Small Business of the Year


Category criteria

  • This category is open to businesses with a turnover not exceeding £5 million during the latest full trading year.

  • Entrants must be able to demonstrate success and progression – this could be via a growth in profits, through research, new methods of working or bringing  products or services to the market.

  • The judges will welcome entries from businesses committed to corporate social responsibility.

Dr M Sha Clinic

Small Business 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.

Andrea Harrison

Small Business 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.


Small Business 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.

Kirstie Ash and Pink Women Networking

Small Business 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.

The Staffordshire Oatcake Company

Small Business 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.


Small Business 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.

DB Security

Small Business 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.

The Career Owl

Small Business of the Year entrant

When specialist careers counsellor Kathryn Hall launched a podcast she had no idea it would be listened to around the globe including in the US, Canada, UAE, Spain and Vietnam.
“I launched a weekly Your Path To Career Success podcast in December 2023 as a way of giving information in a different format,” said Kathryn. “Podcasts have become so popular – I just hadn’t anticipated mine going global.”
Kathryn, based in Tamworth, founded The Career Owl in 2019 to work as a career transformation consultant.
After a 20-year career in retail and HR she now uses her skills to help people build their own unique personal brand to share with recruiters.
A generalist who works across all sectors, Kathryn has found that she works mainly with more senior clients who are at management level and above.
“I work with people to understand the roles they may wish to pursue,” she said. “I’m very general in terms of the client industries I work with. I enjoy researching different industries and roles to support clients.”
Earlier in her career Kathryn worked for big name companies including Sainsbury’s, Adams Childrenswear, Store 21, DHL and Co-op.
After a career break she decided to pursue her passion of helping people ‘articulate and demonstrate their why within their careers’.
She said: “I love what I do. The part I really love the most is when I hear my clients have got a role they really wanted. It’s like a proud parent moment for me. Knowing I’ve made a difference for them is a very good feeling.”
Kathryn volunteers her time to two Tamworth secondary schools to support the development of their careers agenda.
The Career Owl has entered the Small Business of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Stoke Chiro Spinal Health Centre

Small Business of the Year entrant

Since opening in 2009 Stoke Chiro Spinal Health Centre has grown from two employees to a diverse team of 16 staff delivering world class spinal health care.
The Basford-based centre offers chiropractic care and osteopathy as well as massage therapy. There is also an onsite wellness studio for yoga and pilates classes.
Centre manager Melissa Cain said: “We are a team of 16 passionate and skilled professionals who are committed to delivering world class spinal health care to Stoke-on-Trent.
“Since opening in 2009, the centre has grown significantly from just Andy and Hannah to a diverse team of seven chiropractors, two osteopaths, five massage therapists, a centre manager and our chiropractic assistants, as well as yoga and pilates instructors.
“We are proud of the knowledge and expertise of our team. We aim to give our patients a wow experience in a state-of-the-art centre. We are not just ordinary chiropractors. We have been told many times how we stand out from the crowd, which is wonderful.”
The centre works with a diverse mix of clients ranging from office workers to elite athletes and from newborn babies to the elderly. It has set up a wellbeing community which currently has more than 620 members.
Stoke Chiro Spinal Health Centre has won a number of awards over the years including massage therapist of the year, chiropractor of the year and business owners of the year. Two of its chiropractic assistants were both finalists for chiropractic assistant of the year. The centre’s staff were named high performing team of the year at The Sentinel Business Awards two years in a row.
The centre has now entered the Small Business of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards 2024.

The Fitness Collab

Small Business of the Year entrant

A mum and daughter have opened a boutique gym-alternative studio with the aim of bringing fun back to fitness.
Josie McLean and her 26-year-old daughter, Frankie Hurst, ran fitness classes in church and community halls around North Staffordshire before finding their perfect premises in Station Road, Kidsgrove in 2023.
Their diverse classes include aerial yoga, pound (with drumsticks), boogie bounce and they are the only studio within a 25-mile radius to offer bungee fitness.
Facilities include a main studio, a Zen Den social space, a private therapy room, a private personal training room, a second spin studio and now a small crystal shop.
The Fitness Collab began with just Josie and Frankie but now has a team of seven instructors working with more than 60 members.
Frankie said: “We believe that you don’t need to just go to the gym to keep fit. In fact there’s a lack in the community for those who want to look after their health but don’t feel comfortable in a gym environment.
“We work with all different age groups ranging from three to 83 years to empower, give confidence and help people who may not be your regular gym-goers to manifest their health.
“We provide a senior fitness class at the studio and I also visit St Thomas’s Church every Monday to deliver a seated fitness class for more than 20 seniors. They enjoy 45 mins of exercise and then stay for a coffee and biscuit to encourage socialisation, which is especially important after covid. Many friendships have been formed in this class and it’s so lovely to see the community come together.”
The Fitness Collab works with other small businesses to host the likes of retreat days, business empowerment events and charity fundraisers.
Last year the team staged a fitathon and raised £600 for the charity Aura. In 2022, before opening the studio, Josie and Frankie held a fitathon in a park and raised more than £400 to support relief efforts in Ukraine.
Frankie added: “We believe that The Fitness Collab has given the community a safe space to exercise, improve their mental and physical health and make amazing new relationships.”
The Fitness Collab has entered the Small Business of the Year and Business in the Community categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards and Frankie Hurst has entered the Young Business Person of the Year category.

