Meet the national #BLA19 judging panel


The National Business Leader Awards 2019 have announced 12 independent judges, who will be analysing the hundreds of entries for the inaugural national awards.

These are some of the most senior and respected members of the business community – with expertise across a wide range of industries and sectors.

But, who are they?

Mike Clare

Mike Clare is best known as the founder and former CEO of Dreams PLC, which he grew to over 200 stores nationwide before selling the firm in March 2008

Since then, Mike has formed Clarenco, amassing an impressive commercial property portfolio consisting of commercial properties, large residential homes and venues suitable for the hospitality sector.

Today, he owns a total of five property companies and runs his own charitable foundation.

Mike also owns an investment company called Cygnus LLP, which invests in a wide-range of UK-based companies.

Piers Linney

Piers Linney appeared on the BBC TV series Dragons’ Den from 2013-2015, he is also a Non-Executive Director of the UK government-owned development bank, British Business Bank, which has facilitated over £12 billion of financing for UK small and medium-sized businesses and also operates the StartUp Loan Company and British Patient Capital, a £2,5bn fund launched in 2018.

His other notable television appearance was in the 2011 series of The Secret Millionaire.

Last year, Piers as one of the ‘Top 100 minority ethic leaders in technology’ by the Financial Times.

Jackie Fast

Arriving from Canada in 2007 with the intent to backpack Europe, Jackie Fast ended up staying in London and launching her career. Her first business – Slingshot Sponsorship – was started in her bedroom in 2010 with just a laptop and £2,000. Six years later, she sold it for millions.

Recently Jackie launched her latest disrupter business REBEL Pi, an ice wine brand and starred on the latest season of The Apprentice.

Despite the fact that Jackie did not win the latest series of The Apprentice, Lord Sugar recognised her as the leading business person out of the candidates. After describing her colleagues as “acorns”, Sugar explained that Fast was “already half an oak tree”.

Matt Gubba

Matt Gubba is CEO & founder of BizBritain, a provider of alternative start up finance, and of the largest brokers of UK government funded Start Up Loans.

In 2012, Matt founded BizBritain, an organisation which works closely with the UK government and to date has funded close to 2,000 entrepreneurs to the tune of around £14m.

By 2016, BizBritain partnered with ThinCats to launch a £50m SME growth fund – and also became a fully FCA authorised financial services company.

Maggie Rodriguez-Piza

Maggie Rodriguez-Piza has been CEO of Funding London since 2009, Maggie has been at the helm of two funds which have been launched: the MMC London Fund and the London Co-Investment Fund.

Funding London has invested £50m through its equity and loan funds into more than 500 small and micro enterprises.

Maggie began her career at Canaccord Genuity in mid-market M&A and capital markets and later became a corporate finance partner at Mazars.

Maggie holds a Masters in Materials Engineering from MIT and an MBA from the Yale School of Management. She also holds ICAEW’s Corporate Finance qualification and is a member of the board of the Corporate Finance Faculty.

Steven Smith

Steven Smith Founded Poundland In December 1990. He sold his business for an astonishing £50m in 2002.

The idea of Poundland was born when Steven started work on his parent’s Bilston market stall in the West Midlands at the age of 14 and noticed that sometimes they made more money from items in the 10p – £1 box than from the takings from everything else on the stall.

Steven was part of BBC1’s prime-time programme “Pound Wars and he recently featured on the ITV show ‘Million Pound Properties’. Steve is now an investor and mentor and was recently also voted Britain’s Best Boss.

Naomi Timperley

Naomi Timperley is an Honorary Industry Fellow at Salford Business School, Co-Founder of Tech North Advocates which champions tech in the north of England and Chair of investment platform Capital Pilot.

Naomi was part of the Maserati 100 in 2015 – a definite list of entrepreneurs who support the entrepreneurs of tomorrow from the Centre of Entrepreneurs. Naomi is also a mentor, TEDx speaker and consultant.

Naomi is also on the board of Future Everything – a Manchester-based research foundation, looking at the future of digital culture.

Donna O’Toole

Donna O’Toole owns August, a consultancy which helps businesses stand out as an industry leader.

Donna is an experienced awards expert and judge, who has helped hundreds of household brands, businesses, and leaders to grow their business and increase their sales through winning prestigious awards.

Donna has even been recognised for her outstanding contribution to judging by the UK Employee Experience Awards.

Her company, ‘Crafted by August’, helps businesses, brands and individuals to stand-out through award-winning recognition strategies.

Mark Nutter

Mark is a successful entrepreneur and has founded, acquired and sold several business in the IT and software sector and sold his last business to Capita Plc in 2015.

Having experience in start-ups through to being a CEO at the Isys Group, Mark is now an active investor and business mentor.

Mark is also Chairman and Founder of Emirates HR, a Dubai-based HR software business.

Emirates HR is an intuitive cloud-based software solution, that helps organisations of any size to streamline their HR processes and engage with their employees more efficiently and accurately.

John Courtney

John is highly ranked in the Top 100 UK Entrepreneurs list by City AM and is winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award from techSPARK. He is also a business Mentor, with Microsoft Scale-Up and HRH Prince Andrew’s Pitch@Palace.

John has been a Board Director for over 40 years and founded seven of his own businesses. He is now Chief Executive of Boardroom Advisors which provides “real world” Non-Executive Directors to Scale-Ups and SME’s.

Having founded a total of seven companies in his 40-year business career – John is well placed to analyse businesses from across a wide-range of sectors.

Umerah Akram

Umerah is Head of ELITE in the UK and outside Europe. ELITE is London Stock Exchange Group’s initiative for private companies. Umerah led the launch of ELITE UK in 2014 and since then has focused on continuing to grow the ecosystem to support ambitious, private companies prepare and structure for external investment and the next stage of growth.

ELITE is a program for ambitious cale-ups to help them prepare and structure for their next stage of growth and investment.

Umerah joined London Stock Exchange in 2005 as part of the AIM Regulation team responsible for the day to day regulation of the Exchange’s market for small and mid caps. Prior to LSEG, Umerah worked within the Audit & Assurance practice of Deloitte where she qualified as a chartered accountant.

Charles Tuke

Charles Tuke is a Director at Home Grown, a new private members’ club, launching in Marylebone, London in Spring 2019, that will bring together entrepreneurs, investors and business innovators from a wide range of sectors and industries.

Home Grown is being developed by the team behind renowned private members’ club Home House, one of the companies belonging to the Fairford Holdings Group. For over 12 years, Charles has provided business development support for Fairford.

Once open, Home Grown will offer 35 bedrooms, business lounges, bars and pitching suites in the heart of London.

The national Business Leader Awards will take place on the 21st June 2019 at the Hilton Hotel on Park Lane, London!

Founder of the Business Leader Awards, Andrew Scott commented: “We are amassing an incredible judging panel for the National Business Leader Awards 2019. This gives, even more, credibility to the nominees and winner of the award. Don’t think these are the only judges – the Business Leader team will be annoucing more over the next few months.”

Business Leader proudly brings the National Business Leader Awards! Entries close 28th February – enter now!

If you have any questions, please contact 0117 325 779 or email editor@businessleader.co.uk