To mark International Women’s Day the University of Sunderland has been finding out how one young entrepreneur has pioneered her own path to success.

Just over a year ago Sunderland business graduate Fern Snailham started out with £800 in her pocket, zero staff and an ambition to grow her own business.

That grit, determination and entrepreneurial mind-set have paid off as her promotional staffing agency UNEEK Staffing has grown into a flourishing business with a projected turnover of more than £225k, a database of over 3,500 staff and a list of clients running the length and breadth of the country, from small businesses to major blue-chip companies.

The 24-year-old’s efforts have seen her named a Duke of York Young Entrepreneur of the Year and led to the business expanding into the hospitality sector, as a result of demand.

She’s recently moved into new premises in Team Valley, Gateshead, to cope with the growth, having been given her start by the Enterprise Place, the University’s business support facility which gave her access to their co-working office space in Hope Street Xchange, Sunderland’s centre for enterprise and innovation.

Added to the list of recent achievements, the first-class Business Management graduate is also making a name for herself in the modelling industry having been shortlisted as a finalist for Top Model of Durham 2019.

“It has been crazy since I launched UNEEK staffing in 2017,” explained Fern, from Stanley, County Durham. “My biggest challenge has been managing the growth of the business. It’s certainly not a 9 to 5, more like 24/7 but it never feels like a job as I love what I do so much.

“My knowledge of dealing with clients and situations have developed so much, I’ve had to learn everything pretty quickly. I even had to develop my own website from scratch, as funds were tight when I first started out, but it’s been all worth it. Luckily I could draw on all the expertise around the Enterprise Place which has been invaluable.

“I’m so pleased I took the plunge and had the confidence to go out and grow my own business from just myself in the field to now supplying over 3,500 promotional and event staff for all sectors UK wide.”

She added: “The modelling is something I’ve been doing for about five years, and provides a platform for me to be a good role model in the community and raise money for a good cause.

“I want to prove the misconception of beauty pageants as superficial. I want to empower women to be comfortable in their own skin for those who need a reminder that beauty is unique and women come in all shapes and sizes. I also want to inspire women to follow their dreams, reaching their career and personal goals. Winning the title of Top Model of Durham would allow me to grow as a role model and motivational speaker, sharing my experiences and show that an empowered woman can achieve anything.”

Fern’s lightbulb moment to launch UNEEK Staffing came after she spent a year freelancing across the UK promoting new products and raising brand awareness in everything from supermarket products to cars.

The work offered her the freedom and flexibility of being her own boss but she decided she needed the business qualifications to support those ambitions, and signed up for a Business Management degree at the University Sunderland.

“I freelanced for several years within the promotions and events industry and saw many issues within the industry and thought ‘there’s got to be a better way’.”

Fern has now built up an in-house database of hand-picked, reliable promotional staff, covering the UK. She matches personalities to brands to convey key messages, and deliver a positive, memorable brand experience.

She says: “All our staff are vetted, and we hold audition days up and down the country. When I worked in this industry, I came across situations in which some agencies would send anyone to promote the products, but who weren’t necessarily right for the role, the personality and the brand were just completely off. We wanted to make sure we match people’s personalities to the correct brand, to make sure it’s the correct fit for the campaign.”

She added that due to the demand for her promotional staff, Fern began receiving requests from repeat clients to provide hospitality staff for key events, from racecourses to football grounds.

Also keen to develop students’ employment skills, Fern, has provided 10 placements and internships to Sunderland students over the past year, and she has plans to recruit a further five full-time staff as the expansion of her business grows.

She said: “While we look to expand UNEEK Staffing, we will always secure a main base in the North East. I always want to contribute to the local economy, helping with graduate jobs and general employment within the region.

“I am also a massive advocate for empowering women in all aspects of their life, particularly when it comes to entrepreneurship and business. I think in the past there have been a lot of barriers for women reaching the top level, but the barriers are being broken now and women need to realise they can achieve equally the same as men if not more.”

Laura Foster, Enterprise Place Manager, said: “Since joining the Enterprise Place in 2017, we’ve seen Fern go from strength-to-strength. She has shown determination and passion and is an inspirational example of a graduate entrepreneur. She fully deserves her success and we have every confidence her business will continue to flourish.”

For more information on UNEEK Staffing, go to: https://www.uneekstaffing.co.uk/