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Small businesses are honoured at FSB Awards

Bangor family business, Stairlift Solutions, walked away as Overall Winners from FSB’s Celebrating Small Business Awards last week in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Belfast. This was the first time these Awards have been held in Northern Ireland, and they aimed to promote and recognise innovation, enterprise and the achievements of Northern Ireland’s small businesses and self-employed sector.Hosted by Wendy Austin MBE, and sponsored by the System Operator for Northern Ireland (SONI), the Awards recognised achievement in the following categories:

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Congratulating the winners, Roger Pollen, FSB Head of External Affairs NI, said: “Well done to all of this year’s FSB Celebrating Small Business Award winners from Northern Ireland. They are reflective of the vibrancy, innovation and tenacity that makes up our local small business community. It’s been thrilling to see so many local businesses enthusiastically take part in our awards and the sheer scale and diversity of those who entered is a testimony to the vitality of the small business community in Northern Ireland. The best of luck to all our winners for the UK Award Finals in May.”

Commenting on the event, headline sponsor, Nick Fullerton, SONI Director, said: “SONI is proud to be the headline sponsor of the Northern Ireland Finals of FSB’s Celebrating Small Business Awards. These awards are a great way of showcasing the talent we have in Northern Ireland and celebrating the contribution of small businesses, they are the engine room of our economy and it’s critical we provide them with the infrastructure they need to succeed.”

The full list of Northern Ireland winners can be found below:

Start-Up Business of the Year


Winner: ikids Day Nursery
ikids Day Nursery opened during December 2015 and hosts an array of luxury facilities and services. The premises were originally a family home but were extensively designed and renovated to become a bespoke nursery by Mr Nick and Gavin McErlean. Based in Newtownards, from the first day of opening they have hit the ground running and grown from strength to strength, increasing in both turnover and employee size. 

Young Entrepreneur of the Year


Winner: Katie Matthews, Excel in Education Tutoring School
Established just over two years ago by 25 year old Katie Matthews, Excel in Education Tutoring School Ltd is based in Craigavon and has expanded in terms of both course offerings, staff and student numbers and location. This award winning business is the first tuition service in Northern Ireland to be registered and recognised with The Tutors’ Association and they are currently working towards the ISO9001 Quality Award aiming to be the first tuition business in the UK to achieve the standard.

Business and Product Innovation Award and Business Exporter of the Year


Winner: Environmental Street Furniture
Environmental Street Furniture is a Northern Ireland based, global designer and supplier of street furniture and site furnishing products operating out of Newtownabbey. Offering a comprehensive product range, coupled with the ability to offer bespoke customised products, sets ESF aside from the competition. Established in 2012 by Alan and Caroline Lowry the company set upon an aggressive export campaign harnessing innovation and new technologies to distance themselves from the competition and grow this new market. In 2016/17 ESF supplied to 22 different export countries, across five continents, utilising market research information, and locally based partners to delivery some outstanding projects.

Scale-Up Business of the Year

Winner: The Momentum Group
Momentum was formed in 2009 by Group Managing Director Tom Verner and has experienced major success for a company of its size, scaling up its operations to become the leading R&D specialist advisory firm in Northern Ireland over the past year. With strong results in overall turnover they have recently tripled office space and grown their team to nine staff. The company plans to further penetrate the local market while securing more business in the UK. 

Microbusiness of the Year

Winner: Keenan Healthcare
Keenan Healthcare is a top tier, award winning recruitment agency in Belfast City Centre specialising in health and social care recruitment and sourcing temporary employees for all five NHS trusts across Northern Ireland. Since inception they have grown at an accelerated rate and expanded their reputation for an unbeatable service and unrivalled customer experience to healthcare professionals with record performances in regards to turnover. Their momentum continues to increase as efficiencies and growth improve strong financial performance, which they believe will continue to build a solid platform for the future.

Community Award*

Winner: Connected Talent
Derry based Connected Talent ensure that they give back to the local community, be that through investment, training or providing expertise. Investing in the young people of Derry/Londonderry has always been a key focal point for Connected Talent. A recent study undertaken by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency showed that Derry City and Strabane were the two districts in Northern Ireland with the highest unemployment rates with the highest number of people currently in receipt of unemployment benefits. This was a catalyst for Connected Talent and reflected the need for recruitment support in their hometown. This is further supported through their impressive charity work commitments.

Employer of the Year

Winner: White Ink Architects
White Ink Architects, based in Belfast, is a growing practice that in recent years has seen substantial growth in client base, employee numbers and turnover. Fundamental to their success has been their talented team of thirty employees. Investing heavily in their employees, their development and company culture has contributed to their growth. The company advocates a clear vision with clear lines of communication, a culture of trust and delivering on their commitments. They also invest in training and development and have established a dynamic, effective learning environment using customised in-house Professional Development programmes and external training. This has not only contributed to their business success but also seen their placement students go on to achieve awards in their own right.

Digital Business of the Year

Winner: The Transfer Tutor
The Transfer Tutor is an online, digital product offering online quizzes in Maths and English to children who are going through the AQE and GL test (the 11+ test replacement). In total, there are thirty online quizzes divided into Maths and English, and then further broken down into individual topic areas to support revision and progressive learning. The Transfer Tutor prides itself on being innovative and breaking the mould when it comes to the best way to prepare for the AQE / GL test and has seen an impressive growth in its customer base.

Ethical – Green Business of the Year

Winner: Greenacre Innovations
From Newtownards, Greenacre Innovations Ltd have identified an unregulated and ongoing pollution within cemeteries that threatens both the environment and human health through the use of embalming fluid entering the groundwater environment each year without regulation or control. Through the development of an environmental Grave Cushion, Greenacre Innovations has patented an application to address this problem and through many years of collaborative work with Aberdeen, Ulster and Queen’s Universities, have further developed and tested an environmentally neutral and inert formula that not only completely neutralises the Formaldehyde but also a percentage of the Nitrate and Ammonia contaminants along with noxious and toxic gas reduction found within the decomposition of bodies.

Family Business of the Year

Winner: Macklin Group
Having recently celebrated its 30th year in operation, the Macklin Group is an award winning family run business working in the hospitality and care sectors. The group is made up of six Care Homes across Northern Ireland and the Malone Lodge Hotel situated in Belfast. Brian and Mary Macklin founded the Group with the premise of making a real difference to people’s lives, through the vision and strategy of maintaining a culture of excellence and continuous development. This culture has been further developed within their team by benchmarking international best practice, enhancing the growth and long term sustainability of the Group.

Overall Winner*

Winner: Stairlift Solutions
Based in Bangor, Stairlift Solutions was founded in 2000 and has remained a family business for the last 18 years selling, installing and servicing stairlifts covering the whole of Northern Ireland and the bordering counties of the Republic of Ireland. Since opening their new showroom in Bangor, in January 2016, they have taken the business to another level and invested in new staff and additional new premises. This family business continues to see year on year growth and has exciting plans for 2018 and beyond.

*The winners of the Community Award and Overall Winner categories do not progress to the UK Finals in London in May 2018.