Business editor Julie Hayes reports how bosses from seven growing concerns went head to head to prove their worth to our panel of judges

HOPEFUL businesses waited nervously in the lobby of CPP’s offices on Thursday, waiting to be grilled by The Press’s judges on their plans for growth.

The leaders of seven companies shortlisted for the Local Business Accelerators competition all had growth on their mind as they tried to convince the dragons to choose them as the winner of free advertising and mentoring.

The straight-talking Stephen Kennedy, chief operating officer of CPP, Dr Paul Gibson, chief executive of growing York e-commerce business PureNet, and Katie Stewart, head of economic development at City of York Council, were prepared to probe the finalists, examining their business plans, marketing strategies and scalability.

Up to three winners will be announced in The Press tomorrow. The shortlisted companies came from a variety of backgrounds and all impressed the judges with their ideas for growth.

Mr Kennedy said: “What was great was the diversity of businesses. We really did get what was an intriguing mix from old fashioned trading in Bring, Buy, Sell all the way through to very technical online businesses. It shows the diversity of entrepreneurs is very varied.”

Dr Gibson said although there was a mix of businesses, there were three IT companies, demonstrating the city's strength in the IT sector.

He said: “It's good to see some young IT companies starting up, especially supported by the University of York’s innovation centre, which is where PureNet started.

“It was nice to see companies innovating because innovation is where Britain is going to succeed.”

Mrs Stewart said every business presented with an inspirational level of passion. She said: “I think the passion came across very clearly. These people showed York really does have that kind of grit about it.

“People sometimes think when they look at the city that it's a nice place to get a job, but here we saw people who are giving incredible amounts of time, working for nothing or very little to make a success of their businesses."

Who's in the Den?

York Press: Stephen Kennedy, Katie Stewart and Dr Paul Gibson

From left, Stephen Kennedy, Katie Stewart and Dr Paul Gibson

• Dr Paul Gibson has a PhD in the application of artificial intelligence and neural networks, and has worked for corporates including Nestlé and Siemens. He has also worked in small businesses, setting up and selling a coffee shop and bookshop before he launched PureNet, which he has grown into a £1 million-turnover business, employing about 25 people, in less than five years.

• Katie Stewart joined City of York Council last year after being lead officer for the economic development agenda at Leeds City Region, developing its Innovation Capital programme and helping to develop its plans as it became a Local Enterprise Partnership. Originally from Tampa, Florida, where she worked in renaissance and regeneration, Mrs Stewart first came to York eight years ago to do an MPhil at the University of York.

• Stephen Kennedy, formerly UK managing director of York insurance and card protection business CPP which employs about 1,000 people in York, was made chief operating officer in 2010, putting him in charge of operational performance across the group's 15 countries, including the UK and Ireland. He was previously director of several business units for HFC Bank.

What competition brings to a winning business

The Press is one of about 500 newspapers offering £15 million of free advertising and invaluable mentoring support to the nation’s most promising young businesses.

The Local Business Accelerators competition, spearheaded by the Newspaper Society, will help these businesses accelerate their success with professional advice from local business mentors, plus a substantial allocation of free advertising space in their local paper.

The Press named seven finalists from the businesses which entered the competition from across York, North and East Yorkshire. Now up to three businesses will be chosen to win a package of mentoring and advertising.

One lucky business will be picked from the hundreds of regional winners to get a year of individual mentoring from Deborah Meaden, the Dragons’ Den judge and national ambassador of Local Business Accelerators.

The Press has arranged for further prizes to be allocated to businesses which entered the competition.

Two further entrants will receive six months free desk space at the new Blake House Business Centre, in York city centre, and marketing strategy from Your Marketing People.

These winners will be announced later this month.

Focus on our foward-thinking finalists

• EBOR Law, a specialist family law firm set up in High Petergate in York in 2009, has grown to employ six people in its core business.

Now the firm is working in partnership with a web design company to launch an innovative online product, targetingh a national audience.

• ENTREPRENEUR Vanessa Warn employs 35 people at her organic nursery Little Green Rascals, based at York Maze.

She is hoping to replicate the model and roll out other nurseries based upon the principles of sustainability and respect.

York Press: Vanessa Warn, owner of Little Green Rascals, makes her presentation to Local Business Accelerator judges

Vanessa Warn, owner of Little Green Rascals, makes her presentation to Local Business Accelerator judges

• HANS Verhoosel and his partner Amy Gallagher, who run Lu Lin Teas, meaning Green Forest, are taking on the growing market for speciality teas.

Their teas are selected by their own local tea aficionado in China from small local farmers and packaged in their innovative cube-shaped tea bags.

• FORMER solicitor Tom Hiskey joined up with web developer Rob Blake to create Law Wizard, an online application enabling people to carry out simple legal procedures themselves online.

Starting with probate, they plan to launch step by step guides to help revolutionise the legal system.

York Press: Tom Hiskey and Rob Blake of Law Wizard

Tom Hiskey and Rob Blake of Law Wizard

• IT BUSINESS Clearwave Enterprise Solutions explained to the judges how it plans to expand the firm, which helps small businesses get their IT systems right first time.

The business invests in new technologies to improve its service to customers, including cloud technologies, and has invested in an apprentice, who is developing further skills, giving managing director Elliott Chandler more time to focus on taking the business to the next level.

• JIM Sanderson's flooring business EcoFlooring & Restoration UK, which recycles old parquet flooring from disused schools and factories into new flooring, has already won prestigious contracts around the country.

With orders coming in thick and fast from referrals, Jim needs to expand the business and also has other ideas he wants to develop to help him reduce waste and save trees.

• CONSIGNMENT store Bring Buy Sell opened at Crockey Hill, near York, in October, and owner Jason Hadlow hopes to roll out the idea, creating 200 franchises in five years.

An "Aladdin's Cave" crossed with eBay, the shop buys and sells almost anything, from furniture to rather bizarre items such as large wooden animals, band stands and old cars.

York Press: Jason Hadlow, of Bring Buy Sell

Jason Hadlow, of Bring Buy Sell