Real business story: Jasper Kerr

Real business story: Jasper Kerr engineering design consultancy

Stephen Jasper founded engineering design consultancy Jasper Kerr with his business partner, Mark Kerr, in 2017. Here, he explains how he decided to make the move from being employed to starting his own business.


Can you tell us a bit about Jasper Kerr and the services it offers?

We’re an engineering design consultancy and we offer civil and structural engineering services predominantly in the construction industry. We work across many sectors including residential, education, health, industrial and commercial property.

We’re based on Newcastle Quayside and there are currently eight people in our team, and we’re looking to expand further next year.

Three and a half years on from founding the business, things are going really well.

What are the circumstances that prompted you to start your own business?

I’ve known Mark, my co-director for 30 years and we’d worked together for many years. I was Technical Director at a large organisation, heading up a team in Newcastle of 20-25 people, and I loved it. However, my role began to change, my work-life balance wasn’t right and I became unhappy. That was the tipping point when I decided to make the leap and start my own business.

I’d discussed my plan with friends and peers beforehand and everyone was really positive, which helped me make the decision. When Mark also decided to leave his role, that’s when we saw an opportunity to build something together.

How did you manage risk and what business support did you access to get up and running?

When I decided to take the step into self-employment, I saved up two to three months’ worth of salary. I did my research on what I’d need to pay for and how much I’d need to earn. The only financial support I accessed was a loan to pay for our initial software and computer equipment.

Of course, the risk was that no one would give us any work but I felt we had the support of key individuals in the construction industry. I talked to people, had chats over coffee with potential clients, and word of mouth started to build through LinkedIn and Twitter. From day one we started getting enquiries.

It was a big risk but it paid off.

What are the benefits of being your own boss?

Being in charge of your own direction. Being able to decide who you work with, and gaining the respect of partners and people in the industry.

It’s hard work but you reap the rewards for the work that you put in – not just me, but the whole team, and I have a great team around me who aren’t just colleagues, they’re friends as well.

I work harder now than ever before but somehow it’s less stressful because once you get your work-life balance right, you become a happier person. It’s a positive stress, if there is such a thing.

I suppose there’s also a bit of kudos in being the director of a company as well and I quite like that!

What would you say to others considering a new business launch right now?

I’d say go for it but I’d also say that you need to plan your finances, have some savings behind you to get you through the initial period, and get things like your insurance and software in place from day one.

Get yourself out there and meet new people, let them know your plans – it’s amazing how quickly word spreads and all of a sudden, you’re meeting people in your industry who you never knew before and forging good relationships

Obviously it’s more difficult to meet people face to face at the moment but that wouldn’t stop me from doing this all over again. The work is still out there and, especially in the North East, people are willing to help you, back you and give you opportunities. It’s been quite humbling to experience.

Work hard and I think you’ll make a success of it, it’s just having the faith to take the leap in the first place.

Find more advice and support for startups in our Business Startups Toolkit.