Entrepreneur of the Year
- 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.
Dr M Sha
Entrepreneur of the Year entrant
Dr M Sha is a first generation immigrant woman determined to create an empire from scratch.
The 35-year-old has launched an aesthetics and wellness clinic alongside her work as a GP.
She opened her first aesthetics clinic within M Club in Stoke-on-Trent in August 2023 and has ambitions to open a clinic in the city centre.
“When people talk about aesthetics they think about overly filled cheeks and lips. It’s so much more than that,” she said. “I want to specialise in menopause-related skin and scalp problems and to introduce aesthetics treatments for men.
“A very important part of the process is talking to people about why they want a procedure and whether to go ahead with it. We talk about whether their health and self-esteem is being affected because treating that is more important.”
Dr Sha, who works as an out of hours GP and also as an aesthetics trainer for The Harley Institute in London, says that Stoke-on-Trent doesn’t currently have many doctor-led aesthetics clinics.
She is currently the only practitioner at her clinic but says her husband, a research scientist, researches the treatments and products she offers before they are introduced.
Dr Sha added: “My small clinic is in the massive MClub Spa and Fitness Centre and its owner, Mo Chaudry is an absolute inspiration. I wish I could be the next Mo for Stoke-on-Trent and my family.”
She has entered five categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards – Small Business of the Year, Young Business Person of the Year, Entrepreneur of the Year, Business in the Community and High Street Impact.
Entrepreneur of the Year entrant
Staffordshire Oatcakes have been a regional delicacy for centuries but entrepreneur Mark Adams has found an innovative way to turn them into a business.
The Baddeley Green businessman, who also owns leaflet distribution company Street Level Distribution, launched The Staffordshire Oatcake Company in December 2020.
Lockdown gave him the opportunity to work on his business model, which involves selling packets of dry oatcake mix for people to cook at home.
Mark, who has a marketing background, worked on the logos and packaging himself and bought a century-old oatcake recipe from the former owner of an oatcake shop.
He thought he’d have a viable business on his hands but hadn’t anticipated The Staffordshire Oatcake Company becoming so successful so quickly.
Mark’s oatcake mix is now stocked in around 20 shops including Trentham Garden Centre and bespoke branded packs have been created for the likes of Stoke City and Port Vale football clubs, Staffordshire University, Keele University, Titanic Brewery and as wedding favours.
Online sales see Mark posting across the globe including to the US, South America and Iceland. He even received an email from Australia saying how emotional the customer felt to eat oatcakes for the first time in 20 years.
“When I went to visit friends overseas they would always ask me to take oatcakes with me. I know people post fresh oatcakes but I thought there’s got to be a better way of doing it,” said Mark.
“Then I had the idea of selling packs of dry mix with a long shelf life. I tried a few recipes myself before buying a recipe from a guy I knew who used to run an oatcake shop.”
Mark took some sample packs to a coffee shop and deli in Leek. By the time he arrived home the shop had sold out and placed an order for more.
He believes The Staffordshire Oatcake Company is the first standalone oatcake mix company.
“I had a figure in mind for what I wanted the business to achieve. I thought of it as a side hustle. The first few months smashed that initial figure out of the park.
“People love the product and we get a lot of repeat buying. Christmas is really busy. The challenge is getting the message out to Stokies who no longer live in the area.
“Once you have a brand that’s recognised you never quite know what might happen next. I see Staffordshire oatcakes as the last undiscovered regional delicacy.”
He added: “The business wouldn’t have happened without lockdown because it gave me the time to sit down and drive it.”
The Staffordshire Oatcake Company has been entered into the Small Business of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards and Mark has entered the Entrepreneur of the Year category.
Entrepreneur of the Year entrant
A recovering gambling addict, business strategist Bianca Colclough uses her own life experiences to inspire other women.
The 43-year-old mum-of-two is the founder of This Girl Consultancy Ltd which has helped establish 25 women-owned businesses and has directly impacted the lives of 1,500 women.
Bianca, from Stoke-on-Trent, launched This Girl in 2020 after working in recruitment for 20 years.
In July 2023 she opened headquarters in Newcastle-under-Lyme with the aim of creating a safe and purposeful space for professional women to work, network and socialise.
As of January 2024, 11 women have residency at This Girl and pay a fixed monthly fee to use the space. Bianca also offers a pay-as-you-go option to allow a hybrid working model for women seeking flexibility or for those who work from home but want to increase their social interactions.
Bianca said: “Amidst the lockdown and while pregnant with my first child I launched my business online. Fast forward to today the business is four years old, financially sound and boasts a recognisable brand with a social media following of 20,000, putting North Staffordshire on the map.
“Initially starting as an online networking event, This Girl Community has evolved into a thriving digital platform. With 86 active members and an average of 150 monthly guests, TGC now consists of various themed sessions, each hosted by experts in their respective fields, ranging from finance and marketing to neurodiversity, motherhood, nutrition and fitness, wellbeing and trauma.
“In the post-COVID landscape, I recognised the need for in-person interactions and launched This Girl Meets in January 2022. Initially starting with 12 attendees, the event rapidly gained traction, quickly welcoming 76 women. This proved that there was a clear gap in the market for women’s networking in Staffordshire and beyond.”
Bianca was among the first cohort of the Peter Coates MSc in Entrepreneurship and has used her story as a recovering gambling addict to inspire others. She’s now a board member of GambleAware, has become a Lived Experience Practitioner through Bet Know More and achieved Train the Trainer status.
