Young Business Person of the Year

 

Category criteria

  • Entrants for this category must be aged 40 or under on January 1, 2024.
  • 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.

Caroline Sherratt

Young Business Person of the Year entrant

Freelance arts professional Caroline Sherratt’s work has reached tens of thousands of people, she has worked in theatres across the UK and has compered one of the region’s biggest dance festivals for the past 12 years.
The 38-year-old’s most recent work has been at the Mitchell Arts Centre in Stoke-on-Trent City Centre with the aim of reaching new audiences and breaking down barriers. She’s successfully bid for £123, 562 in funding awards from the Hubb Foundation, Stoke-on-Trent City Council Council, Department for Education, National Lottery Heritage Grant, Tesco Community Fund and National Lottery Community Fund.
This includes an award of £98, 280 for a two-year MAC community day project that offers free film and crafts with BSL and audio description. The two-year project partners with Staffordshire Sight Loss, North Staffs Pensioners’ Convention and Able Stoke.
Caroline has entered the Young Business Person of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.
She said: “I am applying for this award as I have worked for my own business in community arts for 16 years. I have done this by taking risks, focusing on the future, building a good reputation and every single opportunity either abroad, with the theatres I work at or the people I have met has been a contribution to creating and maintaining a sustainable business.
“Over the 16 years of working freelance, the Artscool project I launched in 2014 has reached over 14,000 people, TPS Dance Company has a reach of over 2,000 people on social media, has directly reached 5,000 people and over 100 volunteers.
“My freelance work in the community has reached seven theatres across the UK and worked with over 1,000 young people. I have compered one of the biggest dance festivals in the midlands for 12 years running.
“I am a born and bred Stokie who travelled the world to set up my business in a place that matters to me and that is full of creative opportunities. I am proud to have created a sustainable career in the arts in Stoke-on-Trent.”

Brooke Chomyn

Young Business Person of the Year nominee

Not only is Brooke Chomyn a 21-year-old woman carving a career in the construction industry, she is a care leaver who is proud to show other young people that they can improve their life chances too.
Brooke is a material resource controller for Unitas Stoke-on-Trent Ltd, Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s repairs and maintenance company, where her job includes making sure materials arrive on time for tradespeople.
She is a Level 3 Business Administration Apprentice in the final year of her course with Stoke-on-Trent College.
Alongside her day job she attends careers fairs to encourage others to consider an apprenticeship within the construction industry.
Brooke volunteers at The House Project and mentors young people that are in care to help to steer them to live independently and to have a successful education and job. She designed a leaflet for children in care with guidance about careers and applying for jobs.
Brooke sits on the Children’s Fostering and Adoption panel to assess the suitability of prospective carers of young people. She questions new foster and adoptive parents to ensure they are the best candidates.
In 2022 Brooke was recognised as a finalist in the Youth Voice Award category at the Staffordshire Youth Awards.
Rachel Forster, Unitas’ corporate responsibility co-ordinator, said: “Brooke is an inspiration to other young people and demonstrates that through sheer grit and determination you can achieve great things for yourself and also help to change the lives of others.”
Unitas’ Stores Manager Emma Sloan said: "Unitas has worked very closely with the Care Leavers Team in the city to make apprenticeships available to the young people that they support. Brooke is the first young apprentice to come into Unitas through this route.
"She has excelled since day one and we have seen her develop and grow in her time with us. It’s fantastic to see her efforts and work get recognised at the awards, recognition that is well and truly deserved.”
Brooke said: “Unitas is my work family and I feel that I have found my forever job. I want to improve my life so that one day, should I have children, they will be proud of me.”
Brooke Chomyn has been nominated in the Apprentice of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Lilija Bekisa

