Ask the men at Whitehall and they will tell you that The Queen's Award for Enterprise is the most prestigious corporate accolade that a UK business can win.

Ask the winners and they will tell you that it is an excellent sales and marketing tool as well.

Winning an award is a golden opportunity to prove to your customers and suppliers just how successful your business is.

It is an independent and prestigious endorsement of the quality of your company.

The Queen's Awards Office hosts a celebratory reception for the winners, with a congratulatory speech usually given by a member of the royal family.

The Queen normally invites three members of each winning business unit to an evening reception at Buckingham Palace. Then, at a separate ceremony held later at the winner's premises, a presentation is made by the Lord Lieutenant of the County, offering further PR opportunities.

Winning an award can boost sales - some winners have reported increased turnover of up to 30 per cent as their profile is raised and more customers are encouraged to put business their way.

The awards also open doors to new suppliers, customers, investors and partners. Credibility is improved and so is staff morale. All of which is good news for West Midlands winners in the international trade and innovation sections of the Queen's Awards for Enterprise 2006.

Export winners include JCB Heavy Products, of Uttoxeter, Staffordshire; Stoke-based Goodwin Steel Castings, which machines and fabricates alloy and super alloy steel castings and assemblies; and Malvern Instruments, of Worcestershire, which makes instruments for particle characterization and rheological testing.

Good news too for regional winners in the innovation section: Coventry-based Exasoft (below); Smethwick's Hadley Industries - picked for UltraSTEEL, a unique method of improving the performance of roll formed metal sections; Safe and Sound Lighting, of Alvechurch, Birmingham, which came up with Snaplite, a recessed down-lighter with inbuilt fire and acoustic protection with low air leakage; and Birmingham-based Waterside Manufacturing, praised for its safety jackets and vests.

One individual was also picked out - the man at the helm of the University of Warwick Science Park has been honoured with one of the most prestigious industry awards.

David Rowe, who started the University of Warwick Science Park in 1982, was presented with the Queen's Award for Enterprise Promotion Lifetime Achievement.

He is only the second person to win the award - the first in this region - as it was started last year to honour individual activities which contribute to and foster an entrepreneurial culture.

Mr Rowe said he was thrilled with the honour.

"I am still struggling to take it in," he says. "In our field it is the greatest personal award you can receive and I feel extremely proud to have been recognised.

"But great credit has to go to so many people across our four sites in the region who have helped to foster the entrepreneurial spirit among so many small firms that have been based at the Science Park.

"Very often they start as one or two-man bands when they come to us and can end up growing to have up to a hundred staff - that is always extremely satisfying."

When Mr Rowe started the science park, there were just 100 small, knowledge-based firms in the sub-region.

Now there are more than 1,000 - around half of which have been supported by activities developed by Mr Rowe at the Science Park.

Mr Rowe has put systems into place to help small businesses access funding, find investment, develop their markets and work with under-graduates and recent graduates - all of which have helped firms to grow quicker.

In each of the last six years, between 50 and 70 per cent of the fastest growing high-tech companies in Coventry and Warwickshire have been based at the University of Warwick Science Park. "We

have put into place a whole host of facilities and programmes that make it easier for business to grow," says Mr Rowe. "And our record in the region certainly suggests that it is working."

Mr Rowe's work also extends outside of Coventry and Warwickshire.

Projects called Teamstart and the Enterprise Fellowship Programme have been rolled out across the West Midlands - with Teamstart having a major role to play in helping former Rover employees to start their own businesses after the car giant's collapse.

On a national and international scale, he was one of the first chairmen of the UK Science Park Association, is a leading director of the UK Business Incubation Association and is one of the longest serving members of the European Business Innovation Centre Network and the International Association of Science Parks.

"Enterprise is the key to help a modern economy flourish," says Mr Rowe. "It is the most reliable route to innovation and wealth creation."