Alumni Business Person of the Year 2023


Category criteria

  • Entrants for this category must be Staffordshire University alumni.
  • Entrants could be employed or self-employed but should be directly responsible for the success of their enterprise.
  • The judges will be looking for evidence of the entrants’ determination to make the most of new opportunities to help fuel their company’s success.

Paul Drew

Alumni Business Person of the Year entrant

Staffordshire University alumni Paul Drew founded a training company in 2018. Five years later it has 115 employees, 449 apprentices and 700 learners completing short courses.
Paul still lives in Stoke-on-Trent despite the Apprentify Group having offices around the UK.
He is Chief Operating Officer of the business, which specialises in digital, tech and marketing qualifications.
He said: “I studied for a Postgraduate Diploma in Marketing at Staffordshire University. The course helped me to progress in my career and helped to lead me on to creating my apprenticeship business.”
Paul has worked in education and training for 18 years including nine years in commercial sales and leadership training.
Through Apprentify he now works with companies such as Dentsu Aegis, JD Sports, Fraser Group and numerous SMEs.
He said: “My goal is to make apprenticeships an increasingly popular and effective path to career success and organisational improvement.”
Alongside Apprentify, Paul oversaw the acquisition and growth of Netcom Training, a Government-funded education provider. Under his leadership the business has expanded its reach, covering multiple combined authority regions across England. By collaborating with combined authorities and employers he ensures local skills agendas are met, aligning the education system with the needs of the workforce.
A key focus for Paul is to provide individuals from all backgrounds, diversity, and social groups with equal access to apprenticeships and funded learning opportunities.
Paul has played a significant role in shaping the skills agendas outlined in the Skills and Post-16 Education Act and in post-16 qualifications. He serves on the boards of various organisations in the education and training sector.
He added: “The strategic direction of the group is to build the UK’s very best commercial and apprenticeship training business supplying businesses with talent that meets future skills gaps.
“New programmes for 2023/24 include PR and Communications, Fundraiser and Digital Skills for the Unemployed.”
Paul has entered the Alumni Business Person of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Daniel Waterman

Alumni Business Person of the Year entrant

Transforming the way an industry is perceived is not an easy task. Encouraging others to buy into your creative art can be just as difficult.
Daniel Waterman, of Carse & Waterman, was determined he could achieve this through the power of animation.
He recognised that his adopted home city of Stoke-on-Trent had unlocked potential and, along with business partner Gary Carse, decided to stay and run a business in the city after completing his Staffordshire University Animation degree.
The journey has seen Daniel embrace new technologies, techniques and trends to enhance the company’s offerings.
To add to the mission of encouraging others to incorporate animation as a form of communication and not just entertainment, Daniel was also keen to create more awareness for Stoke-on-Trent and what the city offers.
He and his team have continuously crafted captivating stories in every project. The determination to push boundaries and embrace change has earned them the reputation of being a trusted partner within the animation industry.
Carse & Waterman has become the go to source for clients who recognise the value of incorporating animation into their communication strategies - strategies which have seen others reap the benefits and grow themselves.
Daniel has also helped to shape the creative landscape within Stoke-on-Trent. He is at the heart of the city’s creative community and invites others to collaborate on projects with his business.
He said: “It has been a continual journey and a journey which has proved successful. There are new opportunities around each corner and the team is determined to seize them whilst at the same time constantly driving the pursuit of innovation in everything we do.”
Daniel has entered the Entrepreneur of the Year, Alumni Business Person of the Year and Young Business Person of the Year categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Sonya Farrall

Alumni Business Person of the Year entrant

Born with a love of media and journalism, Sonya Farrall’s career has taken her from newspapers to the sporting world to setting up her own PR company.
The Staffordshire University Journalism alumni began her career as a news reporter for The Sentinel, - quickly progressing to a role with the sports desk, a rarity for women at that time.
She became sports editor for sister publications the Post & Times Series, where she took charge of the sports coverage for newspapers in Leek, Cheadle and Uttoxeter.
Sonya was soon working freelance for national newspaper The Racing Post. Then by 2008 she was working in horse racing full time, travelling the country to attend race meetings including the likes of Royal Ascot and the Cheltenham Festival.
Nearly a decade later, in 2017, she took the gamble of walking away from a secure job to launch her own business - the PR company BabaBaboon.
Determined to be a PR company with a difference Sonya works with charities as well as businesses of all sizes and shares positive community news on her website.
In 2022, after taking part in a Pathfinder project at Staffordshire University, Sonya was awarded an Innovation Award for Best Employer to recognise the way she embraced the project and welcomed a student into her business.
She said: “When I started BabaBaboon, I was always adamant I wanted to try and provide a platform for others to benefit from and that will always continue. If I can provide opportunities to students who can then benefit by adding their contributions to their own CVs then that is what I will do.
“BabaBaboon has many strands and has taught me a lot in my own journey. From starting out on my own with very little confidence and not knowing where I was heading, I now feel I have grown with the business.
“Yes we are without doubt a PR company, but we also do so much more than that and as we continue to grow I welcome more and more collaborations for the future of a positive media platform others can share.”
Sonya runs PR workshops for charities, businesses and recently for Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce.
Sonya has entered the Entrepreneur of the Year and Alumni Business Person of the Year categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Chloe Breeze

