One thing many of us have taken from this year, is the opportunity to re-evaluate our careers, hobbies, and plans for the future and for some, that’s starting up a business of their own. As an award-winning national programme designed to help people start, run and grow their businesses, Outset Cornwall have been helping Cornish people succeed in their dream of running their own business for over 10 years.

In Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, over 51,500 people are self-employed; that’s nearly 16% of the working age population, which is significantly higher than the average 10% for the rest of England. At myCornwall, we’ve always championed the creative nature of Cornwall’s residents, whether its full-time painters, potters, lampshade makers, graphic designers, oven cleaners, firewood suppliers, upholsterers and electricians, Cornwall is certainly full of daring entrepreneurs determined to make the beautiful place in which they live work for them.

Behind many of these self-employed businesses is Outset Cornwall, a nationwide, multi-award-winning programme launched to help people looking to start up their own business in Cornwall achieve their goals. Designed to support and help individuals start, run and successfully grow their own business, for over 10 years the Outset Cornwall team have helped almost 850 businesses onto their feet, providing over 1,000 jobs to local people and helping over 2,000 people explore the option of self-employment. If you’ve got an idea with potential to turn it into a profitable business and the passion to pursue it, Outset Cornwall offer the guidance and tools to help make ideas into reality.

Funded by the European Regional Development Fund, HM Government and The Outset Foundation, Outset Cornwall has contributed in providing millions of pounds for the Cornish economy both socially, financially and economically. For them, it’s about making Cornwall work for their clients, offering tailor-made start-up support to help individuals further explore their business ideas. A wide range of businesses have walked through the Outset Cornwall doors including Sophie Tilston, who decided to take her designer homeware company to the next level during lockdown, “I’ve always experimented with printing my own designs and products and dreamed of running my own business,” says Sophie. “For nearly four years I attended one or two craft fairs a year with some of my designs, but I was only really testing the waters. Feedback from customers was always really positive, so when lockdown hit, I thought ‘I’ve just got to get started properly with this’. A friend of mine recommended Outset Cornwall and I signed up.”

With a degree in textile design and a career as a product designer and buyer, Sophie already had a strong skillset behind her. Juggling home-schooling her three children during lockdown as well as working and starting up her new business, Sophie utilised Outset Cornwall’s programme online to suit her needs and flexibility,

“When you’re a parent you’re always thinking ‘For every hour they’re asleep, how can I maximise this time?’,” Sophie describes, “You get used to picking things up and putting them down, multi-tasking and getting the most out of every single minute of the day. I’d been working from home for a while and so I’d become used to working around the children and in the evenings. Running my own business gives me the freedom to work any time I choose.

“The Outset programme was a really helpful insight into how businesses work. The feedback from the trainers and other people in the group was so useful and it was really interesting to hear other people’s ideas and get their input. The structure of the sessions really motivated me to do more each week.”

Today, from her seaside studio in Falmouth, Sophie creates and sells her gorgeous range of handmade homeware and fashion accessories via her website and Etsy shop and is recently part of a brand new collective, The Crafty Bean. Her new- found self-employment not only allows her to work at her own pace, but also to experiment with new patterns and ideas, “I think people are interested, now more than ever, in owning original pieces that are individual and aren’t mass produced. When working for a big company there are so many constraints for a designer, it’s a lot different working for yourself. Now, I can experiment and try out new ideas, and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter.”

Whilst the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic continue to loom, with uncertainty surrounding the future of businesses both economically and politically, the need for a revamp into how we work and the ways in which we work has never been clearer.

From working longer hours to being furloughed, or even facing redundancy, this year has highlighted more so than ever the opportunities, gaps, pitfalls and potential in where our careers and future as a working community might be headed.

For others, the process of setting a start- up has been a complete career change, with new challenges and skills to be learnt along the way. After 25 years working as a health and social care trainer, Lostwithiel based Jo Hague finally took the plunge in completing a three year textile degree at Falmouth University, something she’d been wanting to do since she was 18. Inspired by unconventional materials alongside a desire to work with ethically sourced materials, Jo uses industrial plastic and disused scaffolding netting to create her large- scale, 3D sculptural, art installations. Eye- catching, with a powerful message, upon graduating in 2019 Jo was soon spotted by an interior design shop in London as well as receiving an invitation to showcase her work at an exclusive exhibition at the Bedruthan Hotel in Cornwall.

On the cusp of launching her business, in which Jo had invested a lot of time and money, the Covid-19 crisis hit. Jo’s exhibition at Bedruthan was postponed indefinitely and she found herself feeling lost, “I was left feeling really disheartened,” Jo explains, “like my whole business dream was being swept from underneath me.”

Spotting an Outset Cornwall advert on Instagram, Jo got in touch with the team who suggested she join the next round of business start-up training, being delivered online via Zoom.

“The Outset course has been really useful. I’ve learnt so many different elements to running a business; from finance to finding your target market, packaging to setting up a returns policy, and I’ve used so many of the ideas and suggestions already. The Selling Online session was particularly helpful, as it’s allowed me to get my full product range online and generate sales, even during lockdown.”

Adapting in adversity has swiftly become part of Outset Cornwall’s programme, supporting and guiding start-up businesses through unprecedented and difficult times as well as helping them get off the ground. Even moving to a more digitised platform has helped dozens of members of the Outset programme manage their time better, especially for Jo, who found the online courses and workshops ideal for her environmentally friendly ethos, “Outset also gave me some fantastic ideas about how I could communicate my sustainability values to my customers and make my work more personal,” she says. “Now, every piece a customer buys comes with a certificate of authenticity, including source details and a description of the materials, as well as a small sample so they can really see how their artwork has evolved.

“Having time to work on the business side with Outset Cornwall has really lifted me and given me back control of where my journey was going.”

Jo now has work on sale in London once again and the Bedruthan Hotel are hanging two of her large-scale pieces until a new exhibition can be arranged. It’s small steps but already Jo is seeing online sales and commissions via her website shop growing.

Starting up a business is undoubtedly a daunting process; the risks can be high, but evidently so are the rewards. Ultimately, Outset Cornwall offer proactive, flexible and attainable ways to make individuals looking to start up their own business feel supported not only for when things go right, but also for when help is needed.

“To anyone considering joining the Outset programme, I would say set yourself some time to focus on your idea and go for it,” says Jo. “You never know where it will lead. The tutors were superb; they listened to me and I knew I could ask questions at any stage. It was fantastic to have so much support and information.”

Outset Cornwall are continuing to work hard to support clients old and new in developing and growing their businesses that in turn, will help to build Cornwall’s future for generations to come.

If you have a creative business or idea, and would like to find out more, including details of upcoming sessions, visit www.outset.org/cornwall or email cornwall@outset.org.