Belfast Telegraph

Big US business brains to help Northern Ireland firms grow

By Rebecca Kincaid

Representatives from five Northern Ireland firms are jetting off to learn the ropes from executives at Microsoft and Boeing as they fly the flag for our homegrown companies in Seattle and Vancouver.

Ian Haldane of building supplier Haldane Shiells Group, Michael and Lorraine Hall of snack firm Kestrel Foods, Ian Wilson of Wilsons Auctions, Mark Hutchinson from Hutchinson Engineering and Stuart Dobson from offal exporter Elmgrove Foods are all finalists in the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year competition, which is run in 145 cities in more than 60 countries.

The group will take part in the "CEO retreat", which will include tours of EA Sports, Hootsuite, the Microsoft global headquarters and a visit to the Boeing factory and Dreamliner gallery, where they will enjoy a keynote address from Boeing's global chief executive.

The finalists will also have one-to-one sessions with the top business brains driving growth in some of the world's largest multinationals.

Other entrepreneurs, political leaders, venture capitalists and creatives will meet the group to discuss how they created a vision for their own careers and businesses.

The packed itinerary for the trip to Vancouver and Seattle also includes a visit to two of the world's top 30 universities – the University of Washington and University of British Columbia – as well as guest lectures from Singularity University.

Frank O'Keeffe, Ernst & Young's partner-in-charge of the competition, said it was "brilliant" to see such a strong representation of five companies from Northern Ireland appear in the 24 finalists.

"It is well-recognised that indigenous business leaders from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are better than most at building relationships, embracing technology and taking opportunities to reach out to a global audience," he said.

"We open the competition to three categories – emerging, industry and international – to try to involve as many entrepreneurs as possible.

"All of those who have reached this point have demonstrated phenomenal innovation and the vision to make their business a success."

Previous Northern Ireland winners of the Ireland competition, Peter Fitzgerald of diagnostics company Randox in 2004 and Brian Conlon of Newry financial software firm First Derivatives in 2010, both triumphed in the international categories.

Martin Hamilton, Mash Direct, was a finalist in last year's Ireland Entrepreneur of the Year competition after emerging as a winner in the Northern Ireland heat. He said that his success allowed him to crack America by helping him to secure a deal with US wholesaler Costco.

The first shipment of vegetables from his Comber company left for the USA last month.

Mr O'Keefe added: "We've centred this year's CEO retreat on equipping our entrepreneurs with the knowledge, tools and networks to develop a global vision for their respective businesses and build the highest-performing teams to bring those visions to life."

Other attendees on the trip will include members of the competition alumni like Anne Heraty, Terry Clune and Jerry Kennelly, who are all now on a judging panel alongside chairman of Padraig O Ceidigh.

The panel will also feature Denis O'Brien, Liam Casey, Brian Long, Pat McDonagh and Dr Edmond Harty.

The programme is supported by Invest Northern Ireland, Intertrade Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, the Irish Times, RTE and Newstalk. The category winners as well as the overall winner will be announced at a ceremony in Dublin on October 23.

The overall winner will then go on to participate at the World Entrepreneur of the Year event in Monte Carlo in June 2015.

Belfast Telegraph