Companies leading the local economy back to better times
The all-island Ulster Bank Business Achievers Awards final takes place in Dublin on April 14. Among those set to battle it out with the best of Irish companies are some of Northern Ireland's most innovative set-ups
There's been no end of commentary in recent months about how important innovative entrepreneurs are to reinvigorating the local economy.
With that in mind, we take a look at the people who are out there walking the walk through hard work, determination and, most importantly, innovation. Without them, the local economy would be lost.
Seven Northern Ireland companies and one from Donegal are going head-to-head with businesses from across the island to compete for the prestigious Ulster Bank Business Achievers Awards. The winners will be announced at the Mansion House in Dublin on April 14.
The Ulster firms were selected for the all-island competition by winning prizes in the Ulster heats of the awards, which are run in association with the Belfast Telegraph and supported by Invest NI and IntertradeIreland.
Ulster Bank's head of business and commercial banking in Northern Ireland, Ian Jordan, praised the Ulster companies.
"There were almost 400 entries to the awards this year, which in itself is encouraging.
"Even more pleasing was the high quality of many of the entries, including a large number of new and emerging companies," he said.
"We wish them the very best of luck in the all-island stage of the competition. I am confident that they will do the local economy proud."
Here we take a brief look at the stories behind these innovative Northern Ireland businesses.
International Business Award - Andor Technology
Andor Technology plc is based in Belfast and operates at the high-value end of the global scientific digital camera market.
Set up in 1989 out of Queens University, Belfast, Andor, which posted record turnover of £42.7m for 2010, now employs over 305 people in 16 offices worldwide and distributes its products to over 10,000 customers across 55 countries.
Andor designs and manufactures low-lighting imaging cameras, spectroscopy solutions and microscopy systems.
They are renowned throughout the world for their innovation and excellence. Andor has built this reputation throughout its 21 years in operation.
Best Start-up Award BubbleBum UK Ltd
Within the past 12 months, Londonderry entrepreneur Grainne Kelly has taken her world-first BubbleBum inflatable car booster seat from invention through to production, and significant global sales.
Bubblebum is inflatable, and therefore convenient, and its funky design and name appeal to children. BubbleBum has been approved under United Nations ECE Regulations R44/04 and also meets the Federal requirements for the USA.
BubbleBum's unique selling point is that, due to its innovative nature, it has no direct competitors. The company's ultimate goal is to reduce preventable injuries and fatalities of children as a result of road traffic collisions, and to have the product distributed and available in as many countries throughout the world as possible.
Family Run Business - Wilson's Auctions Ltd
This family-owned business was formed in 1936 by William J Wilson and originally began as an agriculture auction 75 years ago. Now directed by William's son Ian, the company has grown to become the largest independent auction company in the UK and Ireland.
The company has a management team that includes all of Ian's three children - Ricky, Gareth and Rebecca - who are fully trained in their areas of expertise.
They have recently won a Deloitte Best Managed Companies Award for the second year running.
It has also recently been awarded a seven-year, £14m contract by the UK Border Agency to dispose of all seized assets nationally for the agency.
Wilson's Auctions was responsible for the first car auction in Ireland and currently operates from seven purpose-built auction centres across the UK, including Northern Ireland (Mallusk and Portadown) the Republic of Ireland (Dublin), Scotland (Dalry), England (Telford and Stratford Upon Avon) and Wales (Queensferry).
Green Business Award - Envirogreen Recycling
Established in August 2009, Tyrone-based Envirogreen Recycling Ltd is a multi-award winning environmental services company that provides bespoke recycling solutions to commercial clients and councils throughout Ireland.
Overseen by Conor Guy, Envirogreen Recycling has a growing reputation for delivering efficient and reliable recycling services to clients. Envirogreen Recycling has become the first company in Ireland to introduce a mattress recycling service for commercial clients.
One of the company's innovations includes the introduction of a carbon saving recycling report for all its clients that enables them to find how much co2 they have saved.
