Alison Coleman

Redundancy has always been a catalyst for new business startups. Understandably, it can be a devastating personal experience, but it can also be liberating, providing people with the push they need to overcome the fear factor that held them back from pursuing their business ideas while they had the security of full-time employment.

As Covid-19 triggers yet another recession, a new generation of latent entrepreneurs are emerging from some of the worst-hit sectors for job losses, such as hospitality and travel, and going it alone with their own business ventures.

Shane Cooke, a chef with 22 years’ experience, recently lost his job as a senior group executive chef at a contract caterer in London, where he had worked for six years. Cooke, who trained at two Michelin star restaurants, including Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons, had already started a side hustle, Jasper Wellbeing, but hadn’t had time to focus on it, until the pandemic struck.

He says: “I’d always thought about running my own business and had plenty of ideas, but being so busy as a chef it was never possible for me and so my plans were always left on the shelf.”

Jasper Wellbeing offers a range of wellbeing support services for the hospitality industry that can effectively transform an unhealthy company culture. The idea behind it was prompted by Cooke’s own mental health issues.

“This is an industry rife with depression, stress, and drug and alcohol abuse,” he says. “For years I suffered with my own mental health, but with the normal bravado that you tend to find in hospitality, I just carried on and slowly got worse. Knowing this industry inside out, I also know what needs to be done to create a new way of working and a new era for hospitality.”

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Lockdown gave him the time he needed to focus on growing his business, initially working with a hairdressing group and a marketing company as his first clients, and more recently gaining traction in hospitality where he is currently in discussions for a large contract. Cooke also works with several chefs on a one-to-one basis and has launched online meditation classes.

The knowledge and skills gained from his previous role, which included supporting a large number of chefs and running workshops have been invaluable, however, Cooke’s vision for his startup was driven primarily by personal experience. He says: “The experience of being ill, continuously hitting burnout and not getting any support inspired me to want to change an industry and try to help others.”

Career success in sectors such as hospitality and travel takes hard work, drive, and determination. For those who have been made redundant from these industries and decided to start their own businesses, these same skills and qualities will be just as crucial to their success as an entrepreneur.

“What’s even more encouraging is that some of these entrepreneurs are using their skills and experience to help their clients to address important workplace issues very much in the spotlight since Covid-19, such as mental wellbeing,” says Sandra Kelly, U.K. director of employment and learning organization People 1st International.

“People who can not only transfer their most valuable competencies, skills, attributes, and experiences but also channel this output into transformational initiatives, can help to create positive change in their sectors, something they may not have been able to do in their previous roles.”

Other budding entrepreneurs who lost their jobs as a result of the Covid-19 impact on their industries have gone on to launch successful businesses in completely different sectors.

Carlo Schembri was unfortunate enough to lose two jobs this year, being made redundant from his director’s role at an overseas business events company, and then from a travel firm. He and his wife had already launched a side hustle, luxury yoga mat business Posey Yoga, but never had the time to spend on growing it.

“Posey Yoga had been my wife’s dream, but there had never been a good time to start,” says Schembri. “We had a young child and we both worked full-time, so we knew that our only real chance of success was for us to work on it together, investing whatever time and resources we had into the business. Redundancy unexpectedly provided that opportunity.”

An even bigger opportunity for the business was presented by lockdown, as home workouts became a growing trend as a way of overcoming some of the physical and mental wellbeing challenges of being housebound. As Covid-19 peaked, sales began to soar. At the same time, some of the biggest social media influencers were suddenly available to support and help drive brand exposure.

Schembri also had the advantage of transferable commercial skills gained from his previous roles. Launching large scale business events gave him knowledge and confidence in building key relationships, and as a director, he had been involved in areas such as operations and marketing.

“This experience proved invaluable when approaching social media influencers for collaborations and working out the logistics of sourcing, shipping, and delivering products,” he says. “We are now in discussions with numerous ecommerce platforms, retailers, high-end gyms, and hotels, which will allow us to really grow the brand, and the future looks very promising.