By Prof Dominic Swords, Business Economist at Henley Business School and NBA Co-Chair of Judging

The twelve months since last year’s National Business Awards have been full of uncertainty and change. We have been experiencing a gradual and at times fragile climb out of a prolonged recession – a cyclical recovery – while at the same time witnessing major shifts in the global economy; some fundamental and structural changes in global growth drivers.

In this period of upheaval, there will have been many challenges yet also areas of opportunity for innovative and agile businesses to exploit. And in my opinion this environment of change and competition will provide some distinctive and dynamic examples of successful business in this year’s National Business Awards.

Many industries are having to look for new ways to reduce costs in their supply chains: not simply to do things more cheaply but to do things differently. This creates opportunities for businesses that are ‘process improvers’; companies that can produce products and services to enhance supply chain costs, speed and quality. That might be through the use of technology or through novel business models. They might be businesses already in supply chains or new entrants bringing new ideas. In either case I can expect to see examples of these trends evidenced by the entrants to the awards.

Opportunities to win

The market is creating opportunities for agile and well positioned businesses that meet a very clearly defined need. In low growth periods competition intensifies. Organisations – in both the public and private sectors - that engage effectively and imaginatively with their customers will be the winners in such times. And, just as last year, I would expect to see examples amongst entrants that dramatically out-compete existing players through simple yet highly effective new approaches to customer engagement and marketing.

In this economic climate there will also be opportunities for businesses that operate in some of the areas in which the UK has a strong position and reputation. Some sectors showing growth combined with a UK presence in the market are life sciences, energy and high quality engineering. There are many opportunities for businesses in these sectors to grow overseas and also to seek out and exploit domestic growth segments. I would hope to see some of these businesses represented in the awards.

The final area that is being hugely affected currently is the retail sector. Consumer behaviours are shifting: we want personalization, convenience and price competitiveness. New tech applications are enabling people to shop in a different way, and social networking online is now a serious part of the retail experience for many people. In a very real sense the internet revolution of the new economy that seemed to have collapsed in a torrent of hype over a decade ago has now arrived. And I expect to see examples of the use of the internet becoming a vital part of growth for many businesses this year.

So, difficult times but a time of shift that should provide an impressive field of entrants for this year’s awards.

The entry campaign for the National Business Awards has begun. For details of this year’s award categories and criteria, visit www.nationalbusinessawards.co.uk

Join us on
Follow @freshbusiness