Design Jessica wins its first business award at the Supporting the Unsung Hero Showcase Day in Canary Wharf


Every year delegates from The Supporting the Unsung Hero (SUH) Business Course are invited by HSBC to their Headquarters in Canary Wharf to celebrate their achievements in a Showcase Day.

Supporting the Unsung Hero Business Start-Up Course is a year long business programme for military dependants, spouses, and veterans who would like to start their own business. Made possible through LIBOR funding and the hard work of the University of Wolverhampton and Forces Enterprise Network it provides the tools needed to start you own business and a wealth of support from a vast network of businesses run by the military community. With over a 70% success rate with these start up businesses still running profitably In their 2nd year (the UK average is only 40%) the course has been a massive success and well received by both the military community and the MoD.

The showcase day is a chance for us to celebrate and is fantastic event where the military ‘dependant’ community show-off their new start-up businesses made possible by help from the course and is also attended by VIPs from the military and MoD. The venue is amazing, smack bang in the centre of Canary Wharf, up on the 16th floor overlooking views of the top financial centres in the world! It was a very special place to be, and quite an intimidating place to be presenting my first ever public talk about business!

As a graduate from Cohort 2 in 2013 and an Ambassador for the course I was asked by the University of Wolverhampton, who run the course, to give a speech about  Design Jessica and the progress that the agency has made in the last three years since I attended the course. Here’s a snippet of what I said…

“I am Jess Sands and I run a design agency called Design Jessica where I create bespoke designs for a diverse range of clients including charities, sports teams and local businesses. Since graduating with honours from Bath Spa University, I have built a portfolio of experience designing for some prestigious companies, including Oxford University Press, Parragon Books, the Saïd Business School and of course the University of Wolverhampton and the Supporting the Unsung Hero Business Start-up course.

I specialize in company branding and corporate design and have branded a few companies that you see here today and other graduates from the course. These companies employ me as their brand advisor, and as a bolt on design agency using my skills and experience to make sure everything looks as great as possible and has a professional on brand finish.


But it wasn’t always this way. Back in 2013, after spotting a tiny advert in the RAF Families Federation magazine I phoned the university to find out about the SUH course. After a glittering career as an award winning designer for Disney, Mr.Men and even the Keep Calm and Carry On Range I’d left my job to follow my future husband, a Hercules pilot,  to RAF Brize Norton, a place it seems where all spouse careers go to die!

I was living a very lonely life as an unemployable trailing spouse. Not only did no-one want to employ a woman at ‘child bearing age’ I’d also had at least three job interviews go south as soon as they’d heard about my military husband and the reality that I wouldn’t be around for more than two years. My husband was in Afghanistan, I didn’t know anyone, I was away from my family –  I was thoroughly fed up! I knew that I needed to claw back some of my career and start doing something that I loved. That October I enrolled onto Cohort 2 and off I went to Wolverhampton where I found a whole group of likeminded spouses, both men and women also a little lost but with great business ideas. Together we worked through the course and supported each other to build our blossoming businesses.

Three years of hard work later my agency is a success and I now create branding and marketing material for some of the most amazing companies such as Investec, the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund and OrthoEurope. I am the lead designer at Forces Enterprise Network where we work with the Army Widows Association, UbiTech and the University, and I am especially proud of the work recently done for the New FEN HUB with Recruit for Spouses and Evolution Forces Families. And now look at me, doing a talk at HSBC HQ! I am 100% certain that without the course I couldn’t have achieved any of this.


The support I have received then and ever since has been fantastic. The community of spouse business owners we have built up means that we never have to go far to find what we need for our own businesses.

As a creative type I cannot tell you in words very well how much my business means to me but I am going to try. Although it’s a lot of hard work and effort it’s my link to the real world. No matter what’s happening at home it’s the best distraction from another detachment. It’s a talking point at another boring mess function and it has re-affirmed that I am not just my husbands plus-one.

And yes, my house is never tidy and sometimes the poor cats have to remind me to feed them but I am the happiest I think I have ever been. I’m not allowed to tell you where my husband is at the moment but what I can tell you is that for the little time I get to talk to him while he is away in the most terrible parts of the world he knows that I am busy and happy which means that he can focus on the important work that he has to do.”

And that really is the point of the whole course. It’s tricky being married to a serving member of the Armed Forces but the SUH course has allowed me to run a business that I love and has given me back my sense of identity.

I encourage everyone thinking of starting their own business to seek out this course and see what it can do for them, it has literally changed my life!

Not only that but Design Jessica was presented with its first ever business award for Support of the Delegates and I couldn’t be more proud! I have loved what the SUH course has done for my business and to be recognised by them is wonderful.




If you’d like to join the course you can find details here

Special thanks to Sam Wildridge – Fine Art Photographer for the beautiful photos and a huge thank you to my amazing sister Edwina from E.Tyrrell Media who supported me throughout the day – I couldn’t have done it without you!