She added: “There is a significant lack of support for women entrepreneurs who are looking to start up their own business. This Girl stands out by filling a crucial void, surpassing generic traditional business courses.”
Bianca has entered the Entrepreneur of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards and has entered This Girl into the Business in the Community category.
Entrepreneur of the Year entrant
Darren Mood started his security business with a CCTV van and now has a team of staff and an ongoing relationship with Staffordshire Police including offering real-world scenarios for police dog training.
He launched DB security in 2000 to provide a CCTV security service for events. It’s evolved into a comprehensive service provider for voided properties and community safety.
The Hanley-based company, which doubled in size over the last year to a team of five employees, is set to move into new premises in Fenton.
Darren, who was recently named Entrepreneur of the Month by business support group Entrepreneurs Circle, is passionate about creating employment opportunities in the local area.
He said: “Bringing work into the local area means a lot to me and the city. Why work elsewhere when we can offer services here?”
From CCTV installations to 24/7 monitoring and response, DB Security covers all security needs. "We're available anytime a customer needs support," said Darren.
DB Security works with many Staffordshire businesses but Darren is particularly proud of his company’s relationship with Staffordshire Police.
"We provide police and their dogs with real-life scenario experience through use of our empty spaces," he said.
Darren has entered the Entrepreneur of the Year and Small Business of the Year categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.
Entrepreneur 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.
Entrepreneur of the Year entrant
John Fogarty started his own business after being made redundant during the pandemic – and three and a half years later it’s going from strength to strength.
Lichfield-based JPF First Aid works with clients including well-known restaurant brands and multi-academy trusts to deliver life-saving training for adults and children of all ages.
John is the founder and lead trainer but he is also starting to work with associates, mentor other trainers and would like to bring in apprentices.
He said: “I’m immensely proud of what has been achieved with the business over the past few years. There have been a number of challenges that we’ve all had to face and that I’ve faced personally, so moving the business forward has been a huge achievement.
“I just want to support people. I’ve got passion and pride and I think that shows in my customer service and delivery.”
John’s background is as a first aid trainer and an assessor for a training company. Before that he was cabin crew for various airlines.
JPF First Aid works with both primary and secondary school pupils, where John uses ECHO the First Aid Frog to help children learn what to do in first aid situations.
He offers enrichment sessions to help prepare sixth form students for real-life situations including skills in readiness for the workplace.
John also runs monthly mental health drop-in sessions at a library to support members of the community. He supports numerous charities and donated a first aid kit to an under-13s football team.
JPF has won a number of awards including being commended for Start-up Business of the Year by Lichfield District Council.
John Fogarty has entered the Entrepreneur of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards and JPF First Aid has been entered in the Skills for the Future category.
Entrepreneur of the Year nominee
When he was just 16 years old Matthew Bridger set up Magnate Generation, a project to encourage young people who were not in education to set up their own business, start an apprenticeship or rejoin full-time education.
The scheme was funded by Matthew’s local police and crime commissioner in Kent, had a high success rate and was later turned into the registered charity called Unleashing Lives with a vision of empowering disadvantaged individuals and unlocking their potential.
It’s just one of a string of initiatives spearheaded by Matthew who, in 2019 at the age of 18, became one of the youngest parish councillors in the UK. Many of Matthew’s projects link to social mobility and education.
These include The Little House Project which still runs today and was founded by Matthew to ensure homeless people had a present to open on Christmas Day.
He founded a homeless evening support team, has organised Erasmus Youth Exchanges and coordinated pandemic volunteers and food parcels in his local area.
Now working as the senior communications advisor and constituency office manager for Stoke-on-Trent MP Jo Gideon, Matthew has turned his attention to Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire.
He is a patron of Better Together Community Support Group, trustee of Sutton Trust Community Group in Abbey Hulton, outreach and communications officer for the Harper-Lee Foundation and has been a school governor.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak recently honoured Matthew as the 2241st Point of Light recipient in the UK.
Now Matthew has been nominated in the Entrepreneur of the Year and Young Business Person of the Year categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.
In her nomination for Matthew Emily Davies said: “I’m nominating Matthew as he is an absolutely remarkable individual and believe that he needs to be recognised for his commitment to public service and how over the last 10 years he has made an enormous contribution to the local community across the whole of the United Kingdom.
“Matthew’s achievements at such a young age are an inspiration to many. He has shown that age is not a barrier to making a difference and that anyone can contribute to their community if they have the passion and dedication to do so.
“His commitment to public service and his ability to connect with people on a personal level make him a role model for young people looking to make a difference in their communities.”
Matthew said: “I am truly delighted and honoured to have been nominated for an award, especially as a young entrepreneur. This recognition is not just a personal achievement but a celebration of the collaborative efforts of remarkable individuals who have played a vital role in my business endeavours and charitable initiatives.
“Running businesses goes beyond financial success; it's about creating positive change in the community. I remain steadfast in the ongoing journey of giving back and addressing the critical issues that shape our world.
“This nomination is more than just an acknowledgement of my efforts; it’s a testament to the power of collaboration and the impact we can make when we unite with a shared purpose.
“While I may not know the outcome yet, being nominated is a humbling experience. I firmly believe that everyone has a voice and the power to change the world – it’s our sole responsibility to use it, and that is what I will continue to do. This nomination serves as a reminder that our actions, both in business and philanthropy, can leave a lasting impact on the lives of others.”
Entrepreneur 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.”