Alumni Business Person of the Year

 

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.

Mel Osborne

Alumni Business Person of the Year entrant

Mel Osborne has created a business that not only fits around her family’s needs but combines her experience of working in social care with her love of drama.
The 47-year-old moved to Stoke-on-Trent in 1995 to study Film, TV and Radio at Staffordshire University then went back to Staffs Uni in her 30s to study Social Work.
Now a freelance creative, she combines both those areas of study in her work as an actor, drama teacher and the owner of The Little Fidgit Theatre Company.
The mum-of-two often works with schools, community groups such as The Indi Club and has a particular specialism in working with adults and children with learning disabilities.
“I’ve definitely got a good understanding of special educational needs because of both personal and work experience,” said Mel, who is based in Sneyd Green. “I’m now planning to run workshops for support workers so they can understand the benefits of drama for the people they work with.”
Keen to ensure drama is available to as many people as possible, she is also setting up a drama group for home educated children.
Mel’s Little Fidgit Theatre Company takes its name from her observation that young children often find it difficult to sit still while watching theatre performances.
“What I offer is an immersive and interactive puppet theatre,” she said. “I let the children play with the puppets and get involved in the storytelling. I never tell them not to touch.
Mel added: “I’ve engineered a career around my kids and their various appointments that involves doing things I love, is of service to the community and brings people together.
“I made the decision that I wasn’t going to do any job that I hate, so that means I love everything I do.”
Mel has entered the Alumni Business Person of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Maria Brown

Alumni Business Person of the Year entrant

Homemade remedies that Maria Brown created for her own family are now helping other people with sensitive and eczema prone skin.
Maria, who has just completed her third Staffordshire University degree, launched skincare brand Callidora in 2023 while studying for the Peter Coates MSc in Entrepreneurship, holding down a full-time job in project management and raising her family.
She still personally handmakes all her products at home using her own carefully formulated recipes but now sells them through a website and at events.
“I do everything myself, from the initial concept to the end product,” said the 40-year-old, who has an undergraduate degree in Product Design and an MA in Creative Futures.
“Everything I sell is homemade by me rather than being bought from another manufacturer. It’s made with care, with love and with good intentions.
“I’ve dedicated a lot of time to working on the right formulas, initially with my own family’s needs in mind. I’ve tried different natural ingredients such as coconut oil, shea butter and mango butter and made sure that everything I make and sell is effective.”
It was only after joining the MSc course in January 2023 that Maria developed her skin products into a business and launched Callidora.
She’s now aiming to move production from her home to a commercial premises and to collaborate with other businesses.
Maria hopes to grow the business so that it can become her full-time job and she would like to recruit a team.
She has entered the Innovation Award, Alumni Business Person of the Year and Small Business of the Year categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Anna Morrallee

Alumni Business Person of the Year entrant

Anna Morrallee has set up a business using art to empower people to think positively and to improve their mental health.
Anna, who is also known as Mora, is the creative force behind Moonbow, a one-of-a-kind Neurographica service based in Stoke-on-Trent.
A multifaceted artist, positive mindset champion, writer, poet and environmental advocate, she embarked on her entrepreneurial journey in April 2022 driven by the desire to bring Neurographica to the local area.
Neurographica is a form of therapeutic art that combines elements of psychology and neuroscience. It involves creating abstract visual representations to explore and express emotions, thoughts and subconscious patterns. This creative practice is used for self-discovery, stress reduction and personal growth.
Moonbow offers a unique approach to success by unlocking the potential of the subconscious mind through the simple act of drawing.
Mora, who has just completed the Peter Coates MSc in Entrepreneurship at Staffordshire University, said: “I empower people through art to create positive changes in their life.”
Mora's offerings include a diverse range of workshops, training courses, webinars and podcasts tailored for those who aspire to build confidence and make incremental changes in their lives.
Mora is currently the only provider of Neurographica in Staffordshire. Her vision is clear – to elevate the visibility of Neurographica in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire, fostering confidence and self-belief.
“I want Moonbow to be visible to the city because I can help those who are struggling with confidence and stress” she says.
With a canvas of possibilities before her, she looks forward to shaping a future where Moonbow continues to leave an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of those seeking transformation and empowerment.
Mora has entered the Young Business Person of the Year and Alumni Business Person of the Year categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Andrea Harrison

