From Motherhood To Entrepreneurship

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It was once Kerri Thompson began raising her son, Harrison, that she discovered how she could turn the challenges they faced into a way to help others.

Having just completed the Northern Ireland Explore Enterprise Support Service (NIEESS) last year, Kerri is gearing up for her visual aid business to take off.

With her son on a waiting list for an autism diagnosis, Kerri, 31, began thinking of ways to make his life easier, which led her to the idea of a visual aid business.

She explained: "I started designing visual aids for his use, and I saw how well they worked and realised if they work for him then there's other families out there that would benefit from them too."

The service was set up by Enterprise NI and the Prince's Trust. The service aims to help people across Northern Ireland who are economically inactive to develop their entrepreneurial and employability skills. ‘The Explore Enterprise Support Service has received £1.8m from the UK Government through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund'.

Glengormley based entrepreneur Kerri had her son Harrison, 5, in 2019, and that was when she made the decision to come out of work. She said: "He's on a waiting list for an autism diagnosis and was having quite a lot of struggles. Even around him being in a playgroup or nursery, trying to find a job that would fit around that was impossible."

With NIEESS aimed at individuals who have been out of employment and those who are currently unable to start a new position due to personal circumstances, it was the perfect decision for Kerri.

Speaking about what attracted her to the service, she said: "It was Louise at Mallusk Enterprise who told me about it. I had done other programmes in the past but I still felt like I needed help and advice, so when this was brought to my attention I decided to go for it, especially as it was focussed on what I needed the most help with.

"I feel like it was really helpful. You get such a thorough look into businesses and the structure of how they're run. Then being able to ask questions, it's just like being in the classroom and properly learning it."

Designing has always been something that Kerri loved to do. Even prior to having her son, she had studied design in University, before taking a role as a visual merchandiser after graduating.

The idea of creating her own business is something that she had thought of for a while, but kept putting it off, until six months had passed and she realised that it was time to actually do something about it.

Talking about her business, she said: "I finally launched the business in November, with just a few products. We're still in the testing period, but I'm mainly focusing on getting as many new products designed as possible, so that I have a bigger variety."

Kerri knew, however, that starting a business would be difficult, but her biggest challenge was the business side of things.

She said: "I've never run a business before. I had no idea about the steps to take or the different types of sole traders or legalities, so it was good to be able to get an understanding of it and support."

As a part of the Explore Enterprise Support Service each individual is provided with a mentor, whose role is to offer support through one on one meetings, while contributing advice and encouraging decision making. For Kerri, she believes she would have given up without the help of her mentor.

She explained: "You get around 20 hours of one-on-one meetings so being able to go back to Louise if I haven't got a clue about something, she will always be there to point me in the right direction and help me.

"If I didn't have the support for the business side of things I would have given up."

Already looking ahead at what she can achieve in the future, she believes partnering with businesses and schools would be a good way to ensure neurodiverse children get as much independence as they can.

"I would love to be able to get into schools and give them hand washing visuals and toilet visuals", she said.

"Even for other businesses based around neurodiversity, I would love to be able to help them out by giving them some because I know what that feels like to want the help."

From her son being on the waiting list for a diagnosis, Kerri can see similarities in his routine within her own lifestyle.

"I have done so many training courses for ADHD and autism and I'm seeing the similarities within my life. I use a lot of the visual aids myself, so if we need it, then I'm sure there are others that need it too."

The personal attachment to it, meant that Kerri was more passionate and determined to make it work, with the Explore Enterprise Support Service there to support her every step of the way.

She explained: "Even on just a normal day here things will come up and I think of a visual aid that will help the situation so I go to my sketchbook and sketch it out. I could think of hundreds of things that would help, so my main goal at the moment is getting as much as possible, as quickly as possible, from my sketchbook to the physical copies."

Without Explore Enterprise Support Service Kerri would have had no idea where to begin but now she is on the way to making sure it can be a bit easier for neurodivergent people to live their everyday life.

By Rebecca Sayers

For more information about the Northern Ireland Explore Enterprise Support Service (NIEESS) go to enterpriseni.com

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