Alumni Business Person of the Year entrant

Illustrator, designer, mural artist, live portrait and event artist, art teacher, online shop owner, workshop facilitator and businesswoman – Chloe Breeze wears many hats but they are all beautifully designed.
The Staffordshire University illustration alumni worked as a book designer, florist and in admin at Wedgwood before taking the plunge during the pandemic to work on her own art full-time.
She has already sold thousands of products, drawn thousands of people at live events, taught thousands of pupils in workshops at dozens of schools and thousands of people have seen her artwork in public places.
Her murals have been commissioned by businesses and organisations including World of Wedgwood, The Donna Louise Hospice, Potteries Shopping Centre, Appetite and Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council. Many are on display in public places while others have been commissioned by individuals for their homes.
Chloe’s business started with personalised portraits then diversified into an online shop, primarily with Stoke-on-Trent themed gifts designed to celebrate her hometown including tea towels, mugs, coasters, prints, colouring books and more. Her products are now also available to buy in shops around the county.
Chloe said: “Working in the community and with the people of Stoke-on-Trent being so friendly is a big part of what I do and why I do it.
“I meet and work with so many people who want to uplift the city and I want to do that too, through my artwork.
“Having different strands to my work means that I can work within the community in different ways. One part of why I love my business so much is that I can do all of these different things.”
Chloe Breeze has entered the Young Business Person of the Year and Alumni Business Person of the Year categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Kate Holt

Alumni Business Person of the Year entrant

As the managing director of BusinessLodge Stoke, Kate Holt oversaw the purchase and transformation of a former Npower building into high-spec serviced offices with an on-site gym.
The Staffordshire University Sports and Leisure Management alumni previously established and grew four similar developments in Bury, Lancashire, but had never forgotten her student days in Stoke-on-Trent and saw the opportunity to do something similar in the city.
In 2019 Kate headed up the project to convert Trent House in Stoke-on-Trent and is responsible for building a professional, friendly team who aim to go the extra mile for their clients at the Stoke-on-Trent and Bury sites.
Another BusinessLodge is being planned for the North West and Kate is also actively looking for a second Stoke-on-Trent building.
She said: “Working in Stoke-on-Trent is a bit like coming home. It’s lovely, a really nice warm feeling. I’m really proud to be based here again.
“The friendliness of the people is one of the reasons we expanded into Stoke-on-Trent. The way the business community has welcomed us has been incredible. People were delighted we were investing in the area and really supported us.”
Kate and her team ensure their clients are fully supported and each treated according to their bespoke needs as they grow, take on flexible working, move to larger accommodation or downsize. They range from a dog-walking company to an international gym equipment supply business.
The team organise social events, networking sessions and charity fundraisers for businesses based at the offices.
BusinessLodge Stoke won the Excellence in Customer Services Award (Midlands) and BusinessLodge Bury won the same award for the North at the 2022 FlexSA - Flexible Space Association Awards in November.
Now Kate has entered the Entrepreneur of the Year and Alumni Business Person of the Year categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Dr Najam Kidwai

Alumni Business Person of the Year entrant

Dr Najam Kidwai’s rise to success is nothing short of a fairytale. Entirely self-made, he is the founder and chairman of Crypto 1, the world’s first Crypto special purpose acquisition company which listed on the Nasdaq in December 2021 and raised $230million.
This is the story of a man who went from living on economy baked beans and pizza while a student at Staffordshire University to later setting himself the challenge to eat at every Michelin starred restaurant in the world – and achieving it.
Najam is the founder of the world’s largest digital assets focused secondaries fund, where he recently raised $500M, and was a co-founder of
An active investor in technology globally, he studied Technology Management at Staffordshire University’s Stafford campus from 1988 to 1992.
He has more than 30 years of experience of leading product and business development, investment and operational management in technology, e-commerce and financial services.
He was a co-founder and board member of EQUIAM, a leading, private-markets-focused venture capital fund. Through EQUIAM he has invested in technology companies including Coinbase and Robinhood.
Najam has also been investing in digital assets, crypto and blockchain since 2016, including companies such as
He has served as an independent advisor, board member, and/or investor in technology companies including ForgeGlobal and Boxed (Giddy Inc) and has served in similar roles with Neurable, Cleartrip (acquired by FlipKart), InMobi, Servify, ToTheNew Ventures and Asia Innovations.
Now living in Dubai, Najam had what he calls a ‘working class and humble’ upbringing in Bradford.
“We were poor but I didn’t feel poor,” he says. “My parents didn’t go to university but they valued the power of education and instilled that in us.”
He says his years at Staffordshire University were transformative and helped to set him on the path to success.
“Staffordshire University opened my eyes that the world was a much broader place. I met people from all walks of life and from different cities and found out about parts of England that I didn’t even know existed before.”
Najam says he chose to study technology management because it was a new degree and broad in scope which was “great from a learning perspective.”
“It gave me a really good base on how to think about companies and how to think about HR, management and marketing.
“I do a lot around technology and innovation. If I hadn’t have had that grounding in Staffordshire maybe I wouldn’t have had as much interest in that going forward.”
Najam has entered the Alumni Business Person of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Jan Wong

