'Jersey has to be attractive for more than just going paddle boarding and enjoying a barbecue on the beach'

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Entrepreneur Aaron Chatterley tells Emily Moore about the biggest hurdles to setting up shop in Jersey

HAVING co-founded Feelunique in 2005, invested in a number of businesses since 2012 and recently set up a further two firms, Aaron Chatterley has plenty of insight when it comes to the challenges and opportunities facing those launching companies in the Island.

And he is in no doubt that the greatest difficulty, particularly for those looking to establish non-finance-related enterprises, is a lack of skills.

‘When we launched Feelunique, that wasn’t such a big problem because, at that point, only a handful of organisations were looking for staff with digital, design, marketing and coding skills,’ he reflected. ‘As a result, we gave people with those interests an alternative to the more obvious career choices.

‘The difference now is that every business, in every sector, wants people with those skills and, while Jersey can provide some great jobs, it struggles to attract people because of its high cost of living.’

Indeed, affordable accommodation is, Aaron believes, key both to keeping local people in the Island and to attracting skilled workers to our shores.

‘Jersey has to be attractive for more than just going paddleboarding and enjoying a barbecue on the beach,’ he said. ‘We need to provide affordable accommodation because people will not want to work here unless they can afford to live without massively comprising their lifestyle.’

While he does not pretend to have all of the answers, Aaron says you only have to look at other jurisdictions to see examples of innovative approaches to this challenge.

‘Shared living spaces are increasingly popular and, while this falls way beyond my area of expertise, I have seen many places where cruise ships or office blocks have been converted into these really vibrant developments which combine apartment living with shared cooking and living spaces,’ he said. ‘Some of these places have an amazing sense of community and I think that if you’re asking young people to come and work here, offering that sort of accommodation would really increase the Island’s appeal.’

But, as Aaron acknowledges, the cost of accommodation is not the only challenge when it comes to addressing the Island’s skills shortage.

‘While the cost of living is high, Jersey has quite a high degree of cultural and ethnic diversity and I don’t think we always recognise the value of that,’ he said. ‘So often I hear people talking about how important it is for youngsters to leave the Island and experience the “real world”. But I don’t think that the grass is greener elsewhere and I don’t see it as a necessity for people to move away for the sake of their personal growth.’

With skills in top position on his list of challenges to opening a business, the second-biggest problem, Aaron says, is of a regulatory nature.

‘The regulatory landscape has changed since we launched Feelunique and certain things have become easier while others are now much harder,’ he reflected.

‘At that point, it was much easier to open a bank account but funding was harder to obtain. We were not super wealthy at the time, so going from full-time employment to working for ourselves – which means we had a Social Security bill of several thousand pound, a mortgage to pay and a start-up salary, which is generally the square root of nothing – required a brave decision. Now, the Social Security Startup Plan significantly lowers the contributions that new-business owners have to pay, so one of the core challenges we faced has been addressed.

‘However, opening a bank account and forming a company has become much harder, as the Island is so tied up in governance and risk protection that, whether you want to open a bank or a two-man plumbing business, you have to go through the same amount of red tape.’

To illustrate the challenges faced by local businesspeople, Aaron cites the difference between establishing a firm in Jersey and London.

‘About 18 months ago, we invested in a Jersey-based business called Swicha, which refurbishes mobile phones,’ he said. ‘It took us close to four months to open the bank account and several weeks to complete the company formation. Contrast that with Indu – a teenage make-up and skincare business which we recently launched in London – where it took us 30 minutes to open a bank account and less than 15 minutes to form the limited company through the Companies House website.’

Despite the ‘pain and tediousness’ that comes with having to jump through these hoops, Aaron says that ‘a lot is being done’ to support start-ups in the Island.

‘Digital Jersey and Jersey Business have done an awful lot to help signpost the way, and the Social Security Department is also very helpful,’ he said. ‘There is a huge amount of innovation still in Jersey and I still believe that the Island is a great place for businesses not only to launch but also to scale up. I think we just need to work further on that signposting so that people know where to go to access the information they need.’

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