t believe that I have been there for four years; how time flies. It has taught me a lot, of what to do and what not to do in the hospitality industry.
So, before I keep blabbing on, whatever it is that you are dreaming of,  don’t let anything or anyone stop you. BE UNSTOPPABLE…and that’s how I am feeling right now.
Let’s do this.
Remember, sign up to our mailing list to be part of the bíku family, find out more about our journey and also get the best offers on our treehouse holidays when our crowdfund goes live in spring next year. Join the journey – there’s a tropical island, a treehouse and chocolate waiting for you!
Until the next time, #liveslow!
I love you Tiyanna, Declan and Coco.
Inspired by social business

Inspired by social business

This week we’ve posted a few things on social media about projects and people that inspire us. Inspiration and being inspired keeps us pursuing our dream. It pushes us forward and it keeps us going on those really tough days when we question and doubt ourselves and wonder what the hell we’re doing!!

Face your fears

Whenever we tell people about our bíku project, their initial reaction is wow – that’s so exciting, and so cool. Of course we love this reaction because what we’re trying to achieve is exciting (to us), it is amazing and we love it. But, sometimes, doing something different is terrifying! Every day we need to push ourselves to make sure that we reach our goal. There are no personal trainers organising our routine or our daily plans, no one shouting at us when we feel like giving up. We have to do this ourselves – which at times can be really tough. Having people and projects to inspire us is even more important at these low points. They remind us that doing the impossible, is possible!

Ariel faces another fear…his fear of frogs. And with Bocas del Toro full of these amazing guys – poison dart frogs – he’s going to have to get over his fear, fast!

Who inspires us?

So – who are our main inspirations? Well, some are closer to home, including friends and family, and others are world renowned. For me, Muhammad Yunus is a huge inspiration for our biku project and on a personal level. I’m not sure how Yunus would describe himself. By education he is an economist, but I think he was one of if not the very first, true social entrepreneur. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for founding and his work with Grameen Bank, which was and remains a pioneer in providing microfinance for the poor. For all you creatives and social business…ers of the future, the Grameen Creative Lab is a great way to keep up to date with anything social business related!

Yunus has dedicated his life to helping people break out of poverty, and has always kept principles of sustainability at the core of his work. Looking at what Yunus has achieved, at what Grameen has achieved, it just seems impossible. A glance at the ‘Grameen Family’ section of the Yunus Centre website shows the magnitude of this man’s work. If you want to know more about Yunus and how Grameen began, I would strongly recommend that you read Yunus’s book, ‘Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism that Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs’.

From being inspired to inspiring others

We’re inspired every day – often by people who are working on personal, creative projects or in the community. They are driven by passion rather than a desire for recognition. We try to surround ourselves with people who are inspiring, people who don’t settle for the status quo – you know who you are! We can only hope that one day we can inspire others. That would be an honour.


Being philoslothical

Being philoslothical

Welcome to the first of our weekly Wednesday blogs! What can you expect from these posts? Well, they will be a place where you can find out more about us, about the inspiration behind the bíku project, and our thoughts and comments on issues close to our and bíku’s heart. And what better place to start than to look at the philosophy, or should we say philoslothy (does that work?), behind bíku and what we are trying to achieve.

This first post is a short introduction to one of bíku’s guiding principles: being philoslothical! So what does this mean? Well, being philoslothical is really a way of life, a way of life that we’d like to share with our guests when they come to stay with us at bíku, and something that hopefully can find its place – even if only in a small way – in our guests’ everyday living, after their break with us.

What does it mean?

Being philoslothical will mean different things to different people, but at its core and to us it means:

  • Being a responsible traveller: respecting the local culture, customs and natural environment
  • Pausing for thought (as the native Bocas del Toro sloths do! In fact, they don’t do much more than pausing for thought)
  • Thinking about how your actions affect others and your surroundings
  • Enjoying every moment
  • Natural luxury
  • Living slow! (Bocas … and sloth style)

It’s pretty simple, but these are things that are so easy to forget in our ‘tweeting, twerking’, modern-day world. As they say, ‘it’s the simple things’ … (I never know the end of that saying…can someone help?).