Young Business Person of the Year entrant

Lilija Bekisa’s business is all about helping other people to launch and develop a business.
The 33-year-old originally planned to become a content photographer then discovered a talent for developing brands through visual content.
Photography is still a key part of her work but Lilija also specialises in marketing and branding including using Instagram, creating visual content strategies and supporting clients with their business development.
Lilija, who moved to the UK from Latvia in 2010, is also working on plans to open a creative hub in Stoke-on-Trent which will offer workshops, networking and a place where fellow creatives can practice and grow.
“My work is all about showcasing businesses from the inside and the outside,” said Lilija, who was part of the first cohort of the Peter Coates MSc in Entrepreneurship.
“I’m bringing them into the market and helping them to grow. I do a deep dive into the business I’m working with and we grow together.”
At the moment she works primarily with start-ups but offers her skills to businesses of any size and at any stage in their journey.
Lilija qualified in interior design in Latvia then launched a successful laser engraving business after moving to the UK.
But she says she is a people person and needed to work in a creative business that allows her to work alongside other people.
“I love what I do now,” she said. “I enjoy my work and feel fulfilled.”
Lilija has entered the Young Business Person of the Year and Alumni Business Person of the Year categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Grace Allen

Young Business Person of the Year entrant

Designer Grace Allen has received commissions from as far away as Australia and even has one of her pieces in the office of Theo Paphitis from TV’s Dragons Den.
She creates fabric pet portraits on cushions. Prints of her work are also used for a wide range of products including coasters, greetings cards, tote bags, mugs, keyrings and kitchenware.
Her work is available at more than 15 stockists including Keep It Local and commissions come in from around the world.
Grace, from Newcastle-under-Lyme, set up her business Cushy Paws during the second year of a degree in Textiles and Innovation Design at Loughborough University.
She worked on the business for five years and now runs Cushy Paws alongside a part-time role as a content design specialist at World of Wedgwood where her work has included supporting other artisans.
Grace has exhibited at the Three Counties Show and had a solo exhibition at The Brampton Museum and Art Gallery in Newcastle.
She graduated with first class honours and clinched the coveted New Designers Award after exhibiting her final degree show in London’s Design Centre.
Despite securing a job in the textiles industry post-graduation she decided to embark on the full-time self-employment journey, officially establishing Cushy Paws.
Originally conceived as a brand focused on recycling and repurposing remnant fabrics, Cushy Paws has evolved from a pet portrait commission business into a dynamic entity with various collections. Grace’s most recent work explores the heritage and scenery of Stoke-on-Trent.
In 2021 Grace’s gesture of gifting Theo Paphitis with a bespoke cushion of his dog Gladys led to the opportunity for an SBS Spring Fair stand. This catapulted Cushy Paws into seven new stockists across the UK with wholesale orders ranging from card orders to a 57 original wall hanging artwork pieces.
Grace has entered the Young Business Person of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards and has entered Cushy Paws into the Small Business of the Year category.
She said: “I hope to continue to elevate my brand to expand into different stockists across the UK and hope to continue to inspire others to follow their dreams and invest time and passion into their skills and creativity.”

Lissy Taylor

Young Business Person of the Year entrant

Music artist Lissy Taylor doesn’t just front her band, she’s the business brains behind it too.
The 24-year-old, from Trentham, has performed on the main stage at music festivals, shared a bill with Noel Gallagher, sung for thousands at the opening of a Manchester City FC match and her last three singles have had airtime on BBC Radio 1.
She has been the support artist for international touring bands such as The View, Sea Girls and The Lottery Winners and has been known to turn up at venues ahead of gigs and talk herself into being given a supporting slot that evening.
She has performed live on TV in the US and UK including Sky Showcase presented by Glastonbury Festival host Mark Radcliffe.
Lissy isn’t signed to a record label and, unusually for an artist achieving this sort of exposure, she doesn’t have a manager – because Lissy manages her career herself as a business.
Alongside performing Lissy is a music lecturer at Newcastle and Stafford Colleges Group after taking teaching qualifications at Staffordshire University.
She also finds time to study for a Peter Coates MSc in Entrepreneurship at Staffordshire University, which she says is giving her a support system and a place to share ideas with likeminded people.
Originally from Stoke-on-Trent, as a teenager Lissy studied and graduated with an A+ in the United States where she also had various performances in Nashville and New York City at The Rockwood Music Hall.
Lissy said: “I run the band as a business. At the level I’ve got to, most other people would be working with a team at a label or an agency. I represent myself and build my own strategy.
“You have definitely got to have the confidence and belief you can do it and also the balls to just go out there and get it done.”
Lissy’s ambition is to become a household name and to be seen as a success story for Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire.
She added: “I see Robbie Williams as a success story to aspire to. His brand is international and he does a lot for the area and also through education.”
Lissy has entered the Young Business Person of the Year and Alumni Business Person of the Year categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Jake Burgess

