Sem Terra Sem Terra

Alessandra Mariani, Sem Terra

Name: Alessandra Mariani

Course: BA Society, Culture & Media

Sem Terra, which means Without Land in Portuguese, is a handmade journal ideated in the UK and crafted in Turkey by two globetrotting students. Designed by travellers for travellers, Sem Terra represents the very essence of journeys.

About your business

As sons of the world, ever moving and greedy for adventure, we found that our trips were lacking a place to physically store memories. Sem Terra does just that. Crafted as a traditional journal with high quality eco-leather and customisable inner notebooks, our product allows the bulking up that comes with collecting tokens from holidays and explorations by providing more space for them. Not only - we know that when someone is out and about they don’t usually carry stationary with them, and as a result many of the items collected can easily get lost. By creating Stickies, we solved that problem too. Stickies are small double-sided sticky tape pre-cut squares tested with strong glue for an extra hold. We tried them with leaves, we tried them with sand, we tried them with pebbles and business cards and any other thing one could find on a holiday. Folded in the journal’s inner pocket, these practical stickers will ease memory collection by allowing you to stick your precious memories without stationery.

How did UEA Student Enterprise help you?

It is clear that we could have never made it without the help of UEA Student Enterprise. Not only did they provide us with guidance during the first stages of crafting the proposal and shaping the initial steps of the project, but they also sponsored the great majority of it with the Try It Grant. What’s more, I was paired with a mentor that was an expert in the field we were trying to break into, who gave me great tips regarding production and distribution. And of course, we were able to test our products in the monthly Student Pop Up markets and have now been offered the amazing opportunity to showcase Sem Terra and sell our travel journals at the Royal Norfolk Show in July! UEA Student Enterprise really does give you more than a just a kick start, and we could never be more grateful for it…thank you thank you thank you!

What worries did you have while setting up your business, and how did you overcome them?

Sem Terra is a travel journal. In a world where technology reigns sovereign, our main concern was that our notebooks would not have enough market space. Whilst facing competition from huge brands like Moleskine and Midori, the Student Pop Up markets that we took part in helped to raise our confidence that our product is something that people would like to have. Particularly, customers and passers-by have been incredibly valuable by providing feedback to improve our design and this boosted our morale. Another main concern was how to deal with producers, particularly because we had to negotiate from England to Turkey without many possibilities of meeting face to face. Despite us travelling there twice to meet them, the problems we encountered were plenty, starting right from how to communicate our design to them and making sure that it wouldn’t be stolen. This is where my mentor stepped in, helping and guiding us through the process of dealing with confidentiality agreements and providing us with tips for smoother inter-cultural communication.

If you are interested in following our progress or asking questions please do not hesitate to contact us on My partner (Onat Kibaroglu) and myself (Alessandra Mariani) will be very happy to follow up!

What ignited the spark in you to start a new business rather than look for work from someone else?

This one is easy. We met on Exchange in Hong Kong and went traveling everywhere in Asia for six months. We used up several notebooks, which revealed themselves very poor for globetrotting and memory keeping. So we decided to put together two things: our will (and need) to make our own perfect journals and the thrill to start something new...alone. Of course the project is still at its start and we are both studying at University, but we believe that the experience that comes from taking risks to build your own dreams is a million times more fulfilling than building other peoples!

What motivates you?

The biggest motivation for us is knowing that people across three countries are using our notebooks to store their memories. This means that we were able to give them a bit of our enthusiasm and that our customers are loving Sem Terra!

How do you define success?

Passing the first test (getting the award). Selling our first notebook at the Student Pop Up Market in May 2015. Then selling out at the Royal Norfolk Show in July 2015. Producing our own recyclable bags. And the list goes on. When you set an objective and meet it, we call that success.

What has been your most satisfying moment in business?

Again, knowing that our handmade products are reaching peopleʼs homes in Turkey, England and Italy. Its an amazing feeling.

What piece of advice would you give to university students who want to become entrepreneurs?

Donʼt be scared to try. Trust your instincts. Be stingy - youʼll have to make a lot with very little money!