Told you it was a short one! Until next week.

Follow us on Instagram and Twitter – @bikupanama – and let us know what #beingphiloslothical means to you.

#liveslow all you treetop living lovers.

Beauty in the city

Beauty in the city

Panama visit – day 2. We’ll be trying to blog daily during our two-week recce to Panama. This is our last trip over here before our project crowdfunding in late September. We have meetings set up with conservationists, potential investors, collaborators, videographers, lawyers, builders and architects – so it will be a busy couple of weeks.

We saw this beautiful butterfly yesterday, just sunning itself against a sweet shop window. We’re not sure if this little fella is 100% ok – and looks like something might have taken a slice out of his wings. We hope he was ok – a beauty in the city.

They say it’s all about the journey …

… and not the final destination. Well, we’re not so sure on this occasion! Our door-to-door journey from London to Panama City was nearly a full 24 hours. We left our London flat at around 5.30am and arrived at Ariel’s sister’s place close to 11pm local time (4am the following morning, UK time). Wow! The journey isn’t normally this long – so you future b í k u treehouse ‘holidayers’ don’t have to worry. Also – there are direct flights from continental Europe to Panama, it’s just the UK that takes longer and hasn’t caught up with the direct flights yet.

We had a four-hour wait in Newark airport for our transfer to Panama. However, our flight was further delayed with air space being cleared for President Trump’s arrival at the airport … Thanks Donald!

But, it’s definitely worth it. One day down and we have already had an amazing meeting with a great contact of Ariel’s. We can’t divulge too much yet, but suffice to say that b í k u is much closer to becoming a reality than 48 hours ago.

Stick with us over the next two weeks to stay up to date with our project news.

Remember – sign up to our mailing list before 7 August and be in with a chance of winning a 4-night stay in the Cotswolds.

Until next time, #liveslow.

COMPETITION HAS ENDED. WIN a legendary one night’s stay at ACE Hotel London Shoreditch

COMPETITION HAS ENDED. WIN a legendary one night’s stay at ACE Hotel London Shoreditch


WIN one night’s stay at ACE Hotel London

WIN a legendary one night’s stay at ACE Hotel London Shoreditch – London’s ‘most creative, engaged district.’

We have teamed up with ACE Hotel London to offer you the chance to WIN a night’s stay in the coolest of London’s districts, Shoreditch. As ACE itself describes it, ‘Shoreditch is home to the Brick Lane Market, landmark creatives and renegade artists from around the world.’

To enter the competition, just sign up to our newsletter this month (1 June 2017 – 30 June 2017 inclusive). The winner will be chosen at random on 3 July 2017.

The one night’s stay includes accommodation for up to 2 guests, based on one room and double occupancy, and a complimentary bottle of champagne on arrival.

The offer is available from 1st September 2017 to 31st August 2018, excluding Christmas, New Year and Easter, and subject to availability.

To enter the competition, just sign up to our newsletter.

Good luck! And remember #liveslow !


