Many of the best business ideas come about when a niche is spotted and an entrepreneur moves to fill it - and startups, being agile and smaller, can do this better than any other type of business.

Insignia Crew is a business providing Superyacht crew that have a background in the British Armed Forces, with a focus on the Royal Marines. We chatted to founder Andrew Holme about the business.

Insignia Crew

Explain your business in thirty seconds or less

Insignia Crew is a niche MLC compliant Superyacht crew agency, whose USP is the pool from which it draws its elite candidates from, who in the main are all former Royal Marines. Insignia Crew was founded with two main drivers in mind. To address a clear gap in the Superyacht industry for committed, professional and disciplined deck crew and to provide the British Armed forces with a key focus on the Royal Marines an opportunity to consider the Superyacht industry as a robust and sensible second career choice once their service time has come to an end. The Superyacht industry demands only the very highest standards from those who are lucky enough to work within its boundaries, standards that typically a former Royal Marine or member of the British Armed Forces clearly understand and are able to maintain with ease. As the Superyacht industry advances both technologically and also from a design and build perspective so the demand has increased for multi skilled, confident and dynamic crew. Insignia Crew candidate’s hold an enviable multiple set of transferable skills that meet and perfectly match the demands of a modern Superyacht industry. 

Where are you based and why is it a good location for your business?

Insignia Crew is currently based in Bristol. This has proven to be a strong central location for both client meetings and candidate interviews alike. Its transport infrastructure allows easy access for those visiting Insignia Crew on business and also provides a strong hub airport for frequent international business travel.

How did you come up with the idea?

I identified that the Superyacht industry was in need of multi skilled elite deck crew whilst serving on-board a private 70-meter Superyacht as both a member of the deck crew department and also as the principle's close protection officer on-board. Although I spent a great deal of time in Antibes in 2008 speaking to crew agents to establish myself as available and therefore available for hire, I was rejected by all as being too old and as I did not hold any industry experience, I was told that I would find it hard to land my first role. However, using my network and also leaning on a little good fortune, I was introduced to the Captain in charge of a 70-meter Superyacht who employed me immediately. He had been looking for a former British serviceman to join the team, with a preference for the Royal Marines for some time, but was unable to establish where to look for someone with this background. I served 18 very enjoyable months on-board prior to entering the Maritime Security industry in early 2010.

Virgin StartUp of the Week - Insignia Crew

What stage was your business at when you applied for the Start Up Loan?

Insignia Crew was still in its pre-launch planning stage when the Virgin Start Up loan was applied for.

How have you used it to grow your business?

The Virgin Start Up Loan was an essential shot in the arm for the Insignia Crew business. We needed funds to develop our website and branding proposition, areas I was not overly confident in. We also needed a serious IT suite to allow us to deal with enquiries from clients and candidates alike, a business-critical element to the success of the idea. Virgin Start Up funds were also used in support of a serious marketing push when we launched in January of this year - this was achieved through Yachting Pages, whose head offices are based in Bristol.

Who is your mentor and how have they helped you?

My mentor is Mark Leruste. Mark is quite simply my port in a storm. From the moment I was introduced to Mark, I felt at ease. His professional and calming manner have been instrumental in helping me understand what I have achieved to date, where I am currently in my thought process and where I have to go in order to make Insignia Crew a lasting success. Mark is an excellent communicator and a real authority on business success and growth; he clearly understands the pressures of launching a new business and provides rock solid advice and thought-provoking questions in order to stimulate positive outcomes at every turn.

Virgin StartUp of the Week - Insignia Crew

Who helped you get a startup loan?

Alyson Eyval from Business West provided extremely good support and advise throughout the Virgin Start Up loan process. Alyson is a real professional and without her support, my journey would have been more complicated.

Biggest achievement so far?

Aside from being awarded our MLC 2006 Certificate of Conformity by the MCA in March of this year. Insignia Crew have placed 4 former British Servicemen in to the Superyacht sector - three have been former Royal Marines and one a former Royal Naval rating. We are also working with a number of clients who have specifically requested a former British serviceman to be part of their crew. The appointments we have had confirmed have all been big achievements for Insignia Crew and each and every future placement will hold special significance. Insignia Crew is growing its business by providing a new, fresh and exciting career choice for those leaving the Royal Marines and British Armed Forces who wish to join the Superyacht industry. The satisfaction felt when an Insignia Crew candidate has a role confirmed is very special, and the feedback from those we support be that client or candidate is also very positive. We are building business by doing good and I feel privileged to be able to play a part in this.  

What’s next for your business?

Insignia Crew continues to build its reputation and credibility throughout its client base and also throughout its network within the Royal Marines and British Armed forces. As we are only as strong as the candidates we support, we aim to continue to build our database with a pool of vetted and committed candidates who wish to enter the industry. In addition to international business development trips and a strong marketing push for this season, we aim to hold a second industry briefing afternoon in Bristol, where guest speakers from the industry support the Insignia Crew team with their knowledge and expertise - we would expect over 50 candidates and prospective candidates to attend. We also aim to introduce a number of additional silos to the business in the near future that will again address the needs of both the industry and more importantly the owners, where niche provision of a particular service is lacking.

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