On 23 October, Northern Ireland civil engineer Catherine O'Neill joined other distinguished nominees for the EY Entrepreneur of the Year awards, one of the most prestigious business accolades. Catherine's engineering company Amelio Group earned her a top spot in the Emerging Entrepreneurs category.
"Catherine truly exemplifies the qualities of an entrepreneur – she is ambitious, innovative and enterprising," said Richard Kirk, regional director for ICE Northern Ireland. "For her to have built such a successful company by her mid-twenties is an incredible achievement."
Catherine founded Amelio while studying civil engineering at Queens University Belfast, where she graduated with a first class master's degree in 2012. Amelio began at Catherine's parents' kitchen table, which Catherine used as an office with the help of a university colleague and a single piece of equipment.
"Most of my peers were applying for jobs abroad – for me, this wasn't an option," Catherine said. "I saw a niche in the market for a drainage company, and despite several people thinking I was crazy for trying to set up a business during a major recession, I went for it."
Since its humble beginnings three years ago, Amelio Group has quickly expanded into a multi-city firm, with offices in Belfast, Dublin and Gloucester and over 50 staff members. Catherine credits a large part of the company's success to mentors and business contacts, but her own determination and positivity cannot be overstated.
"The Amelio team and I are optimists, and we approach every difficulty as an opportunity to improve, to grow and to be innovative in dealing with problems with a fresh approach based on engineering expertise," she said. "We approach the future of the Amelio Group with total optimism."
With a thriving company and multiple commendations to her name, Catherine has every reason to be optimistic. She hopes that next generation will also share her confidence and enthusiasm for civil engineering.
"I would especially encourage girls to consider a career in engineering," she said. "Engineering is changing, with lots more females becoming involved. Being an engineer is a great career choice."