Brian Conlon, founder and chief executive of the Co. Down firm First Derivatives was announced as the 2010 Ernest & Young Entrepreneur of the Year last night in Dublin.

President Mary McAleese presented the award to Mr Conlon who described the accolade as a “fabulous achievement” not only for him, but also for the entire company. He said that his is not a nine-to-five job and thanked his friends and family.

“Brian Conlon has demonstrated exceptional entrepreneurial vision with an innovative and successful business model,” commented Frank O’Keeffe, who is the partner in charge of the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year programme in Ireland. “He is at the forefront of Irish companies contributing to the new global economy.”

“All of our 24 finalists’ creativity and risk-taking ability will continue to be a significant source for our future economic well being,” he added.

A trained accountant, Mr Conlon worked with Morgan Stanely in London and New York during the 1980s. On his return to Newry in the mid 1990's he founded First Derivatives as a consultancy and service business primarily aimed at the investment banking market.

Since then his business has gone from strength to strength and is now considered a leading global service provider to the capital markets industry. Profitable since inception, it's turnover is almost 100 percent export based.

With offices in Newry, Dublin, London, Australia and North America it employs more than 400 people many of whom are recent graduates.

Presented by Mark Little and Claire Byrne, there was an upbeat atmosphere among the crowd at last nights award ceremony in the City West Hotel. Despite the ailing Irish economy the group that gathered for the awards were a reminder of the strength and endurance of Irish entrepreneurs.

The President paid tribute to the dynamism and optimism of all 24 nominees in this year’s programme. “The prevailing mood in the room is one of practicality, can-do, hard-headedness, determination.

“There is no room for fantasy or false hope,” she continued, “but in this room there is palpable positivity,” she said.

This years winners were chosen from a total of 24 finalists shortlisted by a judging panel which was chaired by Padraig Ó Ceidigh of Aer Arann.

Mr Conlon will now represent Ireland at the World Entrepreneur of the Year Awards in Monte Carlo next June.