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Inspirational Female Founder Spotlight: Jessica Summer

Jessica Summer is the visionary behind Mouse & Grape, a prestigious cheese and wine business known for its bespoke tasting events and luxury hampers. Jessica’s expertise is recognised through prestigious certifications, including Level 3 WSET and Level 2 from the Academy of Cheese.  Other accolades include being shortlisted for Harpers 30 under 30 in 2023 and the IWSC Emerging Talent in Wine in 2024. Mouse & Grape has been featured in top publications and on platforms like BBC Saturday Kitchen and BBC Radio London, thanks to Jessica’s ability to demystify wine and cheese pairings with her engaging storytelling. Beyond her media presence, she collaborates with brands on exclusive social media content and serves as a judge in cheese and wine competitions.

Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?

My journey began in the early days of COVID-19 when I lost my job in the property industry. Amidst this time of uncertainty, I found inspiration from Holly Tucker’s “Conversations of Inspiration” podcast, which encouraged starting with a small step, creating an Instagram account or a blog. Motivated to pursue my passion for pairing cheese and wine, I launched the @mouseandgrape Instagram in July 2020. The positive response confirmed a market niche for a business celebrating both cheese and wine as equal partners. By December 2021, Mouse & Grape was launched—a company specialising in paired hampers and tasting events.  This transition from being let go to establishing a recognised luxury business underscores the potential of turning a passion into a successful entrepreneurial journey.

How did the idea come to you for the company?

Spotting a gap in the market for a brand dedicated to perfecting cheese and wine pairings, I founded Mouse & Grape. My mission is twofold: to educate consumers on the art of pairing and to offer access to artisanal, top-quality products. I aim to simplify the pairing process, making exquisite combinations an accessible luxury, while supporting small producers.

How did you achieve awareness?

Building awareness for Mouse & Grape involved a mix of online presence and real-world interactions. I grew my Instagram @mouseandgrape, used trade shows for networking, and hosted tasting events. Collaborations, partnerships, and PR efforts boosted business credibility, while qualifications established my expertise. Visibility was further increased through media appearances, partnerships with figures like Ben Franks, and participation in The Prince’s Trust enterprise programme, leading to pop-up events and workshops. A proactive approach, coupled with a solid digital foundation—comprising a well-designed website, quality photography, effective SEO, and engaging content—was crucial in promoting Mouse & Grape.

How have you been able to gain funding and grow?

For funding Mouse & Grape, I was fortunate to receive investment from my family, which, combined with a ‘Will It Work’ grant from The Prince’s Trust, provided the essential capital to get my business off the ground. Looking towards scaling the business, I expect that external investment may become necessary at some point.

What are the key successes?

My journey has been filled with successes that still feel surreal to me. One of the absolute highlights was appearing as an expert guest on BBC Saturday Kitchen. Sharing my tips on crafting the perfect Christmas cheese board on such a respected platform was a “pinch me” moment. It validated my expertise and passion in a way I had always dreamed of but never fully believed would happen so soon in my business journey.

What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?

Beyond logistical challenges, the greatest obstacle I faced was burnout, stemming from the relentless need to constantly learn new skills and manage my time as efficiently as possible.  Anxiety became a constant companion, affecting even the simplest tasks like checking emails, and sleeping trouble became the norm due to constant fear. Despite these challenges, I maintained a facade that everything was okay, and my business grew. The turning point came when I activated my out-of-office in March 2023 for the first time since launching in December 2021 and took a week off. This allowed me to focus on self-care, spending quality time with loved ones and seeking professional help. This experience taught me the importance of self-care and the need to periodically step back, re-assess, and remember why I started on this path in the first place.

What are your plans now/for the future?

I envision transforming the platform into the go-to destination for cheese and wine lovers, known for exceptional pairings and expertise. By introducing subscription boxes, I’ll offer a gateway to monthly discoveries right at my customers’ doorsteps. I’m keen on expanding the product range, event locations, eventually international sales through franchising, and opening physical shops and bars to bring the online community into a tangible, interactive space. Additionally, pursuing more travel and TV opportunities will allow me to share my passion on a grander scale, inviting more people into the delicious world of cheese and wine. While I have ambitious aspirations, my commitment remains steadfast towards sustainable growth, ensuring the essence of my brand remains intact for the long haul.

What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?

The sense of achievement that comes from creating and nurturing something from the ground up is an amazing feeling. However, it must be acknowledged that this journey is filled with highs and lows. For every moment of success, there are many failures. The road to building a business is fraught with obstacles, but the resilience and perseverance you develop along the way are invaluable. I would encourage anyone considering this path to embrace the full spectrum of experiences it offers. Yes, it demands hard work, dedication, and a willingness to face challenges head-on. But the rewards of pushing through, of seeing your ideas come to life and the opportunities it brings are worth it.

Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?

Entrepreneurial success hinges on a mix of passion, resilience, adaptability, and knowledge. Starting with a clear vision, I immersed myself in understanding my market, gaining qualifications, building strong networks within the community, and prioritising customer service. Learning from setbacks and maintaining persistence have shaped my approach.

Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?

Suzie Summer (my mum): A successful business owner who showcases strength and resilience. She’s navigated through tough times while being my main support and friend.

Sara Davies: Her journey of turning a passion into a thriving business and creating an exclusive product is incredibly inspiring. Her autobiography and work ethic have motivated me greatly.

Holly Tucker: Listening to her “Conversations of Inspiration” podcast has been like having a mentor. Her commitment to inspiring others resonates with me.

Fearne Cotton: I admire how she shifted her career towards promoting mental wellbeing and openness, tackling mental health stigma with bravery and vulnerability.

Lucy Hitchcock (Partner In Wine): Starting her business around the same time as me, Lucy’s marketing prowess, engaging social media campaigns and community building have been exemplary and inspirational.

What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?

My go-to inspirational quotes that I’ve literally hung on the wall of my office are ‘She believed she could, so she did’ and ‘If it’s important to you, you’ll find a way. If not, you’ll find an excuse.’ These quotes are like my daily pep talk, pushing me to dig deep, especially on those days when motivation is hard to come by or when things haven’t gone as planned.

What are your Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn social handles and also website links so our readers can connect with you?