Maze Counselling Services

Small Business of the Year entrant

Qualified psychotherapeutic counsellor Leanne Stanley works with a diverse range of clients in all corners of the UK.
She is a Police Firearm Officer Association approved counsellor and a panel member for GamblHERS which works with female gambling but her personal specialism is the impact of narcissism.
Cheadle-based Leanne has entered her business, Maze Counselling Services, into the Small Business of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.
The business, which Leanne set up in September 2023, works with clients online and over the telephone as well as in person in Cheadle, Uttoxeter and at This Girl in Newcastle-under-Lyme.
Leanne worked in banking then media sales before finding her true vocation in life.
She said: “I’ve found my calling. I just wish I’d found it sooner.
“There are a lot of counsellors out there but I think what marks me out is my dedication and empathetic nature towards clients. I go above and beyond to empower them on their journey.
“Some people have never felt valued. Some people have had traumatic childhood experiences. Because I’m so personable I have a great connection with my clients.
“I specialise in the effects of narcissism, which is very prevalent at the moment. Having that niche allows me to concentrate on clients who are struggling with that.”
Leanne has worked within the NHS but says that offering counselling through her own business allows her to offer more bespoke services and to offer as many sessions as a client needs.
Alongside her core business Leanne founded and hosts EMPOWER—a platform for counsellors, therapists, coaches, students and trainees to connect, collaborate and empower one other.

PCT Coaching

Small Business of the Year entrant

A football coaching company that began as a one-man-band in 2017 has grown to have 16 employees, including a current professional footballer.
PCT Coaching was set up by former Army mechanic Martyn Irvine in 2017 after an aspiring player asked him to help with training ahead of trials with football clubs.
The business now has Stoke-on-Trent’s largest indoor, private training facility at its base in Longton.
Its team of 16 coaches, including a current Oldham Athletic player, deliver tailored sessions to more than 200 children each week. PCT is also home to six junior football teams.
“If you’d told me my career would be coaching football I wouldn’t have believed you,” said Martyn, who served in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers for 12 years.
“I began by helping one person, coaching them in a park, and then more and more people asked me to help them.
“We support and love every single person that comes through the doors. Most of them are children. They’re not footballers, they’re young people who want to be footballers. We want to help them to be young people who can go out into society and be the best they can be.”
After starting off using a park for training, in 2021 PCT moved into part of the former ceramic factory at Sylvan Works in Longton so that training could continue regardless of the weather.
Martyn’s team of coaches support individuals in developing their social, physical, technical and psychological traits within the world of football.
They often work with children who have been turned down by football teams. So far 62 children have been placed into football teams after being told they weren’t good enough elsewhere and are now thriving under the guidance of the team of coaching experts at PCT.
Martyn added: “We just want to help as many people as we can. The biggest thing for us is that we’ve got experts who have played and coached at a high level or who are still involved in playing football professionally.”
PCT Coaching has entered the Small Business of the Year and Team of the Year categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

The Nook at Milton

Small Business of the Year entrant

Counsellor and psychotherapist Paige Harrison felt she couldn’t give clients enough time when she worked in the NHS and schools, so she set up her own private practice.
Paige, from Stoke-on-Trent, set up The Nook at Milton where she offers one-to-one counselling and psychotherapy sessions as well as group therapy.
She also holds retreat days and women’s circles including the likes of holistic therapies, yoga, nutritious food and walking.
“I’ve mainly worked in education settings, specialist provisions and within the NHS offering counselling and therapy work,” said Paige, who studied Integrative Counselling and Psychotherapy at Derby University.
“I was only able to offer people six sessions. I wanted to give people the choice and control to have as many sessions as they needed.
“I went part-time to open a private practice then left my job completely, found the perfect premises and just went with it.”
The Nook opened in March 2023 and is designed to look and feel different to a traditional clinical setting. There are comfortable armchairs and soft blankets. Clients are welcomed by Copper, a therapy dog.
“I’m very much not clinical,” she said. “I’m trying to break stigmas about mental health and seeking support. It’s about trying to move out of the box.
“The Nook is a cosy, warm, welcoming, safe space.”
Paige is currently the only member of staff at The Nook but brings in collaborators to help facilitate retreats.
She added: “My business is small but unique. I can see myself expanding the brand over time and maybe having other therapists but I don’t want to lose what makes The Nook unique.”
Paige has entered the Young Business Person of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards and The Nook at Milton has been entered for Small Business of the Year.

Msheldon Designs

Small Business 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.

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