Alumni Business Person of the Year entrant

An award-winning couture designer who won Collection of the Year at Graduate Fashion Week is making her one-off, bespoke creations in the heart of Burslem.
Andrea Harrison has been commissioned by The British Council, styled a fashion shoot for a pop singer and had a fashion show in Hong Kong.
After working as a fashion designer in London the 45-year-old moved back to the Midlands to set up her own business in 2017.
From her base in Price Street, Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, she designs and makes wedding and special occasion wear.
“What makes me different is that I’m a couture designer,” said Andrea, from Biddulph. “I make one off pieces for customers who often can’t find what they are looking for elsewhere.
“My customers are often women who don’t want to go to bridal stores and want something personal to them. A lot of the time they want something a bit different, sometimes in different colours. They come to me because they can’t find what they’re looking for or want something more luxurious.”
Andrea began by customising clothing for herself and friends when she was still at school then took a BTEC in fashion and textiles at Mid Cheshire College.
“I realised I absolutely loved fashion. I loved all the aspects of it. It kept my interest because it’s so broad based.”
After graduating from a fashion degree at Northampton the mum-of-one exhibited at Graduate Fashion Week and won the prize for Collection of the Year.
That led to her being commissioned by The British Council to travel to Egypt to style a fashion shoot for the singer Natacha Atllas.
The British Council also later commissioned her to put on a fashion show in Hong Kong, after earlier flying her out for a research trip.
When Andrea completed an MA in women’s wear at Central Saint Martins in London she thought she’d completed her university education. But at the end of 2022 she heard about Staffordshire University’s Peter Coates MSc in Entrepreneurship.
As part of the first cohort of the course she has been working on plans to scale her business.
Andrea currently designs and produces all of her own pieces but is now looking to recruit a team of pattern cutters and seamstresses to support her work.
She added: “I wasn’t planning on doing anything like this course at all but after I heard about it I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It’s given me the time and space to work on my business instead of in it.”
Andrea Harrison has entered the High Street Impact, Alumni Business Person of the Year and Small Business of the Year categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Kirstie Ash

Alumni Business Person of the Year entrant

Kirstie Ash’s Saturday night live streams regularly attracted more than 1,000 viewers during lockdown – which led her to launch a business to empower women and help them to network.
The 45-year-old Staffordshire University alumni, who graduated in fine art in 2001, runs Pink Women Networking and recently held the first of a series of events for women to empower other women.
It was weekly live streams, initially broadcast through the dating app Plenty of Fish, that gave the mum-of-one the confidence that she could hold an audience and had the ability to inspire and encourage others.
“I’ve met a lot of women who have encouraged me and have given me the confidence to pass that on to other women,” said Kirstie.
“This is not just a business for me. I am very much an empath. This is about giving out love and support. It’s about creativity and confidence. It’s about inspiring people.”
Kirstie, from Stoke-on-Trent, has a strong social media following including more than 20,000 followers on TikTok.
She has held women-only networking events at venues including Capella Lounge in Newcastle-under-Lyme and The Potbank at Spode.
Her first women empowering women event was held in the LRV at Staffordshire University and a second event, coinciding with International Women’s Day, will be held at Pathways in Burslem on March 8.
Kirstie added: “I work with women of all ages and from different backgrounds. I already have a global audience on TikTok and have thought about taking my events to different cities to empower different women.”
Kirstie is currently studying for the Peter Coates MSc in Entrepreneurship.
She has entered the Alumni Business Person of the Year and Small Business of the Year categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Emma Priestman