Young Business Person of the Year entrant

Jake Burgess was just 19 years old when he co-founded a business that’s helping to transform high streets around the region.
Four years later Castle Artisan Events stages regular markets in Newcastle-under-Lyme, has expanded into Stoke-on-Trent City Centre and Nantwich and is now lining up other town centre locations.
Now aged 23, Jake, from May Bank in Newcastle-under-Lyme, runs the business after initially devising the concept with his parents.
He has been nominated in the High Street Impact and Young Business Person of the Year categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards by Sarah Allen from the PR company Shoestring.
Sarah said: “Jake’s motivation is deeply rooted in a genuine love for his hometown and its surrounding areas. His initiative is not just about providing a platform for local artisans; it’s about creating a community-centric space where the talents of local residents are celebrated, and the economic well-being of traditional high street businesses is enhanced.
“By focusing on local talent and businesses, Jake ensures that the benefits of the markets ripple through the local economy, reinforcing the importance of supporting and shopping local in an increasingly globalised world.
“Jake’s markets have also contributed to the aesthetic and environmental revitalisation of the high streets, with careful consideration given to the layout, design and operation of the markets to ensure they are clean and welcoming spaces for all.”
She added: “Jake Burgess’s impact on Staffordshire’s high streets is immeasurable. Through his leadership and community-focused initiatives, he has demonstrated an exemplary commitment to making our city centres and local high streets more vibrant, welcoming and sustainable.
“His work aligns perfectly with the criteria for the High Street Impact award, showcasing a successful model for revitalising public realms, creating high-street jobs, attracting local residents and visitors and raising the profile of the towns he collaborates with.”
The markets aim to benefit not only the artisans who display their work but also the brick-and-mortar businesses that line the streets. These businesses have witnessed a tangible uplift in customer engagement and sales on market days thanks in large part to the bustling atmosphere the market brings.
Castle Artisan Market has already won three community-led awards and has become a much-anticipated monthly tradition for residents and visitors alike.

Hassan Ali Sheikh

Young Business Person of the Year entrant

At just 24 years old Hassan Ali Sheikh is already running a business that has a team of eight staff and a city centre premises.
Hassan, from Shelton in Stoke-on-Trent, was still in primary school when his mum founded Unique Carpets and Flooring 15 years ago.
He joined the business as a teenager after studying for A Levels at Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College and now runs day-to-day operations including a showroom in Broad Street, Hanley.
Hassan has a team of three showroom staff plus five contractors who fit carpets and flooring for both domestic and business clients across Staffordshire.
“I just fell into working in the business after leaving college and it’s going well. The business continues to develop and grow,” said Hassan.
“I want to be the best. I want to offer the best service, the best quality products, the best quality installations and to be the go-to place when people want to buy the best.
“We’re a family-run business, very competitively priced and have quick installations times. We also pride ourselves on offering the personal touch.
“All our staff, across both teams, are very professional, fully trained and attend numerous courses with manufacturers.”
Hassan has entered the Young Business Person of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards and has entered Unique Carpets and Flooring into the High Street Impact and Small Business of the Year categories.

