The countdown for the Belfast Business Awards 2011 is now on after the awards were officially launched today in the City Hall.

UTV's Marc Mallett joins Councillor Conor Maskey, Chairman of Belfast City Council's Development Committee and Andrew Irvine from Belfast City Centre Management

Organised by Belfast City Council with support from Belfast City Centre Management (BCCM) and Victoria Square -Principal Sponsor of the Awards this year – the Belfast Business Awards are a highlight of the Belfast business calendar and celebrate the merits and achievements of the Belfast business community.

With 21 awards up for grabs, the awards recognise the fine work of business enterprises, retail outlets and businessmen and women across the city. The winners will be announced at a glittering gala ceremony in Belfast City Hall on Thursday 14 April, hosted by UTV presenter Marc Mallett.

UTV's Marc Mallett launches the Belfast Business Awards 2011

Among the awards categories are `Best New Business`, `Best Green Business`, `Best International Trade Business`, Best Creative Business and Best Manufacturing Business`.

There will be awards for the `Best Young Business Person of the Year`, the Best Social Economy Business`, the Best Regeneration Project` and the Best Corporate Social Responsibility Business`.

Accolades will also be bestowed for the Best City Hotel` in Belfast, the Best Restaurant`, Best Cafe/Coffee Shop`, Best Bar/Pub` as well as Customer Excellence Awards` for the Best Multiple Retailer and Independent Retailer in the city.

This year there will be three new categories the Customer Excellence in the Professional Service Sector Award`; the Embracing the Belfast Brand Award` and the Belfast Champion Award`.

The first of these awards will recognise the work of professional service organisations in Belfast which includes accountants, architects, engineers, law firms, public relations professionals and business and recruitment consultants.

The Embracing the Belfast Brand Award` is open to all organisations in the city which have demonstrated effective and creative use of the Belfast brand in jointly promoting their business and the city.

Councillor Conor Maskey, Chairman of the Belfast City Council’s Development Committee, said: It’s an absolute honour to announce that the Belfast Business Awards 2011 are now open for entries.

These awards will give local businesses a unique opportunity to gain recognition for the excellent contribution they make towards the overall development of our city.

I would call on businesses from all sectors across the city to enter the awards. Simply getting though to the final will raise an organisation’s profile amongst its peers but just as important is the huge boost it will give to internal morale. To win an award will be a mark of quality that will bring real prestige to that individual business.

Hugh Black, Centre Manager of Victoria Square, Principal Sponsor of the Awards said: We are delighted to be supporting the prestigious Belfast Business Awards as lead sponsor, following the success of the previous year’s awards. These awards are unique in recognising and presenting businesses with the opportunity to gain recognition for the excellent contribution they make towards the overall development of our city. We would encourage anyone who knows someone who excelled in their field in business to nominate them for one of the fantastic awards.

Ruth Ellen Logan, owner of local business The Beauty Company, won two awards at the Belfast Business Awards last year for Best Young Business Person and the Best Business Expansion.

She said These awards are not only great for independent businesses like mine but for Belfast as a whole. Never has it been more important to recognize achievements and instil confidence back in the city. On a personal note, it was excellent for me to be awarded in front of my peers and it not only raised the profile of The Beauty Company, but boosted morale within our close team.

Colin Williams, Creative Director of Belfast-based TV production company, Sixteen South, scooped Best Creative Industries Award last year.

He said: Since I founded Sixteen South three years ago, we have been fortunate to have won a number of  high profile international awards for our children’s television shows. For our company to win the award for Best Creative Industries, in our hometown of Belfast, however is something really special. Belfast is an incredible place, it’s a city moving forward refusing to let the past hold it back. We’re really proud that our children’s shows which air nationally on CBeebies are created, produced and filmed in Northern Ireland.

To enter for an award or to find out more information on the Belfast Business Awards, click on the Belfast Business Awards website