There are two things about people leaving military service and starting their own business venture;

  • They are more likely to recruit and create employment opportunities for other members of the armed forces community;
  • They are also making that transition and contributing to wider society through the wealth that they create for themselves and others.

There are many household brands which were set up by people who left the armed forces: Tesco and Trailfinders to name two who have recently celebrated 100 and 50 years respectively of successful business operations. There are other more recent start-ups that are growing and establishing themselves: UK Connect, The Military Mutual and Inzpire. But they all had to start somewhere.

This award honours an individual or group of people linked with the Armed Forces community who have started a successful new business venture since January 1st, 2019, and who still retain a minimum of 50% interest in the venture.

GKN Aerospace

This award is generously sponsored by GKN Aerospace.

Mark Miller of GKN has said, “These award finalists represent the very best in an extremely strong category. This is testament to the entrepreneurial spirit and dedication of these inspirational new Business Start-ups coming out of the military community. The continued success of start-ups supported by XFE and the candidates in this category serves as an exemplar for what can be achieved through commitment and determination. GKN Aerospace is very proud to support this category and work with the SOA and XFE – it is an honour to recognise the sterling efforts of all of the nominees and finalists. Well done to them all.”

The Ambassador for this award is Mike Cherry.

The Finalists for the Business Start Up Award are:

Olivia Harris – Virtualoom

Olivia Harris – VirtualoomOlivia Harris’ grandad served in the parachute regiment for 10 years, and he feels rewarded that his service has allowed Olivia to connect with X-Forces Enterprise and follow her dreams.

Olivia began Virtualoom in November 2019 after spotting a gap in the market for virtual property viewings. She ordered a 360 camera and taught herself how to produce virtual tours. Sending a few marketing emails, she was delighted to quickly welcome her first customer; the four hour round trip for each job didn’t daunt her, she was thrilled to have the business!

Virtualoom thrived throughout the pandemic. Its 3D virtual tour services ensured that the housing market remained open and made the public feel comfortable selling their homes. With support from X-Forces Enterprise, the business expanded to offer other services, including floor plans, professional photography, videography and aerial photography: a “One Stop Shop” to make estate and letting agents lives easier. And now, aside from the property industry, the firm has branched out into the education, retail and medical sectors.

“Remarkably, Olivia has successfully welcomed over 160 customers in less than two years and now has an office with two members of staff.”

As the digital world develops, the need for virtual viewings is growing. Virtualoom is in the process of adding marketing services to its portfolio, for example digital property pages and web brochures, as a new alternative to a standard printed brochure.

“Virtualoom is the only company in the industry to deliver all of the property services the same day of attendance, WOW! They have over 45 5* Google Reviews and multiple YouTube Video testimonials to show that their customer service is far beyond average.”


Thomas Foster – Pull the Pin Rum

Pull The Pin creates fine rums designed to be savoured.

Tom Foster

Tom Foster’s life drastically altered when, aged 27, he was medically discharged after 10 years of service as an Army Commando. He started researching current trends and noticed a huge increase in rum sales, but with gaps in the market for high quality infused white rums, smooth sipping spiced rum, and a brand that wasn’t associated with pirates!

Tom attended a distilling and rectifying course, then put all his money into setting up the business with his partner Kerry to create an authentic rum recipe with natural ingredients and a unique stopper design. Pull the Pin started trading in October 2019 and around 12,000 bottles were sold in that first year, bringing a turnover of £300,000 with profits of around £50k.

When the pandemic hit, Tom set up an online shop and implemented new products, such as letterbox gift sets and online tasting. The business model is evolving further with collaborations and diversification of products.

“The company commissions freelance workers, which enables people who have lost work to find employment and work flexibly around pandemic restrictions.”

Seven months into trading they released a special edition bottle to commemorate VE Day 75. All profits were donated to charity, raising £2000 to date. Pull the Pin also gives bottles to charities for auctioning and is currently creating a bottle to raise funds for the British Legion.

“Tom’s innate qualities combined with his military experience are the reasons that Pull The Pin has had such a successful first year. His resourcefulness, ingenuity and ability to keep working even when the odds are stacked against him are second to none.”


Sam Jeffs – Peregrine Logistics

Sam JeffsSam Jeffs enjoyed an adventurous career as a Royal Navy submarine navigator until 2014, before continuing his seafaring career as a Superyacht Captain in Mallorca.

Settling back in the UK in 2019, he focused on his new business, Cheshire Quality, which retails Cheshire-based artisan products. When the pandemic hit, Sam moved the business online and set up a sister company to handle the local deliveries: Peregrine Limited.

It quickly became clear that demand for another regional courier was high to support other small local businesses, so Peregrine grew rapidly within just a few months. In June 2020, the business really took off when Sam won a contract as an Amazon delivery partner. By December, Peregrine had gone from ‘one man and a van’ to a firm of 50 drivers and 30 vans geared up to meet the Christmas peak period.

“The firm’s reputation and ability to deliver an excellent service under pressure was recognised by its customers and continues to aid Peregrine’s rapid growth.”

Sam is now moving into the HGV sector and is developing a sales and support team for domestic shipping services. He has acquired a fleet of 30 fully electric vans too, proving that Peregrine is an eco-friendly and forward-thinking firm.

“Sam has taken the resilience, communication and leadership skills he learnt in the Royal Navy and applied them directly to his business. With the confidence and self-belief the military gave him, he has taken such big leaps in such a short space of time. He’s been able to manage realistic expectations, grow a motivated team and expand his own fleet – this time on the roads rather than the water!”


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