Alumni Business Person of the Year entrant

Jan Wong is an entrepreneur, online strategist and youth advocate who has launched eight start-up businesses since the age of 17.
The Staffordshire University alumni is also a part-time lecturer, an academic advisory board member for two universities, a three-times TEDx speaker and made the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list in 2017.
Jan started his first company while studying for a Staffordshire University degree in computing at Asia Pacific Institute of Information Technology in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
He went on to found various technology related businesses including eCommerce, fashion, app development and a marketing consultancy.
One of his most successful ventures to date, OpenMinds, started as a job application management company but later pivoted towards MarTech. It offers services including digital marketing, data analytics, technology development, training and consultancy and has been valued at more than $10m.
Jan’s experience and knowledge of the sector led him towards consulting and training at just 19 years of age. He took to the stage to deliver seminars, workshops and conferences at universities and corporations, including for Nestle, Vinda Group, Groupon, Maxis, IJM, MaGIC, SWIFT, Sime Darby, TechStars, DiGi, Bosch, KL SOGO, Prudential and more. He has also published his insights in various media, including Malaysia SME, The Edge, Personal Money, Astro, BFM, The Asian Entrepreneur and more.
Jan is often asked to speak on his entrepreneurial journey, leadership, eCommerce, digital branding, social media marketing, SEO and career related topics for crowds of up to 1,000 people, including a TEDx talk.
Jan said: “Throughout my journey I have been highly motivated to establish something that can be an inspiration, especially for the younger generations to come.
“Despite the pressure to give up and pursue a ‘stable’ career that stemmed from teachers, parents and even friends; especially when there were good corporate job offers along the way that could offer much more than what I was receiving, I was determined to create businesses from scratch, learning the ropes of bootstrapping and the importance of all administrative, operational and managerial details.
“Prospects, clients and suppliers were also initially sceptical of my reputation due to my young age and with the lack of role models and mentors at that time I had no one to turn to for advice. Instead, I picked up the necessary skills and experience and was determined to prove that it was possible to create a business from nothing.
“I continued to experiment with different business models to learn, grow and gain experience despite many failures.”

Martin 'Mr Bigz' Mwale

Alumni Business Person of the Year entrant

A DJ turned cake baker turned restaurant owner has been nominated in the Entrepreneur of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.
Martin ‘Mr Bigz’ Mwale, owner of Mr Bigz Flavours restaurant and cocktail bar in Alsager, was nominated by fellow entrepreneur Laura Bailey.
Laura said: “I have known of Martin for the last 20 years. I am always inspired by his zest for life and the entrepreneurial skills he turns his hand to.
“From the small streets of Etruria, everything about Mr Bigz is his namesake. Big presence, big smile, big heart and big ambition.
“DJ, TV star and chef extraordinaire, he makes his many and multiple ventures appear he’s living the entrepreneur’s dream.
“Making friends across the city, his early days as a teen saw him DJing across busy venues, building a raft of supporters he fondly refers to as his ‘people’ in his wake.
“When he’s not behind the decks or planning events for the genuine enjoyment of his ‘people’ from across Stoke-on-Trent, you’ll find him behind the stove perfecting his extensive and delicious menu for the Afro-Caribbean restaurant he launched on the border of Staffordshire and Cheshire last year.
“This is already proving a huge success despite the difficult economic happenstance we find ourselves in. His restaurant ripples with good vibes and great food, mixing and blending new flavours to the town of Alsager and merging cultures within the community.
“When he is out of the kitchen his sleeves are still rolled up, being an active social justice ambassador for our children; appearing at community events as a compelling compère and DJ or donning his chef’s hat and apron, showing kids how to create and cook up their own delicious and nutritious meals.”
Martin completed a foundation degree in business management at Staffordshire University, a course which he says ‘changed his life’.
Martin’s other ventures include a cake business, he has worked in the care services sector and he mentors young people.

