By Professor Dylan Jones Evans
On Friday of this week, the fourth annual Wales Start-Up Awards will take place at the Depot in Cardiff and, yet again, will give Welsh entrepreneurs the opportunity to showcase their success in starting and developing a new business.
The idea for the awards came, ironically, at another awards I created, namely the 2015 Fast Growth 50. I was speaking with Roger Maggs, one of the most successful venture capitalists from Wales, who said that he was keen to have an award for technology start-ups at the Fast Growth 50 and that he would sponsor such a category.
Unfortunately, that didn’t fit in with the criteria given that the minimum period to qualify for the Fast Growth 50 is three years of accounts. However, as there was nothing at the time celebrating new businesses in Wales, I thought why not create a set of awards that would celebrate new Welsh businesses?
As a result, the Wales Start-Up awards were born and as the only regional awards in the UK to focus on new firms, they are unique in that only those ventures that are three years old or less are eligible to enter. More relevantly, the nineteen awards cover the full spectrum of business sectors that are important to the Welsh economy including food and drink, manufacturing and engineering, social enterprise, digital businesses and creative industries.
I am delighted to say that the quality of entries for this year has been truly exceptional and at time when there is increasing economic uncertainty across the UK, the talent, drive and ambition of all seventy one finalists at this year’s awards demonstrates that we have entrepreneurs that can make a real difference in a range of sectors across the nation.
Whilst I am proud that the Wales Start-Up Awards has helped to raise the awareness of entrepreneurship over the last four years, we all know that more needs to be done to ensure that a more sustainable and diverse start-up community is developed across the Welsh economy.
And with currently only one in three UK entrepreneurs being female, I am delighted that over half of the finalists at this year’s Wales Start-Up awards were either established by women or had women as part of the founding team.
They were also to be found in sectors as diverse as creative, digital, financial and professional services, manufacturing and retail and at a time when there needs to be more young women in entrepreneurship, are wonderful examples to inspire a new generation.
As with the previous awards in 2016, 2017 and 2018, it is not surprising that the judging panel found it difficult to choose a winner in all of the categories. Over four days of interviews, all of the judges were incredibly impressed by the sheer passion and pride of the shortlisted finalists and what they had achieved in a short space of time.
It may be a cliché but all of the finalists are winners and a credit to Wales. Not only are they disrupting markets, creating jobs and driving forward innovation, but they are acting as inspirational role models for others to follow in their footsteps.
And that, more than anything else, is probably what we need from all start-ups in Wales at this critical time to help change the Welsh economy for the better.