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From new top judge: how to ensure your awards entry makes the grade

Professor Mark Durkin, Executive Dean of the Ulster University Business School, is the new chairman of the judging panel in the Belfast Telegraph Business Awards in partnership with Ulster Bank. He believes there is a synergy between his work at the Business School and the business awards, and the entrepreneurial support provided by Ulster Bank through their Accelerator Hub. With the awards closing date looming (12 noon, Thursday 21st March), he is also keen to provide some tips on how to create a stand-out entry to help companies reach the shortlist in their selected category

Prof Mark Durkin, Business Awards judging panel chairman
Prof Mark Durkin, Business Awards judging panel chairman
In 2018 Gary Parkinson and Susan Hill from Novosco collected the Outstanding Business of the Year from Richard Donnan, Ulster Bank Head of Northern Ireland, Margaret Canning and Gail Walker, Belfast Telegraph

Professor Mark Durkin, Executive Dean of the Ulster University Business School, is the new chairman of the judging panel in the Belfast Telegraph Business Awards in partnership with Ulster Bank.

He believes there is a synergy between his work at the Business School and the business awards, and the entrepreneurial support provided by Ulster Bank through its Accelerator Hub.

With the awards closing date looming (noon, Thursday, March 21), he is also keen to provide some tips on how to create a stand-out entry to help companies reach the shortlist in their selected category.

He is leading the Ulster University's Business School during an exciting and ambitious development phase, which includes the university's £250m building project currently taking shape in Belfast and the Business School's aim to become the leading centre for entrepreneurial education, research and impact in the UK by 2021.

Professor Durkin said: "Partnerships between academic institutions and businesses are nothing new, but these collaborations have become especially relevant in the face of increasing economic pressure and global competition and the growing complexity of problems which need solutions."

His academic career at UU began in 1996 after 10 years in service, sales and marketing roles with Bank of Ireland. Studies including a Masters' degree in Marketing and a PhD were completed part-time and Professor Durkin has as an academic worked extensively with businesses in teaching and research engagements.

"We want to see more tangible and practical links between the university, its students and businesses here in Northern Ireland. That's vital for the future," he said.

"We try not to provide ready-made solutions for issues but rather act as a catalyst for more entrepreneurial thinking to enable business leaders to be better prepared to approach problems and opportunities more creatively.

"Indeed, it is in the co-creation of solutions that we offer a key strength in our partnering with business. Our mission is to enable people to think and act differently around opportunity and in so doing to add greater value to the businesses they work in or own.

"Our practical partnerships feature companies feeding into curricula - making sure that graduates have the skills they need and the thinking ability to deploy them to best effect. Also, senior executives coming in as visiting professors to mentor staff and students is embedded in our education model. We work with other forward-thinking educational partners in the US and China and also ensure value for the business community through a commercially focussed advisory forum.

"Like Ulster Bank's Accelerator Hub we want to enable existing and upcoming entrepreneurs as well as our business students make an immediate impact on and contribution to the local NI economy.

"I'm very much looking forward to judging and chairing this year's Belfast Telegraph Business Awards in partnership with Ulster Bank. I'm anticipating a strong line-up of high-quality entries and whilst many of the companies large and small will be well versed in the art of awards entries, I've outlined a few pointers on what helps to make an exceptional entry.

"I, along with the judging panel, want to particularly emphasise the need for evidence-based entries showing clear qualitative and quantitative business outcomes. Assuming you have all the relevant stats and evidence gathered constructing the entry requires planning and focus."

Below are Prof Durkin's tips:

• Choose your category wisely. Focus on what you are most proud of and choose the category which will best allow you to talk about it.

• Tell a great story. Like a writer your story should have a beginning, middle and end with interesting detail along the way.

Show personality and what makes your business unique.

Be quirky, funny, serious and write in a way that takes the reader on a journey that allows them to truly understand where you have come from, and what you have achieved.

• Read the small print. Some categories will have specific criteria which you need to meet.

• Give yourself enough time. Putting together a great award entry takes effort and time.

• Don't be afraid to point out what went wrong. A lot of people are afraid to admit the things that went wrong, thinking that this might decrease their chances of winning. But it's how you coped with the problems and setbacks that is important and that could make your entry stand out from the rest.

• Focus your message. Keep your sentences punchy and only include relevant information. Bullet points and bolding can help to make your point and ensure easy reading.

Avoid clichés and marketing/business jargon - keep content succinct by writing in plain English.

Explain exactly what you did, why you did it and the real business results at the end.

• Stick to the word count. It's there for a reason. Select what you write carefully and only include your strongest examples.

• Get your entry proof read. Sometimes you're so close to a piece of writing, you don't see the mistakes however small. A fresh eye will be able to ensure the copy flows well, correct any potential grammar mistakes and spot anything that is unclear or superfluous.

• Include supporting information only if relevant.

• Whatever the outcome the process of preparing an awards entry is a valuable exercise allowing businesses to consider and evaluate work, its impact and take pride in a job well done. Good luck to everyone who puts forward an entry submission.

The gala awards dinner takes place on Thursday, May 2 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Shaw's Bridge, Belfast.

A table of 10 costs £1,500 plus Vat while individual places are available at £160 plus Vat.

To book online www.belfast telegraph.co.uk/business awards/tickets.

The categories for 2019

1. Excellence in Marketing

2. Excellence in Exporting

3. Excellence in the Development of Management and Leadership

4. Excellence in Innovation

5. Best Use of Digital and/or Social Media

6. Young Business Person of Year

7. IT Company or Team of the Year

8. Retailer of the Year

9. Excellence in Workplace Health & Wellbeing

10. Best Small/Medium Business

11. Emerging Business Start-up of the Year

12. SME Healthcare Business of the Year

13. Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility

Two special judges' awards, the Lifetime Achievement Award and Overall Business of the Year sponsored by Ulster Bank, will also be presented.

Full details on categories and criteria and how to enter are available at www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/businessawards/enter. The closing date for entries is Thursday, March 21 at noon.

Business Awards judging panel

This year's Belfast Telegraph Business Awards in partnership with Ulster Bank features a refreshed judging panel chaired for the first time by Ulster University Business School's Executive Dean, Professor Mark Durkin. Joining Prof Durkin are new judges Roger Pollen from Federation of Small Businesses; CEO of Warrenpoint Harbour Authority, Clare Guinness; Professor Geoff Simmons from Queen's University Management School; Ciara Lagan from Belfast-based solicitors Tughans; PwC's Professor Ian McConnell and Jennifer McKeever, CEO of Airporter.

They join regular panellists, economist and past chair John Simpson, Ann McGregor, the NI Chamber chief, and Head of Ulster Bank, Richard Donnan.

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