Terms & Conditions

Competition period: 1 June 2017 – closing date midnight 30 June 2017

  1. The ‘WIN a legendary one night’s stay at ACE Hotel London Shoreditch – London’s ‘most creative, engaged district’’ competition (the ‘competition’) is open to residents of all countries aged 18 and over and there may be only one entry per person. No purchase necessary. Entries received outside of the stated competition period will not be considered and no responsibility is taken for entries that are not received or cannot be delivered or entered for any technical or other reason.
  2. Entry into the competition is deemed as acceptance of these Terms and Conditions. No trade, consumer groups or third party applications acceptable.
  3. The winner will be drawn at random on 3 July 2017 (‘draw date’) and will be notified within 7 days of the draw date. Attempts will be made to notify the winner by the email provided at the time of entry. If the promoter, having used reasonable efforts, is unable to contact the winner, then the prize is forfeited and further draw(s) will be conducted.
  4. The prize is a one-night stay at ACE Hotel London Shoreditch, for up to 2 people. The prize includes a complimentary bottle of champagne on arrival. No meals or ‘extras’ consumed or used during your stay are included in the prize.
  5. The prize must be taken between the 1st September 2017 to the 31st August 2018, subject to availability. Black-out dates (when the stay / holiday cannot be taken) include Christmas, New Year and Easter. Winners must give 30 days’ notice of desired dates for the stay.
  6. The prize is non-exchangeable, non-transferable, may be used by the registered prize winner only, and is not redeemable for cash or other prizes.
  7. The promoter reserves the right to amend or substitute the prize for another of a similar value.
  8. The promoter accepts no responsibility for any costs associated with the prize and not specifically included in the prize. The winner is responsible for all travel expenses and arrangements, such as but not limited to meals and spending money.
  9. It is the winners’ responsibility to ensure they have a valid passport, travel insurance – if travelling from overseas. Such travel documentation is at the sole expense of the winner. Failure to have the necessary travel documentation will result in the prize winner forfeiting their prize. If the winner and/or their companion is refused passage and or entry/exit to or from England, any additional costs incurred will be the winner and/or their companion’s sole responsibility.
  10. The promoter accepts no responsibility for any damage, loss, liabilities, injury or disappointment incurred or suffered by the prize winner as a result of entering the competition or accepting the prize.
  11. The promoter shall not be liable for any failure to fulfil the competition where the failure is caused by something outside their reasonable control.
  12. The competition organiser and promoter is Ariel Stephenson and Zabrina Shield
3 ‘must tries’ when in Bocas

3 ‘must tries’ when in Bocas

Hi all, Ariel here. Today I want to share a part of the ‘real Bocas’ with you. These probably aren’t things you’ll hear from travel guides! Here are three things you must try when in Bocas. Heed this advice – it’s from a true ‘Bocas man’ – as we say.

 ONE – ‘dollar bag’

First things first, the famous ‘one-dollar bag’. This is actually now two dollars!! – inflation even reaches Bocas! Funnily enough, we still call it a one-dollar bag – or just ‘dollar bag’. This is Bocas’s version of a take away. It’s made up of fried chicken or fish and guess what else? … patacones! You can also have it with yucca, or as some of us may know it, cassava. I love this.

My mum getting our dollar bag in Almirante, Bocas del Toro. This is the best dollar bag around.

TWO – hot pepper sauce

Hot pepper sauce … Bocas style. This is not tabasco, it’s hot pepper sauce, Bocas style. This is on every table in every restaurant and in every household, used at every meal time. It’s Bocas’s equivalent of salt and pepper. As a matter of fact, you can skip the salt and pepper, but not the hot pepper sauce. And at $1.50 a bottle – it’s a bargain. Hot pepper sauce, love it!

THREE – agua de sapo

Now, this one is to wash down the dollar bag and the little bit of spice from the hot pepper sauce, it’s called ‘agua de sapo’. Translated this means ‘frog’s water’. Now I know it sounds gross, but stay with me. It’s called agua de sapo because it’s made from brown sugar mixed with lots of lime and water, so it has a misty, brown ‘dirty’ water look. But believe me, it’s the most refreshing, thirst quenching drink around!!! This might be a little bit trickier to find for the average tourist. But if you do find it, take a picture drinking it and post on Instagram with the hashtags #aguadesapo #bikutreehouse

Look out for a short video next week on our Instagram or Facebook, where I’ll tell you about patacones, and will try to do a video demo!

Sign up to become part of the b í k u family. Join the journey, stay up to date on what we’re doing and get exclusive offers on your b í k u treehouse holiday!!!


