Posted on Tuesday 11 February 2014 by Ulster Business

Aer Lingus

Northern Ireland-based companies have been urged to enter the 2014 Aer Lingus Viscount Awards by two of the leading business figures who will sit on this year's judging panel.

Colin Walsh, CEO of Crescent Capital and Chairman of CBI Northern Ireland, and Alan Taylor, managing partner of leading law firm Arthur Cox, said the awards offer an opportunity for companies who are currently "flying under the radar" to have their successes recognised.

The Viscount Awards, in association with Ulster Business, aim to recognise businesses which are generating enduring and lucrative economic ties between Northern Ireland, Great Britain, and beyond. The awards will be held on 30th April 2014 in the prestigious surroundings of The Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall, London.

Entries are now being sought across seven categories: Most Innovative Company; Best Large Business; Best Medium Business; Best Small Business; Entrepreneur of the Year; Exporter of the Year and the Aer Lingus Viscount Award for Overall Excellence.

"The good thing about the awards is that they provide an opportunity for companies to show what they are delivering and are not just based on their size. There are great small companies out there that if they are given the opportunity to grow could be the companies of the future," said Alan Taylor.

"The ones that get me excited are the Northern Ireland companies that are doing something that other companies are doing but they are doing it better and beating them in their own markets. They are manufacturing a product or delivering a service better."

Taylor says his own firm, which has recently hired six new staff, is seeing a pick up in activity in the externally focused manufacturing sector and among export driven technology companies.

"One thing I want to see is people who are genuinely innovating in the way they do business. While there are a number of companies here who are innovating I get the sense that we need to up our innovation rate again. There is a lot of talk about innovation but perhaps too much of that is still based on the historical achievements of Northern Ireland."

Colin Walsh agrees that we need more local businesses to look to Great Britain, the Republic of Ireland and Europe for sales.

"Companies are narrowing their odds if they don't look outside of Northern Ireland. For companies with the capacity to export a product or service why would you not do it? If we don't export and generate revenues what do you use to buy in the things we can't possibly make here?" he said. "All of the growing tech companies we back at Crescent are striving to be exporters early in life. They have no prayer of succeeding if they only look at the local market."

Walsh said the low cost of air travel and the much wider network of air links from Belfast and Dublin have made sales to international markets much more achievable.

"Some companies can obviously learn in the local market. But for other things you need to get on your bike and go to see what customers want. If you don't how will you shape your next product innovation or strategy?" he said.

"What potentially holds some firms back is that we are not long on sales skills here in Northern Ireland. Nobody is told at school to become a salesman, they are told to be doctors and lawyers. But the discipline of management we find hardest to recruit for is in sales."

Entry forms can be found at viscountawards.ulsterbusiness.com

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