2010 winner

An actress/singer turned entrepreneur from Radlett has won the Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs 2010 run by charity Leonard Cheshire Disability, at the Growing Business Awards in London.

Vanessa Heywood, a 41-year-old with multiple sclerosis, was presented with a cheque for £50,000 at the Growing Business Awards in London for her company – Tiny Mites Music – which offers live and recorded interactive music sessions aimed at young children.

Vanessa was selected from an impressive range of applicants for her business acumen, performance, originality and entrepreneurial passion. Beyond the £50,000, she and her company will also benefit from specialist support courtesy of the Stelios Scholar Reach-out Programme.

When Vanessa was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1995, she had to give up her career as a professional actress, singer and dancer. The single mother-of-two, who once graced the stages of London’s West End decided to set up a business that took advantage of her musical talent, while allowing her to manage the symptoms of her disability.

Today, the business has grown and Vanessa has contracts with a number of large holiday parks, nursery chains and schools, and has brought out a Tiny Mites CD. Vanessa also provides Tiny Mites Birthday parties for under 5's and is now working on preparing her nationwide franchise operation.

Commenting on her achievement, Vanessa said: ‘I am absolutely thrilled to have won this Award, and would like to thank Sir Stelios, the Stelios Philanthropic Foundation and Leonard Cheshire Disability for making this possible. This is going to make such a difference to my business and my life.

‘Music is a passion for me; it is the family business. My father, a professional trombonist who toured with Frank Sinatra, taught me never to give up and to strive for perfection. The idea of writing new, inspiring, interactive music for young children came to me in 2004. I wanted to connect with really young children with new, fun material that could cultivate a life-long love of music.’

Sir Stelios said: ‘I would like to congratulate Vanessa on running a successful business and displaying the drive, creativity and determination to reach the top and really fly. The £50,000 prize will ensure Tiny Mites Music has an important boost for growth. Today, she joins our community of entrepreneurs who are making a difference.

‘I am passionate about encouraging entrepreneurship through the Stelios Philanthropic Foundation, working in partnership with Leonard Cheshire Disability on this Award. With around 50 per cent of disabled adults out of work, removing the barriers disabled people face in business is essential.’