Alumni Business Person of the Year entrant

Emma Priestman’s shoe shop is based in the Staffordshire Moorlands but its reputation is international.
Footprints, in Derby Street, Leek, regularly attracts customers from as far afield as the US and Denmark who make the most of the sort of service they tell Emma they simply can’t find back home.
A former children’s day nursery manager, Emma opened her specialist children’s shoe shop in 2006.
18 years later the business that was originally designed to fit around her young family is still going strong and Emma is diversifying.
After nearly two decades of focussing on children’s feet she’s now branching out into adult footwear too with a particular focus on ‘good shoes for the elderly’ and shoes for medical staff, hairdressers and others who spend their working life on their feet.
Emma is also working on a community element to her business where she takes her expertise into the likes of retirement villages, GP surgeries and mother and toddler groups to ensure people understand the importance of wearing correctly-fitting shoes.
“I’m really proud about what I do and the service I offer. I like to think our customer service is second to none,” said Emma, who currently has one member of staff but is looking to recruit a team to work for her expanded business.
“We have a lot of customers from Leek and the surrounding areas but people also travel to us from Cheshire and Derbyshire.
“We also have repeat customers from overseas who buy from us when they’re visiting family in the UK and say there isn’t a shop like ours where they live.”
Emma is currently studying on the Peter Coates MSc in Entrepreneurship, where she is honing the expansion plans for Footprints.
“It’s a fantastic course. It’s been like a breath of fresh air for me to be exposed to other entrepreneurs and so many inspirational speakers,” she said.
Footprints has been entered into the High Street Impact and Small Business of the Year categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards and Emma has entered the Alumni Business Person of the Year category.

Martin 'Mr Bigz' Mwale

Alumni Business Person of the Year entrant

Community cohesion is every bit as important as flavour combinations for restaurant owner Martin ‘Mr Bigz’ Mwale.
Staffordshire University business management alumni, Martin is the owner of Mr Bigz Flavours restaurant and cocktail bar in Alsager.
“What I run here is much more than a business,” said Martin, who is also a DJ and cake baker.
“When people come in they want to know more about the food, the flavours and where it originates from. I give them food for thought and the history behind every dish.
“People always learn something when they eat here. They learn more about different cultures.”
Martin, originally from Etruria, has been running his Alsager business for a year and a half and is now hoping to open a second premises in Crewe.
“We get really good community support from people in Alsager. It’s about community cohesion – we’re bringing different types of backgrounds together,” he said.
“We did a Christmas event in Crewe and a huge crowd of people were saying we should open up there too. I’m hoping we can expand in a few months time.”
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.
Martin Mwale has entered the Alumni Business Person of the Year and Business in the Community categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Natalie Jenkinson

Alumni Business Person of the Year entrant

Sculptor Natalie Jenkinson created some ghost figurines for Halloween that proved such a success she launched The Little Ghost Company and now has more than 55,000 Instagram followers.
Natalie, who is Staffordshire University sculpture and creative technologies alumni, now sells her work as far afield as the US, Singapore and Australia.
Everything is made in small, limited edition batches by the 32-year-old from Park Hall, who previously worked at Madame Tussauds in London sculpting life-sized bodies.
“It’s all stemmed from my time at Staffordshire University,” said Natalie. “I already had a first degree in special effects but at Staffordshire University I moved into ceramics and was also able to join a business course which helped me to get started with my own business. I owe my business to Staffordshire University.”
Natalie’s ghosts sell all year round – she jokes that a ghost is for life and not just for Halloween. Every piece is sold online by Natalie rather than through stockists and distributors.
She said: “When I started the business I was making ceramic jewellery but when I made some ceramic ghosts I was inundated with messages. It evolved from there. The jewellery wasn’t selling well but the ghosts really were.”
She added: “Being from Stoke-on-Trent, I grew up surrounded by the pottery industry and I always had an interest in it but it wasn’t until I was older that I had my first experience in ceramics as I took a night class which really inspired me.
“I am so proud to be from such a creative city and to be a part of keeping the tradition of ceramics made in Stoke alive.”
Natalie has entered the Alumni Business Person of the Year and Young Business Person of the Year categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Clare Challinor

