Helena Pozniak
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Lloyds Bank Enterprise Awards : Regional winners: central England

The Telegraph
The final set of heat winners in the Lloyds Bank Enterprise Awards have been announced. Find out more about the winners from central England

Best enterprise – exhibtr

Harry Hanlon, 21, began his web-based business as an aspiring poet and English undergraduate, hoping to offer an online social network for writers, artists and photographers.

But now photographic companies such as Canon and Olympus host microsites within the growing creative community, showcasing the work of leading photographers alongside talented amateurs and brand ambassadors.

About 20,000 artists, mostly photographers, display their images and writing and the site gets 150,000 page views a month from 124 countries. “Our biggest challenges at first have been convincing the bigger companies we’re worth spending money on,” says Mr Hanlon, who has appointed his father as commercial director. The Exhibtr combination of experience and new talent pleases potential partners. The younger Mr Hanlon does occasionally miss lectures at Cardiff University to travel to business meetings across the UK and Europe.

He says: “Keeping the site up to date is a challenge. We need constant development to accommodate so many images.” If he does win the Lloyds Bank Enterprise Awards, Mr Hanlon will hire more developers to expand the site and upgrade to allow exhibitors to sell their work directly.

Best Start-up – Burrito Kitchen

Apart from a dearth of Mexican green tomatoes, Tim Sillwell, 25, has not been hampered by the availability of fresh authentic ingredients with which to fill his burritos.

In just over a year Burrito Kitchen has grown from a street food trailer to a base in a Birmingham shopping centre and a staff of 15.

Mr Sillwell has only been to Mexico once, but did stay a year, worked alongside experienced chefs in well- known restaurants, and picked up the principles of Mexican food. He returned, ready to finish his business degree and inspired to educate British palates in the joy of properly made guacamole. He has benefited from a Mexican food boom in the UK, where authentic ingredients can now be bought from supermarkets.

“We make everything from scratch using only fresh ingredients,” he says. As well as wanting to give fast food an image makeover, he has ambitious plans to expand across the Midlands initially with another 10 sites.

The Lloyds Bank Enterprise Awards have given him a welcome opportunity to pat himself on the back. Mr Sillwell says: “I’m never satisfied with my performance so it’s nice to have that recognition.”

Best DIgItal – Black & White Boutique

Like many successful businesses, online jewellery retailer Black & White Boutique is a simple idea that is well executed. Co-founders Rowena Simmons, 19, and Lucky Nwosu, 22, began in 2013 without advice or investment, though both stumped up £100 of their own money. They met at school and have since gone to separate universities while continuing to run the online costume jewellery business.

Most sales have been generated by canny use of social media. “We posted pictures of our products on Instagram and friends of friends started following us.” Now the business has 135,000 followers. “We got in at the right time for it to take off.”

Demand for cheaper costume jewellery has risen in the downturn. Their main customers are young women but Ms Simmons wants to broaden the business to introduce a men’s range. Winning the trust of customers, some overseas, proved difficult at first. “We had to be patient,” says Ms Simmons, who designs all products. She still has two years of university, but intends to return to the business full- time. Meanwhile, the pair plan to hire a full-time employee and add some pop-up shops.

The Lloyds Bank Enterprise Awards

Prizes range from £1,000 to £5,000 for Best Start-up and Best Enterprise – along with a new prize for 2014, Best Digital. These businesses will attend next month’s final with the other heat winners, when Britain’s best companies will compete for prizes reaching £50,000 as well as one-to-one mentoring.

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