Belfast Telegraph

Sisters doin' it for themselves at Entrepreneur of Year

By Jamie Stinson

Women have taken centre stage in the EY Entrepreneur of the Year programme, with two Northern Ireland female finalists for only the second time in its 25-year history.

Catherine O'Neill from Amelio Utilities and Alyson Hogg from Vita Liberata are the among the four finalists from Northern Ireland up for the coveted award.

The other finalists from the province includes Dunbia's Jack Dobson and CD Group's Terry Knox.

Finalists for the all-Ireland award will take part in a six-month development programme and attend a CEO retreat in Germany, where they will be joined 100 other previous finalists.

They will look at the future of industry, and attend executive classes at the European School of Management and Technology, visit major German businesses, and learn about the country's start-up culture.

The winner of the 25th year of the awards will be chosen in October - with 2008 the only other year in which there were two female finalists from Northern Ireland.

EY's Kevin McLoughlin, partner lead for the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year programme, acknowledged the increase in the number of women and young entrepreneurs reaching the final.

He said: "It is particularly heartening to see the diversity within this year's shortlist, including a number of strong female candidates and entrepreneurs under the age of 30.

"The programme continues to unearth companies that are excelling on a remarkable scale and this year's programme has attracted an exceptionally high calibre of entrepreneur.

"We look forward to welcoming our new finalists to the EOY network and continuing our work to support entrepreneurship across the island of Ireland."

Nominated in the emerging category, Ms O'Neill is managing director of Amelio Utilities, which was founded in March 2012 while she was still a student at university. She graduated from Queen's later that year with a first class honours in masters of civil engineering. The Belfast-based firm focuses mainly on drainage and civil engineering, and has other offices in Dublin and Gloucester.

Alyson Hogg, chief executive of tanning product manufacturer Vita Liberata, has been nominated in the international category for the Ballyclare-based business, which she started in 2003. Vita Liberata is sold throughout the world, including through shopping TV channel QVC.

Mr Knox, nominated in the industry category alongside Mr Dobson, is commercial director for CD Group, which focuses on the importing, sales and distribution of automotive products.

Mr Dobson founded the Dungannon-based business in 1980, with brother Jim. What started as a butcher shop has grown into one of Ireland's biggest meat processors.

Mr Dobson is group executive director at Dunbia, focusing on exports to the China and the Far East. It edged close to a £769m turnover for the year ending March 2014 - up more than £40m on the previous, according to the latest filed annual report.

Pre-tax profits for the company fell during the course of the last financial year, dropping by almost £3m to £4.6m.

Belfast Telegraph