Alumni Business Person of the Year entrant

Karate champion Clare Challinor has turned her lifelong passion into a business.
The gold-medallist, who still competes at world championship level at the age of 43, has launched Self Defence with Clare.
She wants people to be able to defend themselves if necessary but also to feel confident and empowered.
Clare, who started her karate training at the age of six, has a Staffordshire University sports scholarship and is currently studying on the Peter Coates MSc in Entrepreneurship programme.
She said: “My lightbulb moment came when speaking with a friend about self defence. Although it’s second nature to me, my friend said she would panic and wouldn’t know how to protect herself.
“Self defence with Clare was built on the foundation that anyone can learn and apply the techniques taught in the classes.”
Clare teaches one-to-one classes and group sessions, leads sessions in schools, works in conjunction with the police and runs sessions in corporate settings. Her clients include women in their 70s.
She offers private sessions for survivors of abuse meaning they can learn in a safe environment, often their own home.
She’s developing online sessions for people who would rather train remotely or are based in other parts of the UK.
Claire, from Sandbach, started working on her business during lockdown, launched it in 2021 and left her career in corporate sales in 2023 to work on her business full-time.
She also runs a karate dojo in Nantwich, where she has special educational needs classes for children who learn at a different pace or need a quieter space to train.
She added: “My mission is to build a society that is not afraid to live their lives to the full because of fear.
“Self defence extends beyond the physical realms. It creates a resilient mindset that proves invaluable in facing life’s challenges.”
Claire has entered the Alumni Business Person of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Alan Graham

Alumni Business Person of the Year entrant

Circuits designed by Alan Graham through his company Blackstick Ltd have gone to the deepest parts of the ocean and are currently orbiting Earth.
Largely self-taught after leaving school at the age of 14, Alan has been working at the cutting edge of design and technology since setting up his business 19 years ago.
Now Alan, from Leek, has turned his attention to AI and has partnered with Staffordshire University AI academics to launch a second business, AiDenVi.
AiDenVi is currently at the development stage and Alan, who is also studying for an MSc in Entrepreneurship at Staffordshire University, is hoping to roll out the first of his AI-driven tools to a group of beta testers by the end of March.
He said: “The ultimate dream is to have a complete AI-driven electronics design tool set, made in Stoke-on-Trent and sold to the world.
“The tools that are available now are fantastic, they’ve come a long way in a short space of time. But they are still lacking in useful automation. We know how to solve this. We know how to make it better.”
Having designed printed circuit boards for more than 25 years, Alan has always looked for better ways of working.
He said: “I have always been aware that the process had areas that needed to be improved. I started looking at AI six or seven years ago, thinking it could probably help. But the infrastructure and technology weren’t quite at the stage to be useful easily. They are now.
“Data shows that at the start of most designs, engineers are wasting between 10 and 20% of their time creating CAD models for their designs. This is quite a menial task that should, and can, be done instantly.
“Our tool enables engineers to ‘drag and drop’ datasheets, to instantly create these CAD models and their supporting information.”
“The feedback from the industry has been extremely positive, particularly from electronics design companies who see this as a boost in both engineering resources saved and time to market.”
“We have a lot of interest from PCB designers for our early beta program but would also like more electronic engineers to sign up.
“Having a more diverse talent pool using the tool at this stage will allow us to better tailor it for everybody’s needs.”
Alan has entered the Entrepreneur of the Year and Alumni Business Person categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards and has entered his businesses into the Innovation Award category.

