It's the time of year every high-growth, forward-thinking and innovative Northern Ireland business has been waiting for. No more do you bright sparks of industry need to hide your light under a bushel, your headlines under embargo or your success under a shadow, because The Belfast Telegraph Business Awards in association with British Airways are back, and this time they're better than ever.
Last year, Northern Ireland's most prestigious business awards managed to draw out talent which is not just the best on these shores, but which would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best in the world.
And this year, the 12th year of the event, the accomplished judging panel are quietly confident that even more hidden gems and not-so-hidden gems will be uncovered.
The stalwart cast of judges is headed by Professor John Simpson and represent the top leaders in sectors across the economic landscape, all with a keen eye for a sound business.
"The Business Awards are the premier symbol in Northern Ireland of commercial, industrial and social enterprise achievements," he said.
"Our task as judges is made easier because we will be examining the achievements of so many progressive, leading businesses. Our task is, however, also difficult, as we make the awards to some of the 'best' from amongst the 'best'.
"This year, after the worst challenges of recent years, businesses will be reflecting the strengthening of their successes after the earlier years, when survival was often in question.
Winning one of the awards will be a recognition of dedication, success and unique achievements.
"We look forward to the challenge of reading the many entries and deciding on the top-achieving businesses."
British Airways, which has a long association with the business community in Northern Ireland, will again sponsor this year's awards.
Brenda Morgan from BA said she's looking forward to the awards.
Categories cover all aspects of the economy, including marketing, exporting, management and leadership, innovation, technology and corporate social responsibility.
And in keeping with the changing times, the 2014 awards include a new category – Best Use of Digital and/or Social Media – which is sure to appeal to one of the most exciting sectors in the Northern Ireland economy.
Last year's winners have benefited greatly since taking the top titles, no more so than Alistair Forsyth from Anaconda Equipment, the Dungannon engineering company which picked up the prize for Business of the Year.
"The Belfast Telegraph Business Awards are a chance for Northern Ireland's local industry to showcase its calibre," he said. "We at Anaconda Equipment were extremely proud to be named the 2013 Business of the Year from a vast gene pool of highly successful businesses across a diverse spectrum of industries.
"It is awards like these which increase the profile of a company and help to cement our position as a credible leading manufacturer of equipment on the global platform."
One of those who got more of a surprise than most at last year's awards was Patrick Hurst from Whale Pumps in Bangor. He said he was "honoured" to be selected for the accolade of Business Person of the Year.
"The Belfast Telegraph Business Person of the Year Award was totally unexpected and it was a great honour to have received it in 2013," Mr Hurst said.
"What a surprise on the night to have had my name called out, and it's a great recognition of the superb team who work in Whale (Munster Simms). Definitely a highlight of my career."
Closing date for submissions to the 2014 Belfast Telegraph Business Awards, in association with British Airways, is 12pm on Thursday, February 13, 2014.
For further details visit www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/business-awards.
The gala awards dinner will take place on Thursday, March 27, 2014 at the Culloden Hotel. A table of 10 is £900+Vat and individual places are £100+Vat.
For further information or to book a table contact Sarah Weir (JPR) on 028 9076 0066 or email email@example.com
Sponsoring these awards shows BA's commitment to local business
By Brenda Morgan, BA's Partnership Manager
British Airways is delighted to announce our sponsorship of the prestigious Belfast Telegraph Business Awards for the second consecutive year.
As the most respected awards ceremony in Northern Ireland, it provides British Airways with the perfect opportunity to acknowledge local excellence demonstrated in major areas of business life including export, marketing, innovation and service provision.
British Airways is committed to serving the local business community and it is important that we recognise the outstanding performances of companies who have become a vital key to Northern Ireland's economic growth and success. Often operating under testing market conditions, these achievements are testament to the determination of leading businesses across Northern Ireland.
Belfast City to London Heathrow is an important route for BA and crucial to the Northern Ireland economy. The service also provides connectivity for local business passengers and cargo traffic to the airline's extensive global network of almost 130 destinations worldwide from London Heathrow – essential for the continued development of business, commerce and tourism.
Business passengers can choose from up to six flights a day from Belfast City to London Heathrow with a range of departure times.
BA's 'On Business' loyalty programme also ensures that your business travel budget can go further, earning On Business points on every qualifying flight taken.
Finally, we'd like to encourage all businesses to take time and enter the 2014 Business Awards. Not only will well deserved success at the event provide a strong platform to highlight the merits of your own business, but the awards ceremony itself also serves to emphasise the strength of Northern Ireland businesses.
British Airways wishes you every success with your entries.
1. Excellence in Marketing, sponsored by Ulster Business School
2. Excellence in Exporting, sponsored by Danske Bank
3. Excellence in the Development of Management and Leadership, sponsored by Department for Employment and Learning
4. Excellence in Innovation
5. Outstanding Service to Business
6. Best use of Digital and/or Social Media – NEW CATEGORY
7. Young Businessperson of the Year
8. Excellence in Technology, sponsored by Cleaver Fulton Rankin
9. Best Small/Medium Business, sponsored by Invest Northern Ireland
10. Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility
Judges' Awards, Sponsored by British Airways:
11. Businessperson of the Year
12. Outstanding Business of the Year
Professor John Simpson OBE, chairman of judges
Alastair Hamilton, chief executive of Invest NI
Anne McGregor MBE, chief executive of the NI Chamber of Commerce
Dr Joanne Stuart, OBE, director at Attrus Ltd
Colin Walsh, incoming chairman of CBI and managing director of Crescent Capital
Professor Neil Gibson, director of NI Centre of Economic Policy
Robert Kennedy, Caterpillar operations director (NI)
Jackie Henry, partner at Deloitte