As the greatest athletes from across the globe take centre stage at the London 2012 Olympics, everyone involved in Belfast’s Continental Market have kept a keen eye on athlete Hannah Craig.   Joining Team Ireland, golden girl and former Market trader Hannah, competed in the final of the women’s K1 kayaking event.

Always on top of her game, the multi-talented Olympian and entrepreneur holds a special place in our hearts as the first person to win the coveted business sponsorship offered each year by Market Place Europe (the company that brings the Belfast Christmas Market to Belfast City Hall), supported by Belfast City Council.

Hannah set up her environmentally friendly t-shirt business, I Am An Eskimo, to help fund her Olympic training.  As she prepared for her Olympic challenge Hannah said:

‘Winning the opportunity to trade at the Belfast Christmas Market in 2010 helped me realise my Olympic dream of being part of the 2012 team. The publicity and the exposure I received boosted my training fund remarkably’.

The coveted prize, awarded annually, includes an all expenses paid residency worth thousands of pounds for the duration of the Christmas Market, an extensive marketing and PR campaign and business mentoring from industry professionals.

Last year’s winner, blacksmith Aaron Leech, impressed judges with his craftsmanship, combining traditional design with intricate Japanese influence. Now running his successful business from home and holding demonstration classes for the public, Aaron has revitalised a fading tradition thanks to his popularity at the Christmas Market, which also boosted his business.

Alderman Christopher Stalford, Chairman of Belfast City Council’s Development Committee, commented:

“Market Place Europe’s annual ‘Pitch Perfect’ competition is a wonderful initiative, which gives a local small business the opportunity to take their ideas and their products directly to the consumer.  It is an initiative fully in line with the council’s whole ethos of supporting local entrepreneurs, especially in these difficult economic times.  The fact that the programme also has helped Hannah Craig to fulfill her Olympic dream is a wonderful bonus.”

Market Place Europe are delighted to announce that for the third consecutive year, young business owners can apply once again for the chance to kick start their budding businesses. ‘Pitch Perfect’ is open for applications from Friday 3rd August

Allan Hartwell of Market Place Europe said:

‘With over 850, 000 people visiting each year, the Christmas Market has a huge economic impact for Belfast. In challenging times when funding is increasingly difficult for new companies to come by, we want to support those who are passionate about business. We are providing a unique opportunity for enthusiastic businessmen and women to boost their business potential. We believe in giving back to communities we visit and are looking forward to seeing some bright and inspiring examples of local entrepreneurship this year.’

Businesses at least six months but younger than a year, selling goods which are in keeping with the Christmas Market tradition, or that may be of interest to consumers visiting Belfast, are eligible to enter the competition. All applicants must be over the age of eighteen.

A shortlist of applicants will be invited to give a ‘Dragons Den’ style presentation, selling their business to a panel of expert judges before being grilled on the viability and sustainability of their business. The judges this year are Allan Hartwell, Chief Executive, Market Place Europe, Andrew Irvine, Chief Executive, Belfast City Centre Management, Shirley McCay, Head of Economic Initiatives at Belfast City Council, and Mark Mulholland, Director, Whitenoise Design Studios.

Don’t miss the opportunity to showcase your company to thousands of festive shoppers and enter this life changing competition. To apply and for details on entry rules, entrepreneurs are invited to visit Applications must be received no later than Friday 31 August at 5pm. Shortlisted applicants will be invited to present on Friday 14 September.