The countdown for Birmingham Young Professional of the Year 2005 has begun.

A new line-up of judges recently placed the cream of Birmingham's young professionals in the hot seat to be quizzed on why they should become a winner.

The judging panel was chaired by Jane Lodge, senior partner at accountants Deloitte and board member of Birmingham Forward.

It was made up of Derek Inman, chairman of Birmingham Forward; Neil Frankland, chairman of Birmingham Future and associate at law firm Mills & Reeve; last year's overall BYPY winner Victoria Garrard, senior associate at law-firm Gateley Waring; Trevor Foster, head of the corporate finance division at Bank of Scotland; Sue Primmer, director of communications at University of Birmingham; and Steven Byrne, chief executive of Midlands and City Developments, Fiona Alexander, editor of The Birmingham Post.

The judges spent a day picking the minds of the short-listed nominees to find out why they should be crowned best in one of five categories - communications, financial, legal, property and construction and recruitment and training.

Ms Lodge said: "This year is particularly interesting, as for the first time ever an equal number of men and women have been nominated - a clear statement that any person of high calibre regardless of their age, sex or ethnicity should aspire to be a winner.

Our business community is brimming with outstanding, talented individuals, who deserve recognition for their success and will definitely go on to be the city's next business leaders."

Birmingham Future set up the awards in 2001 to recognise the achievements of Birmingham's rising leaders. BYPY this year celebrates its fifth birthday.

The ceremony will be held on May 19 at the International Convention Centre.