Ernst & Young's hunt for entrepreneurs in Northern Ireland begins
Business advisers Ernst & Young's search for Northern Ireland's top entrepreneurs has begun, as the managing director of Mash Direct revealed his success last year helped him crack America.
Mashed vegetable maestro Martin Hamilton divulged the deal with US wholesaler Costco as EY launched this year's search for the cream of Northern Ireland's entrepreneurial talent.
Mr Hamilton, whose products are sold in supermarkets around the UK, was a finalist in last year's Ireland Entrepreneur of the Year competition after emerging as a winner in the Northern Ireland heat.
The programme involved a week-long trip to meet businesspeople and business academics in the US, where the Co Down businessman said he had been "completely riveted" by the rags-to-riches success of US yoghurt entrepreneur Hamdi Ulukaya of Chobani, eventually crowned World Entrepreneur of the Year 2013.
Mr Hamilton said the connections he made in America had paid off. "We have just reached a deal with Costco in America, and the first container leaves in April," he said.
The packed launch also heard from Eleanor McEvoy, founder of Londonderry-based Budget Energy and a finalist in 2013 and 2004 with Phonecard Warehouse.
"It really does change how people perceive your business and how you perceive your business yourself," Ms McEvoy said.
She added: "The taking part is just as beneficial as the winning."
The awards programme is divided into three categories – emerging, industry and international – with eight finalists chosen in each category by the independent panel of judges.
Rob Heron, a partner at EY in Belfast who leads Northern Ireland's programme, said last year's finalists from Northern Ireland had been concentrated in the industry category – but that more potential businesses should enter the emerging and international categories
Previous Northern Ireland winners of the Ireland competition, Peter Fitzgerald of Randox (2004) and Brian Conlon of First Derivatives (2010), both triumphed in the international categories.
Frank O'Keeffe, partner in charge of the programme Ireland-wide, said:
"Our mission for this year's programme is to assist our 2014 finalists and wider community of entrepreneurs in building a strategy that will keep them ahead of the curve and truly prepare them for the opportunities that economic recovery will bring, in Ireland and globally."
Individuals who wish to put themselves forward or nominate an entrepreneur with their consent can fill out the nomination form at www.eoy.ie or call +3531 221 2250.
The deadline for nominations is March 17.