Innovation Award


Category criteria

  • This category is open to individuals, teams or businesses making a big impact with an innovation.
  • The innovation could be a new product, service or process or it could be an innovative use of an existing product, service or process.
  • The judges will be keen to find out about the intellectual processes which gave rise to the design and development of the innovation.
  • The judges will also want to know how innovation is handled within the culture of the company and will welcome nominations from businesses that have innovation at the core of their ethos.


Innovation Award 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.

Hayle Communications

Innovation Award entrant

A moling machine, capable of installing underground ducts and services quickly and efficiently, could create 500 new jobs when it goes into production according to its inventor.
Communications installations engineer Bill Mabey is trying to raise awareness of his electrically-powered device, which has been worked on by Staffordshire University students in two separate research projects.
He wants to put the machine into production through his company Hayle Communications and believes it will have a dramatic impact on the sector including significantly reducing the need for pothole repairs.
“Every year 77 cyclists die because of potholes,” said Bill. “We need to raise awareness of the moling machine. Every country needs this because it’s essential for improving services.”
The machine is electrically operated and fitted with a tracking system to enable accurate installations.
It is silent which means it is suitable for use in urban areas at night when traffic levels are low, avoiding costly trenching and reinstatement which can cause potholes. The moling machine is compact, transportable in a small van and eco friendly
Bill has been working with Staffordshire University students on a tracking system for the machine and on switching the machine’s power source from petrol to electric.
He has entered his moling machine into the Innovation Award category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.


Innovation Award entrant

When Zerline Long woke up from a vivid dream that she was serving vegan sausages at a festival her partner said ‘let’s do that’.
Six years later the couple’s business, Vausages, has become one of the country’s top vegan street food retailers. They sell their food at festivals, shows and events around the UK.
They make sausages from scratch using their own, unique recipe in a commercial kitchen at a factory unit in Cannock Chase after crowdfunding £30,000 to move production out of the kitchen at home.
Zerline and partner Reiss Seymour, both aged 26, are now working with food distributors to get Vausages into independent food chains, restaurants and cafes around the UK.
They had no previous experience of running a business when they began – just a shared passion for vegan food.
“It’s been a challenge from the get-go,” said Zerline. “We started off as two young people who just really liked food. We literally started off with a dream I had and worked from there.
“It was very difficult because we had no connections in this industry. We had to learn everything from scratch by ourselves.
“I was just working at a coffee shop at the time and Reiss was working for his dad. I knew we could do it and we just kept on going.
“We worked on our sausage recipe, which we still work on now, and went to market after market and festival after festival. It’s been quite a mad journey.”
Zerline and Reiss now have one permanent member of staff and have a team of around 15 people to work at events.
The couple’s USP is that they make their own sausages from scratch and use a wholefood, plant-based recipe including mushrooms and quinoa designed to avoid key allergens.
Zerline added: “A lot of street food businesses buy from wholesalers. We saw a gap in the market to do something different.”
Vausages has been entered for the Innovation Award category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards and Zerline and Reiss have jointly entered the Young Business Person of the Year category.


Innovation Award 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.

Therser UK

Innovation Award entrant

Already the UK’s largest kiln and furnace manufacturing company, Therser UK has now established itself as the country’s leading manufacturer of hydrogen kilns - a testament to its commitment to innovation and sustainable industrial practices.
The Burslem-based company was founded in 2009 and has a multi-million-pound turnover which it has a strategy to increase year-on-year for the next three years.
It manufactures industrial kilns, furnaces and dryers and is increasingly working on sustainably powered kilns.
A Therser spokesman said: “Our advanced technology in kiln design and production sets us apart, highlighting a significant shift towards environmentally friendly manufacturing processes.
“Therser UK’s expertise in hydrogen kiln technology not only reflects our leadership in the field but also aligns with the growing global emphasis on reducing carbon emissions in industrial operations.
“Our pioneering work in this area underscores the UK’s role in advancing green manufacturing technologies.”
The company’s management team has more than 150 years of accumulative experience in the thermal sector and deliberately chose to site the business in the very heart of the UK’s ceramics industry.
In addition to manufacturing new kilns and furnaces for customers Therser repairs, refurbishes and relocates specialist equipment. Its staff have relocated complete factories as well as individual industrial machinery units.
Therser UK has entered the Business of the Year and Innovation Award categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

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