Invest NI Praises Queen's Award Role Models

Companies are increasingly recognising that the sustainable growth they need depends upon being able to produce and export innovative and higher value-added products and services, Leslie Morrison, Invest Northern Ireland Chief Executive, said today.

Mr Morrison praised the commitment to innovation, enterprise and international sales of the five Northern Ireland companies named as Queen’s Award Winners for Enterprise, the United Kingdom’s most prestigious business competition.

The five companies include two winners of the Innovation Award – Biocolor, Newtownabbey and Ulster Carpet Mills, Portadown. It is the first time that Northern Ireland has gained two innovation awards in the annual awards. Three companies – FG Wilson (Engineering), Larne; Fintec Crushing and Screening, Ballygawley; and Grafton Recruitment, Belfast – gained Queen’s Awards for Enterprise in the International Trade category.

Mr Morrison said: “Winning five Queen’s Awards, including two in the important Innovation category, is immensely encouraging. It is significant that the three International Trade winners are committed to innovation in products/services and process. This is vitally important because competition is more intense than ever before.  This reflects the development of new internet technologies and the consequent emergence of new economic powers such as India and China. Business models are being reshaped and globalised.

“Many companies here now realise that if they are to prosper, perhaps even survive, in this tremendously challenging business environment, they must innovate faster and bring products and services more quickly to market.

“This is why Invest NI’s strategic focus is on assisting companies to invest in innovation geared to international markets. In India, last week, I was able to see how 16 local companies on the Invest NI business mission are meeting these challenges, grasping the huge opportunities that exist and achieving success.

“Our objective is to encourage and assist many more companies to follow the excellent example set by the Queen’s Award winners and other innovation and export leaders,” he added.

Newtownabbey-based Biocolor gained the Innovation Award for the development and international success of a unique chemical dye used by researchers in pharmaceuticals companies and research laboratories to identify problems that contribute to a range of conditions such as cancer, heart disease and rheumatism.

Biocolor, formed in 2000 by Dr Roy Elliott as a Queen’s University spin-out business, now supplies its assay kits to all the leading pharmaceuticals companies and research labs. It sells virtually all its products outside Northern Ireland, 36 per cent going to North America, 31 per cent to Japan and 28 per cent to Europe. Biocolor, which has been assisted by Invest NI under the SMART scheme for innovative products and has taken part in a number of business missions, currently employs six people.

Ulster Carpet Mills, Portadown, developed an innovative carpet-weaving process, with assistance from Invest NI’s Compete programme, to commercialise R&D. The process has enhanced the company’s overall competitiveness by increasing efficiency, improving flexibility, reducing labour and material costs and enabling it to offer customers greater choice. This has resulted in a significant growth in exports to target markets such as North America. Ulster Carpet Mills employs around 1,500 people.

FG Wilson (Engineering), which is headquartered in Larne and has plants in Belfast and Newtownabbey, gained the International Trade Award for achieving a 25 per cent growth in exports between 2003-04. The company employs over 2,000 people in Northern Ireland and now provides 69 per cent of all diesel-generator exports from the UK. Over 90 per cent of its production is sold outside Northern Ireland to Europe (26 per cent), Asia Pacific (25 per cent), Middle East (21 per cent) and Africa (15 per cent). Exports were worth £419 million in 2004. The company has received assistance from Invest NI to develop its business and for its export activities.

Established in 2002, Fintec of Ballygawley designs and manufactures mobile crushing and screening machinery for customers in Europe, North America and Asia. It has achieved average annual growth of 60 per cent over the past three years and currently employs around 200 people at Ballygawley. The company, part owned by Sandvic of Sweden, has received assistance from Invest NI to develop its business and taken part in several business missions. It has developed five new machines since 2002 to meet the specific needs of customers. Annual sales currently exceed £20 million.

Belfast-based Grafton Recruitment is one of Northern Ireland’s most successful international services companies. It has increased its exports by 500 per cent since 2003 and these now contribute 45 per cent of sales. The company, which has taken part in Invest NI trade missions, has 64 offices in 16 countries, Hong Kong being the most recent. It employs around 270 people.