Bradley Brookes

Young Business Person of the Year nominee

Bradley Brookes was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia at school but that hasn’t stopped him rising through the ranks to become sales and projects director for Brookeswood Joinery in Leek.
The 24-year-old, who joined the company as a Business Administration Apprentice, is constantly innovating and is credited with transforming the way the business operates on all levels.
His hard work and determination have already seen him win one award. In 2021, he was named the British Woodwork Federations Rising Star, aged just 22.
Bradley’s success has not been without personal challenge. He was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD as a child and has had to learn to manage these throughout his life and career. He’s also faced the challenge of being the directors’ son and has developed skills of patience, resilience and tenacity to earn the respect of his colleagues, customers and suppliers alike.
Bradley’s aptitude for IT and software has helped the business to become more efficient. He has been responsible for researching and introducing a bespoke customer relationship management system. He has also overseen its integration with a system which has automated and simplified the production process right across the business.
Bradley has also transformed the purchasing process. He has introduced new systems to ensure accuracy and traceability which has resulted in substantial monthly savings for the company.
The sales process at Brookeswood has also been completely overhauled under Bradley’s leadership.
Bradley’s mum, Sue Brookes, a Director of the business, said: “I am extremely proud of Bradley and what he has achieved at Brookeswood. School wasn’t always easy for him. Having said that he always had an entrepreneurship streak.
“When he was little, he would pretend to run his own companies - he’d even have things like accounts departments set up, so we always knew he would have a flair for business.
“He is a creative thinker and problem solver and those skills, plus the way he has been able to build such great relationships with customers, suppliers and the team, have undoubtedly transformed the business.”
She added: “The IT systems, software and processes he has introduced have not only improved our efficiencies but they have also helped reduce financial risk, contributed to our growth and further strengthened our customer’s experience.
“No matter what challenges he has faced he has always been respectful, polite and incredibly helpful. Bradley has excellent interpersonal skills which he has used to build great relationships with our customers, suppliers and our team.”
Keen to give something back to his local community Bradley has been a cub and scout Leader in Leek from the age of 18.
He said: “I think it’s really important to lead by example, both in and outside of work. I’m a Scout Leader for the Explorer Scouts and they’re aged between 14 and 18.
“It’s a really impressionable age and for me it’s really important to teach life skills that they might not necessarily learn in school or college, like household budgeting and working as a team.”
Bradley has been nominated in the Young Business Person of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Holly Cooke

Young Business Person of the Year nominee

A business inspired by the loneliness Holly Cooke felt after moving from Stoke-on-Trent to London now has tens of thousands of members, has spread to other cities around the UK and has seen her partner with global brands.
Holly, the daughter of Saltbox CEO Lloyd Cooke, founded The London Lonely Girls Club on Facebook in 2018 after moving to London from Stoke-on-Trent.
She grew so desperate for company she eventually found herself searching omline for ‘how to make friends in London’. The search proved mostly futile but she did find a few other women who lived in London and were also lonely. She was seeking women friends specifically because “we really need to look out for each other”.
“Admitting that you’re lonely and you don’t have people around was really scary,” said Holly. So she was pleasantly surprised when five women showed up for a get together and they all got along well. The success of the first meet-up proved that she was not alone in her loneliness and that she could help others in the same situation.
Her Lonely Girls’ Club is now six years old and organises four to six events each month which have included picnics, brunches, board game and cocktail nights, pottery and jewellery workshops and even puppy yoga.
Regular park walks in different London parks have attracted more than 150 women to each event. For most events attendees are charged a small fee to cover deposits while other events charge more depending on the type of activity.
The club now has more than 70,000 London members. In 2023 Holly launched similar clubs in Manchester and Nottingham where monthly events are now taking place.
The Lonely Girls’ Club now has more than 75,000 Facebook members across its three locations, more than 50,000 Instagram followers and 15,000 email newsletters are sent out each week. One recent Instagram video went viral and has been watched by more than one million people.
At the beginning of 2024 Holly turned Lonely Girl’s Club into a business. She has been interviewed on BBC TV and has featured in the Washington Post in the US.
She spends much of her time sourcing new venues, has developed her negotiating and business skills and secured partnerships with the likes of Chelsea Women’s Football Club, Heineken and Kate Spade.
Holly says she has lost count of how many women have made enduring friendships through her group. She’s seen members go on holidays together and also become roommates.
“It’s beautiful and it’s rewarding and it’s the reason I’ve carried on,” she said. “We can’t stop now. As long as there is a need, we will be here.”
Holly has been nominated in the Young Business Person of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards by her proud dad, Llloyd Cooke.

