Entrepreneur of the Year 2023


Category criteria

  • This award will recognise someone who has had a big impact with their own business or innovation and is open to people at any stage of their entrepreneurial journey.
  • The judges will reward enterprising behaviour such as innovation, calculated risk-taking, management, leadership, vision and originality.
  • The judges will also look for a positive impact on the wider economy and community.

Daniel Waterman

Entrepreneur 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

Entrepreneur 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.

TeeJay Dowe

Entrepreneur of the Year entrant

TeeJay Dowe has gone from being a pharmacist treating people’s bodies to a performance and lifestyle coach working with their minds.
A speaker and bestselling author, she runs four thriving enterprises and has a team of five staff based at Newstead Industrial Estate, Stoke-on-Trent.
Under the umbrella of Back on Track People Ltd TeeJay’s businesses include medical training venture Momentum People, Back on Track Teens which focuses on coaching and training young people and families and Back on Track Strategies which extends its support to adults and businesses. TeeJay also set up Spark to your Success as a Community Interest Company to ensure her services are accessible to all.
TeeJay left school at 16 to become a student pharmacy technician, enrolling to Aston University at the age of 29 to qualify as a pharmacist.
She worked at the Royal Stoke University Hospital for eight years before deciding she wanted to change her own life and the lives of other people.
“I grew up believing I wasn’t good enough,” she said. “I left school at 16 because I thought I wasn’t good enough to do A levels. That belief caused me so many problems along the way.
“I made it to my mid-30s and thought I had to find out more about how to change my life. It was literally a journey of personal discovery. I travelled around the world and it changed my world. I changed my job, left my marriage and left pharmacy altogether.
“These days I can encourage people to change their lives in a different way. We can all tap into things naturally before we get to the stage of needing medication. My background means that I understand health, wellbeing and mental health.”
TeeJay set up her business in 2006, allowing it to naturally grow into four linked ventures.
Back on track teens was founded in 2012 with the ambitious goal of positively impacting the lives of 10 million young people.
Recognising the significance of cultivating self-worth and inner confidence in young people, TeeJay aims to support young people’s personal, professional and overall wellbeing.
She added: “My heart, soul and passion is making a difference for young people. That may involve working with people who have children or who work with children. They can use what I teach to empower young people.”
TeeJay has entered the Entrepreneur of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Tom Wilkinson

Entrepreneur of the Year entrant

Former corporate banker Tom Wilkinson launched his own business after spotting a niche in the market due to changes in the way banks operate.
Tom, from Alton, started Beta Commercial Finance in 2017 to support businesses with their growth plans.
“In the past many company directors would have had a regular relationship with a business bank manager, perhaps based at their local branch,” said Tom.
“That’s rare in 2023 and we believe Beta fills that gap, with the added advantage of being able to search the whole of the market and find solutions from more than one lender. By building relationships with the lenders, we can negotiate the best pricing and funding packages.
“We pride ourselves in being able to find solutions for companies where the traditional lenders (the banks) may not. There’s a critical need for commercial lending solutions as many High Street banks no longer provide business managers for clients and have become more risk adverse since the 2008 global recession and the recent pandemic.”
Over the past 12 months Tom and his team of five have issued total funds of £23,912,90 million, around 60% of which was to businesses based in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire.
He estimates that he and the team have helped to create or sustain around 85 full-time jobs over that same time period.
A diverse range of projects have benefited from Tom’s knowledge and ability to problem solve. An early deal saw Beta work with Cheadle-based Hewitt & Carr to develop the Daisy Bank House business centre and, more recently, Beta brokered a complex finance deal to support the purchase of the historic Eagle Works in Stoke-on-Trent as a headquarters for C2 Construction.
Beta’s projects come in all shapes and sizes and, while working across the UK, Tom is keen to support local people in business, for example earlier this year he helped Alton’s village shopkeeper Simon Heaton to purchase his Londis store, which serves as a vital resource for local residents.
Tom leads his team in supporting good causes. Beta sponsored Leek Town Girls Under-14s football team and Tom raised £550 for Cancer Research by competing 100 push-ups a day in November 2022. This year the Beta the team has signed up to complete a marathon walk in the Peak District in aid of Macmillan.
Tom chairs Alton’s community pub, the White Hart, which is now thriving as a Community Interest Company. He led the fight against closure in 2014, masterminding the fundraising that allowed the community group to buy the pub and allotments. The CIC ensured the White Hart remained at the heart of village life through the pandemic and consistent investment has led to the development of a new bar, B&B rooms and a holiday apartment.
Tom Wilkinson has entered the Entrepreneur of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Kate Holt

Entrepreneur 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.

