Rosie Phelps was the Royal Air Force’s first female Intelligence Officer to serve on the Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing, providing air intelligence support to Special Forces
in Basra, Iraq, in 2004.
The role was incredibly demanding for a young officer not long out of university, and a helicopter crash on her watch involving her colleagues was to be the greatest test of character.
It was a difficult night for Rosie, yet one she told me was the moment she knew she could achieve anything she set her mind to. Little did she know that, 10 years later, together with her sister, she would be launching children’s cutlery company Doddl, selling products around the world.
If I were to describe Rosie, I’d say that she was professional, pragmatic, resilient, determined, resourceful, energetic and cheerful. The ideal entrepreneur, you might surmise. The recognition that these desirable traits are commonly found in servicemen and women led me to embark on a project that would support them into business ownership and maximise the potential of the 15,000 who leave the forces each year.
Our military personnel dedicate themselves to serving the nation, and their lives, professional and personal, are fastidiously arranged in order that they can concentrate on their demanding jobs.
Once this life ends, to step out into civvy street and leave the military community behind is to cross a formidable threshold. On the one hand, the sense of freedom can be exciting yet, on the other, the solitude can feel frightening. Their experience, specialist knowledge and management skills are impressive, but the majority of qualifications fail to translate to the civilian world.
Aware of the challenge faced by those leaving the forces, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is continuously improving the transition programmes, advising and supporting on housing, financial planning and, importantly, since few serve beyond the age of 55, a second career. In medical cases, military personnel often only have a few weeks in which to adjust.
My vision was for a more cohesive transition. Before X-Forces Enterprise was born in 2013, there was little support for those considering business ownership. We have worked intensively to ensure that is not now the case.
X-Forces Enterprise is now the MoD’s Career Transition Partnership official provider of enterprise training, offering guidance and investment for service-leavers. I am proud to say that we have helped more than 1,300 businesses launch and, as an official partner of the Government’s Start Up Loans Company, have facilitated more than £11.6 million in seed funding.
The businesses we supported early on in their foundation, including Rosie’s, are now scaling up and creating jobs. Our network has expanded to include corporate partners and military organisations.
The X-Forces Directory, our newest initiative, aims to introduce veteran-owned businesses to big business procurement – a mutually beneficial supply chain for entrepreneurs like Rosie, who not only deserve our backing but are key to growing our economy.