From Bucks to Bocas

From Bucks to Bocas

Meet the other half of b í k u – Zabrina. She tells you why a girl from Buckinghamshire – England – wants to move to Bocas and why you’ll want to join her.

Why do you want to build treehouses in Panama, why are you doing this project?

It’s difficult to give one reason – there are multiple reasons really. It might sound like a cliché, but I don’t want to look back over my life in 20 years and wish that I had done more, wish that I’d been brave enough to take risks. As they say, you only live once. For me, two of the most satisfying things that you can do in life are be creative and help others. With b í k u, we get to do both. I’m excited about doing something where we’re creating things – rather than consuming. Consuming isn’t good for the soul.

What were your early influences?

That’s an interesting question – but an easy one to answer! I went home to my parents’ over the Easter weekend and spent some time looking through the photo albums my dad had put together for my 21st (some years ago now!) – it was fun. Looking through the photos it’s clear to see what – or who – my early influences were … my parents.

My childhood, the way that my parents have raised me has made me into the person I am today – with all my ‘wacky’ ideas – as my mum would say. They have instilled in me a love of people, a love of different cultures, a love of nature, of freedom and of being true to myself. Both my parents are medics – my mum a nurse and my dad a doctor – so I guess wanting to do something to help others comes from them and from what they pursued in their careers.

I could go on and on … I have so many memories from my childhood of being outdoors, being with nature, and I think that’s when I have been at my happiest.

Hard work is also something my parents instilled in me from a young age. This is demonstrated by the picture below! That was the way it usually went – me putting in the hard graft and my brother supervising. I’m lucky he’s not here to disagree!!

What we want to achieve with b í k u will be hard work. I’m under no impression to the contrary. But I think I’ve been conditioned quite well on that front!

Why Panama?

Apart from the obvious – in that my partner, Ariel, is Panamanian? Well, I have – ever since learning Spanish at school – developed a love for Spanish and Latin America. I had never been to Panama until my first trip with Ariel in 2014 – and I completely fell in love with the country. Where Ariel is from – Bocas del Toro – is in the North West of the country, on the Caribbean coast, and very close to the Costa Rican border. Strangely – or perhaps it’s fate – I spent a month in Costa Rica when I was about 19. I was just over that border, living in an indigenous community in Yorkín, helping to develop their eco tourism. This was part of a three month ‘expedition’ to Costa Rica I did with Raleigh International – a non profit, sustainable development organisation.

The wildlife and surroundings are very similar to what I had experienced in Costa Rica, so I actually felt very comfortable, almost at home! From an eco tourism point of view Panama makes complete sense; it’s overflowing with nature!

What is the single most important thing you want to achieve with your Panama treehouse project, b í k u?

From what I’ve seen, I think there are a number of businesses in Bocas that have played the short-term game. You know, they’ve wanted to get in their quick, maximise their profits, maybe get out again and then move on to the next project. With b í k u, we want to have a longer term investment. There’s definitely a gap in the market for a unique customer experience to be given not only through the nature of Bocas but also through design and highly personalised customer service.

We want to reinvest in the community, for the longer term – and be a spring board for other social businesses led by the community. We hope to inspire and to create a lasting change.

Can you do this by yourself?

No! We need your support, the support of people reading this – to make b í k u a reality. We have the passion, the drive, the vision – but need the support of a ‘crowd’ to raise the funds for the treehouse build. For those of you who have already been following our story, you’ll know that we’re going live with our crowdfund in September. For those of you who are less familiar with crowdfunding, there will be future blogs dedicated to this topic. But, in short – our crowdfund will be pre-sales. You will be able to book your b í k u treehouse holiday at a discounted price.

Tell us an unexpected fact about you.

I was held hostage in Tikal, Guatemala!


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A few more piccies from the photo albums Dad put together!

Bird watcher in training. Pssst, the other way round!
Me winning a race with my brother! Or, is he letting me win …
Rocking the matching macks