The owner of a Harborough recruitment agency has been crowned the district’s leading business pioneer in a competition championing commercial talent and innovation.


Caroline Hunt, of Emerald Starfish, was named the winner of the latest Pioneer 10, an awards programme funded by Harborough District Council and run out of the Harborough Innovation Centre (HIC).

The six finalists were paired with a mentor and, following a seven-month process, they pitched in front of the judges at HIC on Monday, April 8, before the winner was announced during a special ceremony.

Caroline said: “I’m delighted, we are grateful and it’s great to be recognised. It’s good to know that I am doing the right thing. It’s been an honour to be part of the process. I’m thrilled to have won, it means a lot.”

Emerald Starfish was set up by Caroline eight years ago and was run from her Kibworth home until the business moved into HIC in 2017. Since the move, the company has seen a 137 per cent rise in turnover in the last two years through a growing reputation, referrals and being based at the Centre.

Caroline added: “We are unconventional as a recruitment agency because we charge for time rather than vacancy filled, which our clients find refreshing. So far this year we have got 16 new clients, so it appears to be working.”

Norman Proudfoot, joint chief executive of Harborough District Council who presented the award to Caroline Hunt, said: “Huge congratulations to Emerald Starfish who are deserving winners. We’re very proud to fund this initiative which brings some of the most innovative entrepreneurs to the fore and gives them a fantastic platform, and valuable support, to help achieve their maximum potential. Well done to all involved.”

Judge and experienced marketing strategist Steve Chapman, who runs Swordfish Marketing, said: “All of the candidates showed phenomenal passion, enthusiasm and commitment. It was not about the winning, it was about the taking part as Pioneer 10 has been a seven-month process which has looked at developing and growing their businesses.”

The business acceleration programme has been stimulating innovation through a package of online support tools and free business workshops as well as the awards.

HIC Innovation Director Kate Jackson said: “As well as providing tailored support geared towards promoting growth, Pioneer 10 has also been a celebration of the great wealth of entrepreneurial talent in the Harborough district.”

The Pioneer 10 finalists

Nish Wickramasinghe, of Curious Agency, said: “I would highly recommend Pioneer 10 to any business wanting to develop, innovate and grow. I have become inspired and further motivated to grow Curious Agency.”

Helena Kelly, of Heritage Archaeology, said: “The meetings and the training have been really important for us because we have only been going for 12 months. The training and mentoring have been amazing, Pioneer 10 has got us to think about the business differently, I can’t believe how much I have changed.”

Peter Wilkinson, from Pyrology, said: “The big thing for me was being part of a process that gave me access to expertise and business support. It’s that support that has helped me to plan the next stage of growth.”

Verity Davis, of Seven Scents, said: “It was a great experience, I felt lucky to be part of it and I continue to benefit from support in other ways. I learned about better planning and it focused my mind and the business.”

Paul Trilk, from Success Local, said: “It’s been phenomenal in terms of the opportunity to meet other business in similar situations with growth mindsets and the support of Pioneer 10 team and the group meetings have been phenomenal. I would recommend it to other businesses looking to grow.”

Pioneer 10 Harborough was launched in spring 2017 to drive expansion among businesses across the district.

Harborough Innovation Centre is owned and supported by Harborough District Council (HDC). As the building owner, HDC also funds the Centre’s business support provision, providing the basis for expert business advice, mentoring and workshops. 

Office premises are available in a range of unit sizes from 157 sq ft to 1,065 sq ft on flexible licence agreements, so that customers are free of any long-term letting commitments. To arrange a tour of the Centre or to enquire about meeting room hire, please call Centre Manager, Liza Menzies on 01858 414200