WeDo finalists put through awards paces

The endeavour and innovation of Scottish entrepreneurs shows the country is in great shape, according to the chair of the WeDO Scotland awards, whose media partner is BQ Scotland.

From traffic signals for the visually impaired, to specialist loose tea exporting, to new-generation bar owners and specialist recruitment firms for the oil and gas industry and financial services,  the ten finalists represent a dynamic cross-section of entrepreneurial activity in Scotland.

"In our eyes, they are all winners today. It is a privilege to hear their entrepreneurial stories," said Graham Langley, chairman of the judging panel.

The judges were impressed with the calibre of the ten business owners who came to present their companies at Tigerlily in Edinburgh, while some were more advanced with market and sales than others.

"It really makes a difference hearing the stories from the individuals. The applications and spreadsheets only tell you so much about their businesses. It is seeing and hearing these unique stories that help us identify the winners," said Dougie Walker, a former WeDO winner and one of the judging panel, which included entrepreneurs Martin Mutch and Rod McMillan.

The ten entrepreneurs for the five awards were: James Magee, of Securicorps and Ian LeBruce, of Cappuccino Ads, for the New Start Business award, sponsored by Mazars.  In the category for Most Innovative Business, sponsored by Geoghegans, were Mike Christopherson, of Nordic Drinks, who runs several niche community bars in Edinburgh, and Gavin Neate, of Neatebox, which has received funding from Scottish Enterprise for his gadget which can help the visually impaired cross the road.

"Solutions starts with those who face the problems on a daily level, not from those who design systems from the top," said Mr Neate.

Most of the finalists spoke of the difficulty in finding the right people to work within their businesses. Mike Christopherson, who created the Bodabar, employing 60 people, said: "The most important thing in our business is to understand the needs of our customers. We need people in our business who get this."

In the High Growth category, Stuart Hunter, of AGR, and Martin Walker, of Everycare Edinburgh, sponsored by Santander, were the two finalists. Mr Hunter has moved into specialist recruitment for the oil and gas industry, concentrating on ROV technicians and operators and then into the survey and inspection. AGR’s turnover is £9.3m with net profit £720,000, while Mr Walker has been building a ‘live-in’ care business with a turnover of over £600,000, employing 25 people.

For the Entrepreneur of the Year category, sponsored by Claymore Global Solutions, Abigail Stevens, Think Global Recruitment, is pitched against Erica Moore, of Eteaket.

Ms Moore, a former litigation lawyer, spoke about her interest in loose leaf specialist tea, visiting plantations in Sri Lanka and India and impromptu tea tasting with the chef Gordon Ramsay and her Michelin star clients.

"There is a real hunger for loose leaf tea and there is a long way to go in educating people about good tea. The interest has been amazing and we’ve got a lot of social media followers."

Ms Stevens set up her business at 28.

"I was naïve and thought it would be so easy. I only intended to run the business for a few years but we were hit by the recession. We had some really tough years up to 59 staff around the world."

She says she learned a lot the experience of the recession, when turnover went towards £5m and since then she has been rebuilding her business.

"I love what I do. We specialise in moving top finance and accountancy people around the globe."

In the Young Entrepreneur of the Year category, sponsored by CNJ Accounting, the two finalists pitching were Nick Cohen, PCR Business, a computer services business based in Glasgow, and Nathan Pike and Piers Bambridge, who has set up a car and commercial vehicle leasing business, called Pike & Bambridge.

The winners will be announced at the WeDO Scotland awards and dinner on 21st November at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Edinburgh.

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