In a market where career opportunities are harder to come by, recent figures from Companies House demonstrate that the number of start-ups in Northern Ireland actually increased by a quarter in 2011. To celebrate these start-ups BusinessZone.co.uk, in association with digital service provider Yell, is encouraging entrepreneurs to enter Britain's biggest pitching competition, The Pitch 2012.
This national contest celebrates the ingenuity of business start ups, heralding them as the antidote to a tough economic climate. Preliminary judging heats will be held in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with the national champions going on to compete in a grand final for a prize package of business support worth £50,000 and the title of the UK's Best New Business.
Last year our SBCers Barbara and Stuart Hughes entered the Pitch in the summer of 2011 and won the Northern Ireland heat for their brand Boozeberries. The couple launched their business in 2010 despite the recession, producing high quality hand crafted artisan liqueur to great acclaim.
As winners of the Northern Ireland heat, Boozeberries were finalists in the national competition. "It was a really positive experience which gave us a real boost", said Hughes. “I would really encourage small business owners to take part in the competition. Boozeberries gained some very valuable exposure that was vital to building our brand. The process helped build my own confidence pitching and public speaking – something I’ve had to do lots of in the last year when pitching to potential investors."
Barbara and Stuart Hughes started Boozeberries in May 2010 when they bought the rights to a fruit preservation method that produces a natural liqueur. The couple saw great potential in what was originally an ineffective recipe for preserving wild berries. Hand-crafted in small batches, Boozeberries' selected berries are infused in a rich blend of Irish grain spirit to give a clean delicate taste of summer fruits all through the year. Hailed as 'Ireland's first fruit liqueur', Boozeberries may be served chilled, over ice or added to champagne or sparkling wine to create innovative champagne cocktails.
The brand has come a long way in the last two years, achieving international status and winning a string of awards including 'Best in Ireland' from the Bridgestone Guide and Gold & Double Gold in the ‘Great Taste Awards 2011’. Boozeberries recently gained the endorsement of US blues and jazz legend BB King whose signature now appears on the bottles.
It didn’t take long for Boozeberries to capture the global imagination. The brand's social media activity attracted a wave of international enquiries. "It's been clear to us from the start that exporting is going to be a large part of our strategy”, said Barbara. “Irish liqueurs have always had a global appeal and we intend to pursue all possibilities. As well as England and Scotland, our key markets are USA, Canada, and Turkey. We're currently researching these markets and acquiring the necessary importation and distribution rights."
Boozeberries now has a social media fan base of 45,000 and is the most followed food company in Ireland.
Hughes said: "Although we are delighted with the global interest, we are a new company so we have to explore these foreign markets cautiously and really take our time. We spend a lot of time researching new markets – getting our heads around legislation, legalities, government requirements and distribution regulations. Finance has been our biggest headache. The global markets we’re looking to expand into are expensive and we need investors to be able to go ahead. We’ve pitched to a lot of investors in Northern Ireland and London."
One of the attractions of self-employment for the couple was the chance to achieve a better work/life balance, with more time for their three children. "We haven't quite achieved an ideal balance yet", laughs Hughes. "We're still working long hours but we can work around the kids and when we’re working late at night we know we’re doing it for ourselves. That’s incredibly rewarding."
The entrepreneurs encourages working mothers with entrepreneurial ambitions to do the same: "There is a definite perception that you can’t be a mother and a reliable member of an office team as well. Running your own business brings a whole host of new challenges but it does offer flexibility around family life. If you have a great idea, product or service that you believe in and have researched and identified there is a market for it – go for it."
This is what Andrew told about Boozeberries (he coached them for the final and we will do the same for the next The Pitch finalist --> we want you to win)
The Pitch 2012
Backed by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and leading UK entrepreneurs, The Pitch is an independent initiative that celebrates business ideas with the potential to create strong businesses, creating much-needed jobs for the UK economy.
Hundreds of businesses across the UK take part each year, presenting their small business ideas to panels of respected entrepreneurs and business leaders in front of a live audience.
Hughes said: "I found the first pitch nerve-wracking – I'd never pitched in front of a big live audience before. My advice to this year’s entrants would be to plan the key points you want to make, but don't use notes. This allows you to talk naturally and with passion. Also, make sure you capture the audience in the first 15 seconds with something that makes them want to listen."
Last year’s competition saw Ross Dickenson scoop the prize package for his temporary pipe repair system, Kibosh. The final was held as an evening event at London’s legendary night club, Pacha. Over 300 partygoers attended and watched five finalists pitch from dancers' podiums on the dance floor.
The Pitch has started 2012's search for the UK’s top small business companies. Dan Martin, editor of BusinessZone.co.uk, said: "We want to make 2012 even bigger by introducing The Pitch 80, a new social profile presence for the short listed businesses. A panel of experts will shortlist 20 entries from England, Wales, Ireland and Wales to create this list of 80 who will compete at the new two-day conference, the Pitch Live, in Liverpool during October."
To enter your small business in The Pitch 2012, visit www.thepitchuk.com Applications close on 31 May.