And the Winners are... Reflecting on the Business Eye First Trust Bank Small Business Awards


For any business, winning an award is a significant milestone. And at this year’s Business Eye First Trust Bank Small Business Awards, the hard work and dedication of small businesses across Northern Ireland was celebrated. Now that the dust has settled and the awards for 2016 have been distributed, we caught up with some of the winners to find out how the win has impacted them.

Highly Commended

Originally established in 1997, i3 Digital is a multi-award winning design agency that creates integrated marketing and communications platforms. General Manager, Diarmuid Convery, explains: "We cover everything from our client's web presence to content management systems and solutions. For example, we designed and developed the Dublin Bus application that lets you know in real-time when the next bus will arrive at your stop."

After finding out about the Small Business Awards through their local First Trust Bank, i3 Digital decided to put forward an entry. "I entered the awards for extra exposure and awareness" Diarmuid reveals. "It gave us a great opportunity to network with other small businesses and to hear how they’re developing themselves."

i3 Digital were awarded a Highly Commended accolade in the Small Business Marketing Award category. Diarmuid says of the win: "We were well and truly chuffed, especially when we looked at the calibre of people who were also shortlisted. Getting a highly commended nod was tremendous. Our staff were delighted too, even those who weren’t there on the night got a real buzz out of it."

With a wealth of local businesses to draw inspiration from, Diarmuid feels that networking with other businesses was one of the best aspects of the Small Business Awards. "Some of the other finalists were quite amazing. There’s a lot of strong entrepreneurial spirit out there. One of the winners of the tourism sector was Belfast Food Tours and I thought that business sounded so interesting. You feed off people like that, it makes you excited to keep doing what you’re doing."


i3 Digital, winners of a Highly Commended accolade

Hospitality & Tourism Business of the Year

Joint first-place winner of the Hospitality and Tourism Business of the Year alongside Crumlin Road Gaol was Belfast Food Tours. Belfast Food Tours was set up by dedicated foodie Caroline Wilson, after an inspirational food-filled trip around Europe.

“Belfast is such an amazing place,” she enthuses. “We’re going through an evolution of food, drink and tourism in general. It’s such a brilliant destination for a weekend and I feel that we should be eating food grown here, rather than food flown here.”

Winning an award is a great achievement for the exposure of any small business, and Caroline admits her surprise at receiving this validation so early in her new business venture.

She explains: "To be nominated in our first two years of business was enough for me. Then, to go on and actually win felt so good. It was really surprising and wonderful! We were up against a serious group of contenders, so to be on that level is something else. It’s brilliant to have recognition that we’re doing a great job in tourism."

The next step for Caroline is the expansion of her business into a new venture - Taste and Tour NI. “This is a way of putting all of our tours out there to hopefully get more corporate business” she reveals. “We’re going to get involved with more businesses in Northern Ireland and we’re hoping that our win in the Small Business Awards will help us to do so.”

Caroline’s advice to other small businesses is to put themselves out there and enter any award they can. She advises: “Don’t hide your light under a bushel and don’t be afraid to sing your own praises. Take a look at what you’ve been doing and show it off. It’s something that anyone should consider but it’s especially important for small businesses who don’t feel like they’re up there with the bigger fish.”


Caroline Wilson Belfast Food Tours

Small Business of the Year

The most coveted award on the night was Small Business of the Year. Competition for this accolade was fierce and the winner on the night was M&M Contractors.

M&M Contractors are a utility service company with clients such as Virgin Media and SSE throughout Ireland and the UK. Managing Director, Gareth Loye, explains his reasons for entering the Small Business Awards. He says: “We were at the stage of our development where we were looking for recognition for our achievement and we felt that this could be a good way of boosting morale among staff and to show existing and prospective clients how much we have developed and achieved.”

A great decision, the award entry has certainly paid off. With the trophy now sitting proudly in their office, Gareth credits the achievement to a massive team effort from everyone in the organisation. The boost of confidence received from this recognition has spurred on their plans for the future.

“Our plans are to extend our current land base and services to existing clients” Gareth reveals. “We’d like our reputation to be recognized and to bring in new clients from the same sector across the UK and Ireland. Then we’d like to extend the company internationally and innovate some new products.”

To anyone thinking of entering next year, Gareth’s advice is that if you’re not in, you can’t win. He enthuses: “A lot of people don’t enter awards because they think their company isn’t good enough. My advice to people would be that you only know how good you are by entering. You’ve nothing to lose by going for the awards and getting your company out there.”


Gareth Loye, M&M Contractors, Small Business of the Year

If you’d like to find out more about the Business Eye First Trust Bank Small Business Awards, get more information online. If you’d like to find out how to enter the Business Eye First Trust Bank Small Business Awards, visit our website now.

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