Sponsor and judge Ian O’Donnell MBE, of Real Point Design; keynote speaker Julie Colan, of Secret Whispers; host and Woman Who founder Sandra Garlick MBE; keynote speaker Julie Lilley, CEO of the Federation of Small Businesses; sponsor and judge Julie McGarrigle, director of Alsters Kelley Solicitors and Jester Styles, who provided entertainment for the event. Photo courtesy of John Cleary Photography.

Two Coventry businesses have joined together to ensure a long-standing annual awards ceremony which celebrates the achievements of women in business could still be held – but this year on the glittering virtual stage.

Business network Woman Who and technical production company Istead, both members of the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, have collaborated to hold this year’s Woman Who Achieves Awards 2020 online.

The fifth annual awards ceremony was originally due to be held at Coombe Abbey Hotel in May but was postponed until October due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

After government guidelines meant that the event could still not take place, Woman Who and Istead, which has provided audio visual services for the ceremony for three years, came together to not only deliver the event online, but hold a TV-style awards ceremony with professional staging.

The event saw Woman Who founder and director Sandra Garlick, MBE, deliver the ceremony along with sponsors and keynote speakers at Istead’s very own studio, which the company built at its warehouse in Binley when it was forced to diversify after losing bookings as a result of the pandemic.

The businesses streamed the interactive event to delegates via the online platform Zoom, with the video feed going live to each of the winners after they were announced to capture their reactions.

Neil Sayer, director of Istead, said: “It was fantastic to work with Sandra and the team at Woman Who to ensure we could still deliver the awards ceremony.

“It has been an incredibly difficult year for businesses, so it was hugely important to not only ensure the achievements of women in business could still be celebrated, but that it was done to the same high standards delivered by Woman Who each year.

“We are experts in delivering audio visual services for events right across the UK, but when the lockdown was implemented in March, we lost all of our business.

“Rather than relying solely on government funding, we decided to create our own studio with staging, backdrops and lighting so that we could host professional, socially-distanced events which could be streamed online.

“This meant that Sandra and her team could stand on a physical stage with all of the equipment you would expect to see at a live ceremony, and we also worked hard to ensure that we could capture some fantastic reactions from the winners.”

The Woman Who Achieves Awards celebrates women in business, recognising their achievements in start-ups and SMEs, networking, leadership, import and export as well as in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), charity and social enterprise sectors and those who have made outstanding contributions to a team.

Its success meant that Woman Who’s newest awards, the Woman Who Achieves Solopreneur Awards 2020, were also held at the studio shortly after.

Sandra said: “The event far exceeded everyone’s expectations and the feedback we have received has been incredibly positive, with delegates commenting on how professional it was and some even saying they felt like they were actually there in person.

“We were really keen not to cancel the awards ceremony and wanted to do something positive for not only women in business, but also the events industry which has been hit extremely hard by the pandemic.

“Despite being online it was still very emotional, and it was excellent to capture the reactions of the winners.

“It was great to work with Istead, a company which has diversified very quickly in the current climate, to produce what was a very special event.”

Chris Nagle, of the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, added: “It is fantastic that two Chamber members have come together to innovate and use the very latest technology to ensure that a long-standing awards ceremony recognising women in business could not only still be held, but to an extremely professional standard.

“We are now looking forward to our Coventry and Warwickshire Virtual Annual Economic Conference on November 11 which is also being broadcast from the Spotlight Streaming Studio created by Istead AV.”