He has also committed to sponsoring a children’s football team in Alsager.

Laura added: “Martin’s appetite for success and high spirits is infectious, just like his laugh.
“Martin wholeheartedly deserves to receive acknowledgment for his entrepreneurial success, commitment to community spirit and cohesion and the motivational mentorship he provides for his peers and the city’s future. “
Martin said: “It hasn’t been an easy ride. I’ve had to start from the very beginning, save up my own money and invest it in the business.
“I see what I do as community cohesion. For people to get the sort of food I serve they’d usually have to go to a bigger area or go on holiday. I’ve brought that to Alsager and it’s working out really well.”

Janki Deole

Alumni Business Person of the Year entrant

Janki Deole was the first person from India to study for a sports psychology degree in the UK and went on to set up India’s first professional sports and performance consultancy.
The Staffordshire University alumni holds a PhD, MSc and BSc in psychology from the UK with a speciality in sport, exercise and performance.
“I am the highest qualified sport psychologist in the country and my contribution has been key in the advancement of sport and performance psychology in India,” she said.
Janki co-founded Samiksha Sports Pvt Ltd, a pioneer in the field of sport psychology in India. It is the first and regarded as one of the most trusted consultancy services in India in its field.
She has worked with athletes, boxers, weightlifters, cricketers, archers, divers and other sporting champions helping them to perform at the peak of their sport and to handle the pressure of competing.
Janki has also developed programmes for sports coaches and inspired schoolchildren to enjoy exercise and sport through a life skills scheme.
She honed her skills while doing a PhD in Sport Science and Psychology at Staffordshire University. Although she visited Stoke-on-Trent during her studies she was based thousands of miles away in India and benefited from the flexibility of distance learning.
She first became an international student in 2005 when she enrolled on a degree in Psychology, Sport and Performance at Middlesex University. She went on to take a Masters at Loughborough University.
Janki began her PhD journey at Staffordshire University in 2013, completing the Doctorate in 2019.
Now Janki has entered the Entrepreneur of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.
Gayatri Vartak, the co-founder of Janki’s business, said: “It gives me immense pleasure to recommend Janki. I have known Janki since 2011 as a fellow sport psychologist.
“Janki evidently came across as a passionate young woman with a dream to build and grow sport psychology in India. It was her determination and willingness to give it everything to not only become a competent sport psychologist but the belief to make it a successful business that drove me to partner with Janki and co-found Samiksha Sports.
“Her entrepreneurial spirit and her ability to dream big has been key in achieving Samiksha’s success and recognition.
“I can proudly say that today Samiksha Sports is synonymous to sport psychology in India. Without Janki, this was impossible.
“Furthermore, she has left no stone unturned to make Samiksha the brand that it is today. She is a true leader who is always open to feedback, believes in empowering people and works hard to achieve the vision she has for the company.
“Janki has often mentioned about the contribution of her time in the UK in not only
helping her become a proficient sport psychologist but to instill the entrepreneurial spirit
into her.
“Janki is India’s highest qualified sport psychologist and a pioneer in the field -
an inspiration for Indian women to work in the sports industry. She is a role model to the
future aspiring sport psychologists. I strongly recommend Janki for the entrepreneurship award.”

Charlotte Whitaker

Alumni Business Person of the Year entrant

Sports therapist Charlotte Whitaker graduated from Staffordshire University just last year and stayed in the area to launch her fledgling business on campus.
The 27-year-old graduated with a BA in Sports Therapy in July 2022 and now runs Phoenix Sports Therapy Clinic from The Science Centre on the Stoke-on-Trent campus.
Charlotte treats members of the public as well as the University community and is keen to stress that she works with people from all walks of life and with different types of injuries as well as sportspeople.
She said: “Setting up the clinic was an opportunity provided by the University and my former course leader and senior lecturer, Rebecca Warnett.
“Since opening, the business has been gradually building, treating both members of the public and those within the sporting community.”
Charlotte is currently negotiating a deal to provide massage, assessments and rehabilitation to a cheerleading team.
She opens her clinic from Tuesday to Saturday, from 9am through until 8pm.
“It’s still in its infancy but is growing steadily. My ambition is to own my own premises one day and to be able to offer a mobile service.”
Charlotte has been promoting her business through the Staffordshire University Students Union and through social media accounts she’s set up.
She added: “I also have a business WhatsApp as an additional source of being contacted. The business currently relies on word-of-mouth recommendations but I will be looking into other forms of advertising and other ways of promoting the business. To continue the growth of the business, I will also be looking at providing more offers and an eventual mobile service.”
Charlotte has entered the Young Business Person of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

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