Harji Kaur

Young Business Person of the Year entrant

Harji Kaur has made it her mission to spread happiness and to help as many people as she can along the way.
The mum-of-two, who moved to Stoke-on-Trent from India, has set up two linked businesses inspired by years of volunteering within the community.
Indian Fusion combines her love of dancing, cooking and yoga to offer classes within schools and through organisations including The HUBB Foundation, Affordable Food Stoke and The Indi Club.
Harji’s Help at Home is a home support and cleaning service.
The businesses, both based in Fenton in Stoke-on-Trent, were launched in May 2023. Harji is currently a sole trader but aims to recruit a team as her businesses grow.
The 37-year-old, who previously worked as a chef, said: “I’ve always wanted to help people. I did volunteering with people with learning disabilities which inspired me to want to make their life better.”
Harji trained as a fitness instructor and did a yoga course and says she is proud to be ‘a plus sized girl’ with the confidence to deliver fitness classes.
“I wanted to prove that if you set out to do something and if you want it enough then you can make it happen,” she said. “My aim is to spread happiness regardless of size and regardless of skin colour.
“The first thing I do in my classes is to smile and I encourage everyone else to smile too. I see around 150 ladies in my classes each week and I get them all smiling.”
Harji has entered the Young Business Person of the Year, Small Business of the Year and Business in the Community categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Joe Ndilla

Young Business Person of the Year entrant

As a founder of social care and training companies Joe Ndilla realised many of the carers he works with suffer from loneliness and isolation – so he has designed a tech solution to help them.
The 37-year-old, who employs a team of 10 staff in Burslem, has created We Talk Care – a social network for both paid and unpaid carers.
Joe’s digital platform works to address the mental health issues faced by carers by bringing them together and empowering them with resources.
We Talk Care already has 500 users following a soft launch in December and former NHS health care manager Joe is working on a Staffordshire pilot ahead of a national launch.
We Talk Care sits alongside Joe’s other two businesses, Nest Social Care and Ask Training.
Joe, who has a Staffordshire University degree in Applied IT, developed his social network project after joining the first cohort of the Peter Coates MSc in Entrepreneurship.
He said: “My work as an NHS manager and then working within my own two businesses showed me that there was a gap. My wife is also a carer and we both work in the care sector so we understand the impact that caring has.”
He added: “Our ethos revolves around providing ongoing support to caregivers at every stage of their journey. We Talk Care goes beyond being a digital meeting place; it is a comprehensive knowledge hub offering practical resources on various conditions.
“We are not only supporting caregivers of all ages but also fostering partnerships with local organisations that share our commitment to providing care and support to those facing life-changing diagnoses, creating a unified digital front.”
Joe has entered the Young Business Person of the Year and Alumni Business Person of the Year categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards and has entered We Talk Care into the Innovation Award category.

Dr M Sha

Young Business Person 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.

Anna Morrallee

Young 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.

Natalie Jenkinson

Young 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.

Zerline Long and Reiss Seymour

Young Business Person of the Year 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.

Matthew Bridger

Young Business Person 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.”

Frankie Hurst

Young Business Person 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.

Melanie Sheldon

Young 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.

Paige Harrison

Young Business Person 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.

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