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Sunderland grads are the business!

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Published on 20 November 2023

Louise Bradford, Wear Businesswoman of the Year, receives award from Honorary Graduate Dame Irene Hays, who won a Lifelong Inspiration award
Louise Bradford, Wear Businesswoman of the Year, receives award from Honorary Graduate Dame Irene Hays, who won a Lifelong Inspiration award

The University is celebrating the success of several Sunderland graduates who have been recognised with awards for their skills and talent in the business world.

Sunderland AFC’s Stadium of Light provided the backdrop for the inaugural Wear Businesswomen Awards as the winners were revealed on a night of inspirational success stories.

The awards ceremony was organised by Wear Business in association with the University of Sunderland, the headline sponsor of the event.

Among the graduates to win were Louise Bradford, who was named the first Wear Businesswoman of the Year, with her Sunderland-based firm Creo Comms also picking up the Small Business of the Year award.

Louise, who graduated in 2007 with a Public Relations degree, said: “I’m quite shocked! Businesswoman of the Year is not a way I would have ever thought to have described myself, so I’m quite overwhelmed.”

She added: “It’s no exaggeration to say that Sunderland is every bit the lifechanging university it is marketed as. Undertaking a degree connected me to a career pathway that means I truly don’t feel like I have worked a day in my life – I have absolutely found my vocation.  And, when work is a passion, it’s much easier to commit to it and to succeed. 

“I am incredibly grateful to have chosen to study in my home city, and to now be able to grow my company here.  It’s also a huge source of pride for me to continue to connect with the university, working with the Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries to drive Sunderland Creatives Agency, a student led creative agency that enables undergraduates to hone their skills working on paid client projects.”

Louise Kennedy, managing director at Oculus HR, which was named ’Business of the Year', graduated more than 20 years ago with a Master’s degree in Human Resources (2002). She said: “I feel absolutely stunned. It was a very ‘wow’ moment for us.

“Absolutely stunned is where I’m at. It was emotional because it was all about the team.” She added: “My roots are in Sunderland, my family, my growing business and my academic background which has been a core element of my business success. Get the foundations right, work hard and you can achieve anything you want is my ethos, and the decision to study at the University of Sunderland remains one of the best choices I made. 

“Based in the heart of the city, the University is a catalyst of talent. As a former student, to see the ongoing transformations and investment into the university cements my decision as to why I studied there. This ongoing investment is reflected in the support and opportunities I was given in my time there, and it is very inspiring to watch the University's growth trajectory. I am very proud to be part of the Sunderland Alumni.”

Communications Consultant, Katie Storey, won the award ‘Inspiring others’. Katie graduated with a BA (Hons) TV and Radio Production in 2007 and is the face behind Sunderland-based media consultancy StoreyMedia.

From coaching women to overcoming anxiety and step into leadership roles, to guiding them through social media challenges, Katie empowers women to embrace their stories, amplifying their presence and potential.

Founder of the Women’s Leadership Network in Sunderland, she provides a platform for growth and connection. Katie, who has graduated from broadcast journalism to entrepreneurship, has transformed lives through her expertise and genuine support, enabling women to achieve remarkable results and unlock newfound confidence.

It’s not only our graduates who achieved success on awards night, but current students too, with Sacha Copeland, picking up the prize for Student of the Year in the Wear Businesswomen Awards. Sacha is a BA (Hons) Business and Marketing Management with Integrated Foundation Year student. After starting an Etsy business during the pandemic, Sasha wanted to develop her knowledge and skills in business and marketing and chose the University of Sunderland to do so.

Last year Sasha was awarded a life-changing £30,000 by Santander Universities. She will be supported over the next three years up to her graduation in 2025. The Santander Universities Scholars Programme supports Sasha with funding, employability training and development sessions and a dedicated mentor to guide her through their studies.

Sasha said: "“Part of the enjoyment of the night was hearing from others, including Dame Irene Hays, about their journey as women and businesswomen because it really motivates you. It’s great to be able to combine my business education and my business itself.”

Other winners included honorary graduate and Hays Travel boss Dame Irene Hays, who was presented with the ‘Lifelong Inspiration’ award. Irene received an Honorary Doctorate of Business Administration from the University in 2018.