Suffolk mum named one of country's top female entrepreneurs
- Credit: Gregg Brown
A mum-of-two from Suffolk, who started her own business after having a "lightbulb moment" at her cousin's wedding, has been named one of the country's top female entrepreneurs.
Jenna Ackerley, who grew up in Felixstowe and lives in East Bergholt, is one of 200 women to be recognised in J.P. Morgan's list - which shines a light on the top female-powered businesses in the UK.
Mrs Ackerley is the director of Events Under Canvas, a wedding and events tipi company which is based in Capel St Mary.
She said she was "surprised" to hear she had received the accolade.
Her love for tipis began back in 2013, when her cousin hired tipis out for her wedding.
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She said she was "struck" by the structures and knew this was the business path she wanted to go down.
"I'd always been very entrepreneurial, and I wanted to start my own business - I just didn't know what," said the 41-year-old.
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"It was a lightbulb moment really, there was no big plan. And I did not expect it to be so successful in its first year. I thought it would be something I did on the side."
Mrs Ackerley started by purchasing three tipis.
She thought if she could just do 12 weddings a year, it would be viable.
Yet she managed to smash her target and host 56 weddings in her first year.
She even saw bookings come in for Latitude Festival and Jimmy's Farm within the first few months.
"There was a real demand in the region," said Mrs Ackerley.
"We really focused on our customer service and our customer base grew really quick.
"We had lots of referrals and it's springboarded from there."
Mrs Ackerley first got a taste for running her own business while living overseas in her 20s, running a recruitment company to support her "wanderlust for travel".
Then she returned to Ipswich to work in recruitment, and later as a manager at Ipswich Hospital.
She launched Events Under Canvas from scratch in 2013, running the business from her front room until three years ago.
Now in its eight year, the business has gone from strength to strength and is being forced to turn people away due to its rising demand.
In 2019, it hosted 250 events. From now until October, it is set to have 350 events - with the capacity to cater for 20 per weekend.
During Covid, Mrs Ackerley rented out the tipis to schools, bars and pubs, to help them accommodate for the rise in outside dining.
"It has all really kicked off, and we are going to be flat out until October," she said.
"Once all wedding restrictions were lifted last week, we had 20 events go ahead.
"It feels great to be back, and to have our teams off furlough.
"We have seen a huge increase in demand in the last month especially, and apart from the glitch last year we have seen growth each year of around 20-50%."
Speaking of being named 140th in the list, Mrs Ackerley said: "It's been such a nice surprise and a big lift.
"I'm really proud. I don't really think about the fact that I am a woman, it's just about doing a good job.
"Most of my managing staff are female, including my mentor, and the majority of the operational members are men. We have a really diverse team."
Mrs Ackerley's next focus is recovering from the damage caused by Covid last year.
She said she is "breathing a sigh of relief" now that weddings are returning.
"We will just keep doing what we do well, and we will look to scale up in the future.
"But for now, it's all about solidifying everything after a rollercoaster of a year."