From Royal Navy to startup business

Allen Martin left the Royal Navy after 22 years’ service. With support from X-Forces (itself an inspiring small business) Allen has since set up his own property company – and last year became the 10,000th company to be established with the help of the Start Up Loans company. Here’s his story.

I joined the Royal Navy in 1991 as an aircraft engineering mechanic and rose through the ranks to become a Chief Petty Officer. I worked with helicopters, search and rescue and commando forces. People think that if you’re in the Navy you are always working on ships – but during my two tours in Afghanistan I was based in the desert working in 55℃ heat.

In 1992 I suffered an accident while refuelling an aircraft; I was left with a skin condition that would eventually flare up and prevent me from doing the job I loved. I knew I wanted to run my own business; I enjoy organising things, working under pressure and getting things done. So when I was faced with being medically discharged, which only gave me a three-month resettlement process, I needed a game plan. My skin condition gave me with no chance of working in the aircraft industry.

My wife is an estate agent and loves her job. It gave me the idea to think about property. I knew I didn’t want to sit behind a desk all day.  But I had no idea about how to get started. After hitting some brick walls, I came across X-Forces via the internet.

X-Forces was set up by Ren Kapur in 2013 and helps ex-military personnel to set up and run their own businesses. She had seen press reports that troops were returning home and not getting good jobs but she also understood that the skills gained from working in the armed forces and those needed to run your own business were linked.

So she had worked with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) who connected her to the Start Up Loans company.

Ren believes that support shouldn’t end after accessing finance. This sets X-Forces apart; they help businesses to get business, and not just to get started.

So X-Forces supported me in writing my business plan. This was so helpful; within three weeks I had pulled together a decent plan. With their advice I decided to apply for funding that would keep afloat for my first year – even if everything went wrong. I was nervous, because I had heard plenty of stories about small businesses being turned down by the banks. But Start Up Loans approved my application.

The money landed in my bank account and I got an invitation to 10 Downing Street – my application had been the 10,000th Start Up loan. My planned three month pre-launch set-up was squashed into three days. It was a crash course in setting up a business!

The loan has provided me with the foundation to build my business, Eclipse Property Cornwall. I am creating an office in my home to keep overheads down, so I have kept a large amount of the loan to help pay for my advertising campaigns throughout 2014.

I have two major ambitions. One is to give something back – I am going to offer discounts to the military community and also plan to do so for NHS staff. The second is to expand my business and to grow it. I have the drive and the energy – there’s a big open door for me.

If you believe that you have a feasible business idea but no access to finance, visit Start Up Loans, the government-funded scheme to provide loans and mentors for entrepreneurs.