South Cumbria finalists battle it out in Business Boost contest
AS any entrepreneur knows well, being in business is rarely plain sailing, the path to success being strewn with problems, setbacks and pitfalls.
It takes dedication, determination and vision - and never more so than in today's economic climate, as Britain heads towards Brexit.
For any business venture, a helping hand is always welcome - which is why the annual CN Group's Business Boost competition is so keenly awaited by companies of all types and sizes.
This year's competition reached its climax this week (Tuesday May 30); and south Cumbria saw its six finalists battle it out in the Evening Mail's boardroom in Barrow.
With advertising and business mentoring packages worth £10,000 up for grabs in the two main categories, the competition was certainly fierce, as the companies gave Dragons' Den-style pitches to a judging panel in an effort to secure success.
Karl Burrell, managing director of accountancy firm Lamont Pridmore South Cumbria, was joined on the judges' panel by CN Group's Barrow commercial lead Chris Simpson and Evening Mail journalist Louise Allonby.
The category for businesses with fewer than 250 employees saw three finalists - Brathay Challenges, a micro business offshoot of the Brathay Trust charity; Clocktower, an electrical appliances company; and Barrow Training Partnership.
Clocktower owner Tom Harvey gave a passionate pitch, describing how he took over the family firm, now in its 36th year, from his parents Liz and Robert.
From humble beginnings at the Clocktower in Haverthwaite, the company is now based in Milnthorpe, and has become the largest independent retailer of kitchen and other domestic appliances in the South Lakes.
It is the personal touch which makes Clocktower so special, Mr Harvey told the judges. "We don't pressurise people, we know our stuff and we make our customers happy," he said. "Our customers are very local and they're very loyal."
Category winners were Brathay Challenges, whose pitch by director Dave Harvey and volunteer supporter Paul Dewar, landlord of the Stan Laurel Inn, Ulverston, described how the not-for-profit business arranges fundraising challenge events throughout the county, enabling the company to provide guidance and support for some 7,000 young people each year.
Set up three years ago, Brathay Challenges has a team of 150 volunteers to call on, whose support allows Brathay Trust to organise events such as the Windermere Marathon and the gruelling 10 in 10 event, which involves participants running 10 marathons in 10 days.
Mr Harvey said: "The business is about empowering young people and raising income in order to support our work with disadvantaged youngsters and their families, particularly in the Furness area.
"It's about community engagement and raising aspirations in the young people of our area."
Giving something back to the community was also at the heart of the winning company in the category for businesses up to five years old.
Teacher Danielle Carlton and former army member Tony Martinez run a teaching agency based in the former HSBC bank in Ulverston.
With the business a success, the pair decided to set up a countywide summer day camp, called Camp Cumbria.
Like Brathay Challenges, this is also a not for profit business - a shared theme of the winning pitches this year.
Mr Martinez told the judging panel Camp Cumbria - an Ofsted-registered organisation which provides holiday activities for children aged four to 15 - expects to provide activity-based experiences for around 1,000 local children this year.
With a team of trained teachers, the company provides sports, circus skills, survival skills and a host of water-based events at its two centre in Coniston and Cockermouth, with children with special needs being able to take part in a full range of activities.
Mr Martinez said: "It's about getting kids away from their iPads and Xboxes and getting them out into the open air and doing stuff, interacting with others and learning skills."
Runners-up in the category was The Lakeland Pudding Company, a start-up business providing gluten-free and dairy-free puddings, based at Rusland Pool Hotel at Haverthwaite.
The company, which was set up in Februrary this year, is run by husband and wife team Rachel and Michael Pound, along with Mark Cummings of Barrow, who is the head chef at Rusland Pool. Their aim? "To put the community of Haverthwaite on the map as the gluten and dairy free capital of the world."
Another husband and wife team, Supply Chain Cumbria, was the final runner-up.
The procurement and supply chain consultancy was set up in 2014 by Mike and Clare Farnworth, who have worked in a number of prestigious businesses, including BMW and Aston Martin.
All the pitches left the judges impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit on show in the south of the county.
Mr Burrell said: "This is the third year that Lamont Pridmore have been involved and what strikes me more and more is the wide range and diverse business offerings in Cumbria.
"There are lots of people out there doing lots of really good things."
CN Group's Mr Simpson said he had been impressed by the passion showed by the business owners pitching on the day.
He said: "For us to be able to work with these other businesses and to help them along with their development is a great opportunity.
"We are all part of the same community and if we've got the expertise they need, it's great for us to share that with them."