Northern Ireland companies are being encouraged to enter the fifth annual UK Online for Business/InterForum E-Commerce Awards, launched today in London by E-Commerce Minister Stephen Timms.

Launching the Awards within Northern Ireland, Jim Sayers, Director of Knowledge Management at Invest NI, said “We are delighted to continue our sponsorship of the Awards and hope to build on the number of companies that entered last year. Since their inception in 1999, the Awards have been recognising and rewarding small and medium sized businesses and charities that can demonstrate tangible benefit from use of the Internet. Now in their fifth year, the E-Commerce Awards have an increased prize fund of £182,000 and have introduced four new innovation categories.

“Invest NI works in close partnership with UK Online for Business to provide a broad spectrum of services that will help local companies leverage the power of information and communications technologies to improve business performance.

“Invest NI also offers a range of financial incentives to companies to help them exploit the benefits of today’s technologies. Tailored events, aligned to local business needs, are also delivered to raise awareness and provide an understanding of the benefits of e-business. “

Speaking at the launch of the E-Commerce Awards 2003 in London , E-Commerce Minister Stephen Timms, commented, “The E-Commerce Awards are an opportunity to recognise those leading the way in the use of e-business technologies. Over the past five years the awards have gone from strength to strength. Not only have we seen remarkable growth in the number of entrants, but also in the quality of the competition.

“It is essential for companies to move beyond using e-commerce as simply an add-on. The E-Commerce Awards are looking for businesses that have transformed themselves by bringing these technologies to the heart of their business.

“I look forward to seeing the range and quality of this year’s applicants.”

Run on a regional and national level, the Awards recognise four areas in which organisations can demonstrate business transformation: e-business start-ups, e-trading, e-business and achievements in the voluntary and community sector.

The awards will be judged on a regional basis in the four categories, with the four Northern Ireland winners receiving £2000 and going forward to the national final . National category winners will receive an additional £8000 prize.

For the first time in 2003, all regional winners and runners up will be entered into a national Innovation category, recognising organisations that can demonstrate innovative and sustained use of technology to improve their business through, Mobile & Wireless Technology, Broadband Communications, Advanced Supply Chain Integration and the Use of TMB (Technology Means Business) Accredited Advice. National Innovation category winners will each receive a cash prize of £8,000.

The overall national winner, the E-Commerce Awards Champion, will then be selected from the winners of the national categories and new national Innovation categories. The overall national E-Commerce Awards winner will receive a total prize of £40,000 at the national Gala Dinner to be held at Grosvenor House Hotel in London.