Melanie Sheldon

Alumni Business Person of the Year entrant

Surface pattern design graduate and former youth worker Melanie Sheldon has combined her two callings in a new business.
Melanie, who is currently on the Peter Coates MSc in Entrepreneurship course at Staffordshire University, has set up MsheldonDesigns to deliver workshops where people can design their own customised cups.
She uses digital software to create personalised vinyl stickers which she then applies by hand to cups, bags and T-shirts.
Melanie, from Leek, worked at YMCA North Staffordshire for seven years before stepping away from her youth work role to concentrate full-time on launching her business.
She said: “Last year I decided to take the plunge and focus on what had been my side hustle. I make custom cups which are personalised for people and also personalise T-shirts and bags.
“I do pop-up events and workshops, had a pop-up shop in Hanley and have had my products at a fashion show.
“I did a marketing apprenticeship so have a strong social media presence for the business and do a lot of social media creation.”
She said the MSc course is giving her a good grounding in how to run and grow a business.
“It’s really inspiring being around likeminded people. I particularly enjoy the group work where we bounce ideas off each other and just work together.
“It’s a really good network of people and I’m learning so much. It’s giving me a good grounding into how to run a business.
“I currently work from home but one day I would love to have my own shop and I’d like to deliver workshops around the UK. My dream is having my products in a vending machine.”
Melanie has entered the Young Business Person of the Year and Alumni Person of the Year categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards and has entered MsheldonDesigns for Small Business of the Year.

Rob Fenton

Alumni Business Person of the Year nominee

Graphic artist Rob Fenton has been called a true visionary who is leaving an indelible mark on Stoke-on-Trent’s physical and cultural spaces.
The Staffordshire University alumni, who graduated in Graphic Design in 2007, has been nominated as Entrepreneur of the Year and Alumni Business Person of the Year in the Staffordshire University Business Awards.
The Longton-born artist was put forward by Charlotte Pearce, who has commissioned Rob for projects in her role as the BID Manager of Newcastle-under-Lyme Business Improvement District.
She said: “I’d like to nominate Rob in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the creative landscape of Stoke-on-Trent. Rob has played a pivotal role in transforming the city through his artistic endeavours, leaving an indelible mark on both its physical and cultural spaces.
“Rob’s journey began with Ntrprnrs in Hanley, where he co-founded a venture that not only sold clothing and artwork but became a cultural hub for the community. This early initiative laid the foundation for Rob’s entrepreneurial spirit, and his subsequent ownership of We are Culla brought about some of the most breathtaking pieces of art that have graced our city over the past few years.
“I don’t think there’s a single town in the six of Stoke-on-Trent that hasn’t witnessed the magic of Rob’s paintbrush. And if it hasn’t - it will!
“Since embarking on his solo endeavour in 2023, Rob Fenton has not only elevated his artistic skillset but has become a catalyst for positive change within our community. His reputation has positioned him as a key player in numerous small and large-scale projects, from impactful workshops with refugee groups to the creation of murals addressing the crucial issues of men’s mental health and women’s safety.
“Rob’s art is a powerful medium that communicates, educate, and fosters dialogue on topics that matter.
“Moreover, Rob has been instrumental in projects that celebrate the rich history and culture of Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire. The collaborative and self-funded Captain Smith mural in Hanley is a shining example of his ability to intertwine art with heritage, creating visual stories that resonate with the community.
“What sets Rob apart is not just his artistic talent but his dedication to nurturing emerging talent within the city. By championing and providing opportunities for local artists, he is actively contributing to the reanimation and regeneration of Stoke on Trent.
“Rob understands the transformative power of art and its ability to make creativity accessible to everyone, regardless of their level of art appreciation or socioeconomic background.
“Rob’s entrepreneurial journey is not just about artistic expression; it is about community building, social impact and cultural enrichment. His work goes beyond aesthetics, breaking down barriers and creating a sense of inclusivity in our city.
“Rob is a true visionary whose contributions deserve recognition.”
Rob was the co-founder and managing director of Ntrprnrs then the founder and creative director of We are Culla. He left We are Culla at the end of 2022 to focus on his freelance graphic, graffiti and illustration work.
Rob said: “Being nominated for an award is pretty overwhelming. I never really thought I’d be considered. It’s a really nice feeling – it’s made my day.”

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