Fiona Houston of Mara Seaweed, who gained the accolade at an awards ceremony held at the Hilton Hotel, Gateshead, last week, will be invited to MADE: The Entrepreneur Festival 2015 in Sheffield in October to compete for the BQ National Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year title.
Fiona Houston and Alexandra Milne founded Mara after meeting in the school playground, and discovered a shared passion for rediscovering Britain’s forgotten tastes and natural landscape. Their book Seaweed and Eat It explored Britain’s forgotten foods.
It was seaweed, one of Scotland’s most undervalued natural resources, that captured their imagination most, and they set up Mara to bring this ancient food to a modern audience. They sank their own savings into developing the brand and the products and in 2013 raised investment to allow Mara to launch its premium range of seaweed flakes into UK retailers such as Harrods, Harvey Nichols, and Whole Foods. In 2015, the company is raising a second round of investment, mainly to build out the production facility and to invest in sales and marketing to enter lucrative export markets.
She said: "It is a real thrill for me that this unconventional vision – to build a British seaweed brand that nourishes body and soul – has been recognised by business leaders. The award is a great platform for future growth.
"Now back to the office to make Mara emerge out of the emerging category.
Shortlisted entrants were chosen on the basis of entrepreneurial character, business performance, business strategy, business impact, innovation and personal values. The three others on the Scotland shortlist were: Nathan Pike of Pike and Bambridge, Jude Ower of Playmob, and Calum Leslie of Wooju.
Last week’s event was hosted by Mark Easton, BBC home editor, and the guest speaker was Stephen Kee, managing director of Saks, the North East based national award-winning hair and beauty salon group.
Bryan Hoare, director of Room 501, which publishes BQ magazine, said: "Congratulations to Fiona who was the worthy winner in an extremely strong field of contestants who bear testimony to the vibrant entrepreneurial culture in Scotland. BQ magazine is all about profiling and encouraging entrepreneurs and we are delighted to be able to showcase them at the awards and to give Fiona such an important national platform as the MADE festival, which has been described as a Glastonbury for business.’’
Judith Doyle, principal and chief executive at Gateshead College, which was headline sponsor and partner of the national dinner, said: "Supporting the next generation of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial thinkers is at the core of our strategy at Gateshead College and we were delighted to be part of the BQ event.
"Recognising those individuals that are embracing their ideas with commitment and ambition and helping to create employment and economic prosperity is extremely important. At Gateshead College we are inspiring our students to leave college not only with the qualifications, skills and knowledge within their chosen fields, we also want them to possess the confidence, strong work ethic, personality and softer skills that can make a real difference to the businesses they develop or the organisations they go on to join."
Other sponsors on the evening included Irwin Mitchell, Quantum Law, Lloyd Newcastle BMW & Mini, Chromazone and U Name It Promotions.