Former RAF serviceman sets up own business thanks to Sunderland project to help veterans become entrepreneurs
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A project supporting Armed Forces veterans to set up their own businesses in the city has been celebrating its first success after former RAF electrical engineer Tony Sullivan opened his own cleaning enterprise.
The Veterans RV is a 12-week project run by the North East BIC to help veterans explore the idea of becoming their own boss.
After graduating from the course, Tony, from Sunderland, has used the training to develop specialist cleaning company, All Things Decontamination, also harnessing experience he gained in the medical and environmental decontamination industry since leaving the forces.
The company operates from BIC’s co-working space in Sunderland and Tony has just celebrated winning a number of cleaning contracts.
He said: “Things are really gathering momentum since the course. After years of working in large organisations, I started my own business with plenty of ideas but no real structure.
"So to suddenly have expert business advisers and the energy of a team of ex-forces people on my side made a massive difference.
“You miss the camaraderie when you leave the forces, it’s something that never leaves you. So it has been great to be amongst like-minded people starting their own businesses and keen to help each other.”
Tony left the RAF in 2002 after 23 years of service and moved into the decontamination industry – a career that led him into management positions in both the private sector and the NHS, and troubleshooting roles around the world.
During Covid, his work as an NHS cleaning specialist saw him focus on training people to deal with the virus in schools, universities, football clubs and hospitals, culminating in managing decontamination teams at the Commonwealth Games.
Tony’s role became redundant in March last year (2023), as the UK got to grips with the pandemic and he decided to use his redundancy money to finance his long-term dream to work for himself.
He set up All Things Decontamination to provide advice, support and training on medical device and environmental decontamination issues using environmentally-friendly chemistry and the most effective techniques.
Tony said: “There were plenty of jobs I could have walked into, or I could have just decided to take it easy and played golf all day. But there’s so much I want to do and my redundancy money gave me the impetus to finally start the business I’ve had in my mind for a long time.
“My ultimate aim is to raise the visibility of the industry because decontamination is what I call ‘a Cinderella service’. It’s not appreciated or properly valued because it’s a behind-the-scenes job, yet without medical devices being decontaminated or public and clinical areas cleaned to a professional standard, hospitals simply could not run.
“I want to change things, so decontamination is recognised as a skill set and the people who do such important work get the credit and respect they deserve.”
Tony worked alongside 16 other veterans during the programme which was designed to channel many of the skills developed in the forces into becoming successful entrepreneurs.
Nine new businesses are now being established by the veterans.
Former soldier and the BIC’s business adviser and Armed Forces ambassador, Anthony McDermott, helped design and run the programme for fellow veterans. He said: “It’s incredibly exciting to see Tony’s business developing so well following his experience on the programme.
“He already had the experience and reputation for high standards to make it a success and now he has the business skills and support network too. Even better, he’s joined the thriving community at the BIC long-term, by deciding to locate here.
“The success of the programme has further highlighted to us how much untapped entrepreneurial potential there is in the veteran community. We are committed to developing this through our start-up support.”
Details about the support available to set up your own business can be found on the North East BIC website.