Adam Whitehouse

Entrepreneur of the Year entrant

Adam Whitehouse has gone from owning one shop in Longton to having a multi-million-pound business with 144 staff and a projected turnover of more than £19million in 2023.
His entrepreneurial success story also includes sustainable and eco-friendly innovation, a commitment to addressing a skills gap and ambitions for his business, TMT First, to become an approved partner for Google and Apple.
Adam founded The Mobile Trader, a shop in Longton where he bought phones from consumers then repaired, refurbished and reset them before selling them on. That business grew to a chain of five and TMT First was born.
In the early 2000s Adam spotted an opportunity to configure large volumes of mobile devices for an international distributor based in Crewe. Under Adam’s leadership that was a springboard to the multi-million pounds enterprise TMT First has become.
It now operates from a 43,000 square foot premises in Newcastle-under-Lyme and manages more than 200,000 products each year.
Success hasn’t come without obstacles, personal sacrifice and risk taking along the way to keep the business going.
At one point in the company’s history up to 80% of its work came from one global insurance business and overnight they made the decision to take the work from TMT and manage their devices in-house instead. This left TMT with the majority of its business lost, staff numbers had to be stripped back from over 80 to 26 and Adam decided they needed to pivot quickly if the business was to survive.
He made a direct approach to Samsung and told them he wanted TMT to partner with them to repair their range of mobile devices – that tenacity led to their first dedicated Samsung retail space in Hanley (with just four technicians) and gave Adam the chance to prove they could work with Samsung at pace and at a much larger scale.
In six years the operation has grown massively. TMT are one of Samsung’s biggest approved partners in the UK, repairing the full range of mobile devices including phones, tablets, laptops and smartwatches – around 4,000 come into the business each month directly from individual end users.
The trust Samsung has in Adam has continued to pay off. During Covid when businesses across the world were facing huge challenges – Samsung, like most high street retailers, was forced to close its retail outlets which left customers with nowhere to go to get devices fixed. Adam stepped in and told Samsung that TMT could take on all of that repair service work. Within 48 hours, under Adam’s leadership, the behind-the-scenes processes had been put in place to make it all possible, a website was built and delivery and device return mechanisms were established - with all consumer Samsung repairs coming directly to TMT. That service remains in place today as Samsung never reopened its independent retail spaces.
In 2023 Adam launched TMT’s Samsung Training Academy to address a skills shortage for phone repair technicians. Over the last three years the academy has provided regular cohorts of a four-week intense training scheme in which future technicians are trained and on completion receive a Samsung-authorised accreditation plus a guaranteed job. So far nearly 60 new jobs have been created.
Adam has also been lobbying for the creation of a Digital Device Repair Technician Apprenticeship to ensure a pipeline of trained technicians to support the industry in the future.
Adam’s mantra for TMT First is: Keeping Technology Alive For Longer, and sustainability and innovation are integral to achieving that.
He’s been working with Keele University to find more cost-effective ways of repairing and processing mobile phone screens and batteries. This and other initiatives will enable TMT to extend the life of an additional 100,000 mobile devices every year.
Adam said: “From one shop in Longton to a multi-million-pound company, I continue to have huge aspirations for the future. I want TMT to be approved partners for Google and Apple and those initial conversations are already underway, which will take the business to the next level.”
Adam has entered the Entrepreneur of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Tomasz Putynkowski

Entrepreneur of the Year entrant

Tomasz Putynkowski has overcome health problems and life challenges to set up an accountancy business that is thriving just months after its launch.
He set up JMT Accountancy, based in Fenton Town Hall, in January with two fellow directors. They already have 40 clients on their books.
Tomasz was left bedridden for a year after a car accident seven years ago and suffers recurring health problems.
He had set up True Obsession, an award-nominated natural cosmetics store in Newcastle-under-Lyme, which was forced to close by the effects of the pandemic.
But Tomasz studied accountancy at Newcastle-under-Lyme College, retrained and embarked on a new career.
Now he has been nominated as Entrepreneur of the Year in the Staffordshire University Business Awards by JMT Accountancy co-founder and director Michele Simpson.
Michele said: “He not only is amazing person but his motivation and fight with illness is unbelievable. Tom had a car accident which put him into bed for at least a year around seven years ago.
“To fight with illness, he opened an online business from his bed where in the meantime he studied accountancy to change his career path.
“His health improved so he opened an independent natural cosmetic store in Newcastle. He still carried on studying and working.
“He was extremely good at his job but due to covid he lost his natural cosmetic store and because his treatment was delayed his health deteriorated.
“In the three months since we opened JMT he has managed to attract 39 clients and move the new business from the ground.
“He is still recovering from ill health, he does not give up and is showing amazing strength to fight with illness and not give up his dreams.
“Even when he’s not able to concentrate due to pain and not able to work he does not forget to help others as he is a treasurer for Staffordshire Adults Autistic Society.
“He is the strongest and most motivated person I know. He is a great example of professionalism and dedication to the job.”
Tomasz said he was delighted to have been nominated for an award by his co-founder.

Martin 'Mr Bigz' Mwale

Entrepreneur 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

Entrepreneur 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.”

Angi Cooney

Entrepreneur of the Year entrant

Angi Cooney’s business has been named the best in its sector in the UK despite being a small independent competing against large chains.
The mum of two set up estate agency C residential in 2003 after having her two daughters and now has a team of six staff.
In 2022 C residential won the title of Overall Best Estate Agent of the Year for the UK and it also won the Overall Guild Member of the Year out of more than 800 branches.
“From the very start the aim of the company was to offer not just a good service but a level of service that surpassed clients’ expectations,” said Angi.
“Since opening the company I have expanded into a lettings business which was also recognised on a national scale, winning Silver for the UK in at the ESTAS.
“I lead from the front and always put the wellbeing of my staff first.
“The company is a community champion for Rugeley, where we are based, and we are extremely proud to put Rugeley and Staffordshire well and truly on the map.”
Angi added: “I firmly believe in supporting our local community and believe that with leadership, foresight and a desire to provide the best in everything from technology to best practice, the company stands head and shoulders above not only our competitors but also our peers on the UK stage.”
Angi leads her team in community work including charity fundraising, helping to create a community garden for Rugeley and organising Christmas celebrations for more than a decade.
Now Angi is in the running in the Entrepreneur of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Jan Wong

Entrepreneur 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.”

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