The North East Business Awards aim to celebrate the best the region has to offer - and, as some of 2013's winners demonstrated, size isn't everything.
Indeed, the small business category remains one of the most hotly contested, with SMEs now playing a more crucial role than ever in the North East economy.
That’s why the Journal and its sister paper, the Evening Gazette in Middlesbrough, are once again on the lookout for those hidden gems that may not have the largest turnover, or employ a lot of staff, but nonetheless contribute something special within the local business world.
In 2013, the judges crowned Darlington’s Fifteen Digital the winner at the Teesside awards, held at Teesside University.
The firm provides website creation, search engine optimisation, email marketing, pay-per-click, social media and IT services.
In Durham and Wearside, meanwhile, Consett’s XPress Design, which offers print solutions to both exhibition and retail display industries, took the top spot.
Both, however, were beaten by overall winner Aspire Technology Solutions, which first took the Tyneside and Northumberland title.
Seven years ago Aspire directors Nigel Begg and Chris Fraser exploited a gap in the market to create a proactive, managed services company specialising in hosted services, data centre solutions, communications and traditional IT support.
By the time of the awards, the Gateshead-headquartered company had grown its employee count to 40 and its turnover to £4.2m.
This year it is on track to hit £6m as it builds a bespoke on-site data centre thanks to a £220,000 cash injection from the Let’s Grow scheme.
The 3,000 sq ft facility means Aspire will now be able to house its clients’ servers at its headquarters rather than using shared data centres around the region.
In the 2014 North East Business Awards, the small business category is sponsored by Bernica, which provides more than 8,000 homes throughout the North East, with almost 6,000 located in South East Northumberland, and over 2,000 within the Tyne and Wear conurbation. John Johnston, deputy chief executive of the group, said: “As a major provider of affordable homes and property-related services across the North East we recognise first-hand the massive contribution that small locally-owned businesses make to the economic and social prosperity of communities.
“We created Bernicia in 2008 and set out our aim to invest in the region and support local people. Having invested over £100m in the last five years to improve our homes, services and communities, it has been a pleasure to work with some excellent small businesses along the way.”
He pointed out that small businesses account for close to half of all businesses and jobs in the region.
“With these businesses recycling a large share of their revenue back into the local economy, often supporting good causes, this award is a great opportunity to recognise and applaud their contribution and worth,” he added.
“We would encourage every small business to take a moment to reflect on the quality of their service or product and the value this gives to the region and submit an application for the small business award to recognise and celebrate their excellent work.”