Service to Business Award - Autoline Insurance
Established for 35 years with headquarters in Newry and branches across Northern Ireland, Autoline has diversified significantly throughout its history. It is now one of NI's leading independent brokers of business, motor, home and travel insurance.
It also offers a range of financial services including corporate and personal financial planning, pension advice, private healthcare, asset finance and foreign exchange all for both businesses and individuals.
The company has experienced year-on-year growth for the past 10 years through a combination of entrepreneurial leadership and the realisation of an ambitious diversification strategy, in addition to acquisition.
Autoline invests heavily in its 121 staff, with each individual employee building their own personal development plan to fit with career aspirations and internal promotion being key in succession planning. The management ethos is that "people buy from people" and as clients are looking for trusted and specialist advice, Autoline strives to be an employer of choice by attracting, recruiting and developing the best talent available.
Agri Food and Drink Award - Wilson's Country Ltd
Established in 1987 and based in Co Armagh, Wilson's Country Ltd has consistently grown over the years and today the Wilson's brand is available throughout Ireland in the majority of supermarkets.
Wilson's is recognised as the leading pre-pack potato brand in Ireland. It supplies Wilson's branded, customer own-label pre-pack potatoes and also Albert Bartlett Rooster potatoes to many supermarkets on the island, including Asda, Co-op, Dunnes (Northern Ireland and RoI), M&S, Musgraves SuperValu Centra (Northern Ireland and RoI), Sainsbury, SPAR, Tesco and Tesco Ireland. As well as pre-packing potatoes, the company also peels potatoes for the food service sector.
This product is supplied to a range of distributors both in NI and ROI.
Innovation & Emerging Technology Award - Wholeschool Software
Belfast-based Wholeschool Software Limited ( www.wholeschool.ie) provides online software for schools. This helps with everything from lesson, curriculum and school development planning for teachers to sophisticated websites and integrated learning environments.
Wholeschool uses the very latest software techniques.
Their growth has been rapid and in the last few years alone, over 50% of the teachers in the post primary sector in Northern Ireland now use at least one of Wholeschool's 10 software services.
Wholeschool is working with some of the largest global technology companies for the internationalisation of their software services.
Social Enterprise - Donegal County Enterprise Fund
Donegal County Enterprise Fund Ltd was established in 1989 with initial funding from the International Fund for Ireland, which matched locally raised funding at a rate of 4:1. This created a revolving loan fund to provide micro credit loan facilities to small and micro businesses in Donegal.
The fund is a not-for profit organisation, run by a voluntary board of directors and has loan fund operational costs of less than €30,000 pear annum.
The fund has recently been approved by the Social Finance Foundation as an intermediary funding body and this gives the fund access to a significant additional line of credit.
Since 1989, the fund has approved 163 small business loans for its core main loan scheme, approved and paid 285 loans to the unemployed sector and 118 loans to female entrepreneurs.
Global success for two companies last year
The overseas successes of two Northern Ireland companies helped them secure prestigious all-island awards in last year's Ulster Bank Business Achievers Awards.
Kestrel Foods which has grown its business outside of Northern Ireland to 90% of overall sales, was selected by judges from a shortlist of leading agri food and drink companies from across Ireland.
First Derivatives a leading global provider of technology solutions to the capital markets sector, was chosen for special recognition due to impressive growth and a number of successful recent acquisitions.
Last year's winners
Last year's winners of the Ulster Bank Business Achivers Awards were:
Best Business Start-up Award - Europharma Concepts Ltd
Social Entrepreneurship Award - Cork Academy of Music
Green Business Award - I.C.E Comfort Slat Mats Ltd
One to Watch Award - Decawave
Family Run Business Award - Silver Hill Foods
Agriculture-Food and Drink Award - Kestrel Foods Ltd
International Business Award - PM Group
Emerging Technology Award - Pro Vac Ltd
Judges Special Recognition - First Derivatives
Overall Ulster Bank Business Achievers 2009 Winner - PM Group