Heat is on in the final countdown for top firms
Business Telegraph takes a look at the eight successful companies from Ulster in the running for this year's Ulster Bank Business Achievers Award
Seven Northern Ireland companies and one from Donegal are going up against businesses from across the island to compete for the prestigious Ulster Bank Business Achievers Awards this week.
The winners will be announced at the Mansion House in Dublin on Thursday April 19.
The Ulster firms were selected for the all-island competition after coming top in their category at the Ulster heats of the awards, which are run in association with the Belfast Telegraph and supported by Invest Northern Ireland and InterTradeIreland.
Ulster Bank's Head of Business and Commercial Banking in Northern Ireland, Ian Jordan, praised the Ulster companies.
"There were more than 360 entries to the awards this year, which in itself is encouraging. Even more pleasing is the high quality of many of the entries, including a large number of start-up and internationally-focused companies. Entries from the agri-food businesses were also very strong, which is not surprising given our vibrant agri-food sector in Northern Ireland.
"There were however a number of Ulster businesses that stood out for particular recognition and we were delighted to present these eight companies with their Ulster Bank Business Achievers Awards. We wish them the very best of luck in the all-island stage of the competition."
We take a look at the stories behind these innovative firms.
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Family Run Business Award
Island Seafoods Ltd
With its factory at Carricknamohill at Killybegs in Donegal, Island Seafoods has been a family run seafood processing business for the past 25 years exporting bulk seafood products.
Mick O'Donnell started the company in 1986 and his son Michael joined the business in 2000. Mick's wife Anne and daughter Annette are also employed by the company.
In 2009, Island Seafoods launched a successful new smoked fish range called Atlantic Treasures for the domestic retail market, which now has listings in supermarkets including Musgraves, Superquinn, Dunnes Stores and Lidl. The range has won a number of awards and has exceeded all expectations forecast by the company.
Innovation & Emerging Technology Award
Waste Systems Ltd
Omagh-based Waste Systems Ltd designs, manufactures and supplies turnkey systems and stand-alone machinery for the waste separation and recycling industries. The company was founded by Nishi Ward in 2009.
During the past three years, the company has developed three patented products that have been successfully brought to market. All of its sales are exported to the rest of the UK, Ireland, France, Finland and also to North America. The company has won a number of notable awards for its achievements.
Service to Business Award
Belfast-based Guardian24 is a leading provider of safety solutions for lone-workers - employees who are either isolated in their working environment or who work unsupervised outside a shared office.
The company has more than 32,000 users, with some 400 public and private sector organisations across the UK using its services.
The company's services can be used via Blackberry smartphone, mobile phones, Windows-operated PDAs, Android smartphones and specialist lone worker devices.
The user can log their whereabouts, daily tasks, GPS location and even have access to a panic button in the case of an emergency. The company also provide training and consultancy services to help organisations fulfil their health and safety obligations.
Green Business Award
Glantek is a unique collaboration of private sector companies, developing and marketing clean technology solutions.
Having identified a gap in the market for practical integrated solutions to respond to tightening environmental regulations as well as commercial pressures, Glantek offers tailored solutions to recover value from waste, lower carbon and improve overall resource efficiencies.
After just two years of operation, Glantek has already secured major contracts in the agricultural, agri-food and water utilities sectors, and employs more than 300 people.
Start-up Business Award
Budget Energy is a new electricity supplier to the Northern Ireland market with a focus on low cost.
Based in Londonderry, the company was established in 2011 by Eleanor and George McEvoy and currently employs 27 people.
At the moment it has 10,300 customers and continues to acquire 1,400 new customers per month.
By adopting a low overhead business model, the company aims to keep its low price promise.
The company offers customers the option of paying by bill or a pay as you go keypad meter.
In addition Budget Energy is now purchasing green energy from wind farms and anarobic digesters from local generators in Northern Ireland.
Social Enterprise Award
East Belfast Mission
East Belfast Mission, based on the city's Newtownards Road, is a registered charity and company. Founded in 1985, it is one of the longest established and largest community organisations in East Belfast.
The organisation has embraced a sustainable social economy model that includes a number of enterprises. These include its re:store shops, its re:furb furniture restoration project, its re:cycle bicycle repair workshop and its re:fresh cafe.
Each is run as a standalone business and is measured against income and expenditure budgets. The re:store arm was launched in 2005 and has expanded to eight further retail outlets as well as the other supporting projects.
East Belfast Mission's vision of the future for the area is that it will become a welcoming, vibrant and peaceful community in which everyone has a sense of belonging and can fulfil their potential. This vision will be fulfilled with the development of Skainos - a £20m regeneration programme.
The Skainos Project is an urban regeneration development in inner East Belfast, providing shared space for community transformation and renewal. It is the creation of a new 'urban village' through the redevelopment of a two acre Brownfield site.
The development will be located on the Newtownards Road and will bring together a range of strategic partnerships which will contribute to the holistic regeneration of one of the most economically and socially deprived communities in the whole of Northern Ireland.
International Business Award
Based in Comber, Co Down, TG Eakin Ltd manufactures medical devices for the ostomy and woundcare industry. These products are then distributed internationally to 36 countries worldwide.
The company was founded in 1974 by Tom Eakin, who is still Chairman of the Eakin Group. His two sons, Jeremy and Paul Eakin now manage the business with Jeremy as Managing Director of TG Eakin Ltd and Paul as Managing Director of Pelican Healthcare Ltd, a sister company in the Group.
Since its small beginnings TG Eakin Ltd has grown into a hugely successful company achieving a turnover of over £23m in 2011.
Each year TG Eakin Ltd is enhancing its geographic reach and within the past five years have set up new distribution channels in India, Poland, Hungary, Iran, Slovakia, Croatia, Italy, Malta, Romania, the Czech Republic, Costa Rica, South Korea, Estonia, Russia and Saudi Arabia.
With over 15 million Eakin Cohesive Seals being currently sold each year worldwide demand for the Eakin products is growing.
Agri Food and Drink Award
Crossgar Foodservice is one of the leading foodservice suppliers on the island of Ireland with a product range that includes poultry, meat, chilled, frozen, grocery and non-food items.
They are unique in the foodservice market as they own and control the sourcing of their poultry, meat and sauce products.
The company was established by Gerald and Mary Bell in 1959.
It has continued to grow, remaining a family business, and during the 1990s Gerald's sons became more involved in the management of the business.
It now has an annual turnover over €50m (£41.2m).
Its 'Provenance Collection' has recently been expanded to include Gloucester Old Spot Pork, Dorset Lamb, Dry Aged Beef, Hand Made Butter and Rademon Estate Game in addition to its already successful Dexter Beef and Lissara farm Corn Fed Poultry.
The 'Provenance Collection' has gained a number of prestigious awards including 13 Great Taste Awards for its produce.