Nine budding entrepreneurs have been awarded grants of up to £2,000 for their businesses after they were grilled by Dacorum’s Den judges.
The panel of four sponsors, led by Hemel Hempstead MP Mike Penning, gave seven businesses £1,000 - and were so impressed by the community focus of two others that they doubled the grant for them to £2,000 each.
Inspired by the Dragons’ Den TV show, the competition, organised by Dacorum Borough Council, is now in its sixth year, having invested £50,000 in business growth and created 35 jobs since it was launched in 2011.
Mr Penning has been involved as the head judge since the launch event and was impressed by the quality of the pitches. “People are so well coached by Dacorum Borough Council’s team at the Maylands Business Centre that it was a tough task to decide who should receive grants and how much,” said Mr Penning, after six hours of deliberations.
“We were so impressed by the community aspect of two businesses, Fishery Wharf Café and Emerald Kitty Entertainment, that we decided to give them both double the grant, £2,000 each.”
Mr Penning’s fellow panellists included John Ellison of JE2, based at Maylands Business Centre, who is also a previous winner. “It is so difficult for businesses to access this kind of investment, so when I won the money, which I invested in new software, I said that I would invest back into Dacorum’s Den once it had turned a profit,” explained Mr Ellison.
Panellist and sponsor Alan Butchers, who is the McDonald’s Restaurants franchisee in Apsley, said: “It is all about locality and two of the businesses could do extremely well with relatively little help.”
Alison Murray, of serviced apartments and luxury flat rental specialists Abodebed, said she was impressed that eight of the nine winning businesses are run by women. She said: “Entrepreneurship by women is on the increase as more discover that it is possible to have a family life at the same time as running your own business.”
The scheme helps Dacorum-based companies with fewer than 20 employees and who turn over less than £1million per year.
The winning businesses are:
- £2,000 to Emerald Kitty Entertainment, run by Babette Smith and Chris Armitt. They organise pop-up cabaret shows at venues across Dacorum. They were awarded £1,000 for marketing expertise and £1,000 to organise a show at the Old Town Hall in Hemel Hempstead.
- £2,000 to Fishery Wharf Café in Fishery Road, Boxmoor, run by Alan Rooke. The quirky canal-side arts café will be using the money to improve infrastructure for its expanding customer base and events programme.
- £1,000 to The Tyre Changers, a mobile tyre-fitting business run out of Tring by former Red Bull Racing Formula One tyre technician Jon Gates and Katherine Gates. For 10 years Mr Gates was a part of the Red Bull team, including Sebastian Vettel’s four years as world champion. “I wish I could change tyres in 1.96 seconds but there was a team of us. My fastest now is 20 minutes for a tyre change!,” said Mr Gates.
- £1,000 to Audition Oracle - the number one source for professional opera singers and auditions - run by professional opera singer Melanie Lodge, of Tring. Audition Oracle was set up after a period of illness which temporarily left Melanie unable to work. The business quickly took off with an innovative programming system that revolutionised the casting process across the classical music industry. She now plans to translate her website into French as a part of a stepped plan to turn Audition Oracle into a global business.
- £1,000 to Chipperfield-based garden designer Justine Wood, of Wild Wood Studio. She applied for money for design software.
- £1,000 to Elementary Skin and Body beauty salon in Akeman Street, Tring. Owner Lucie Monk, 26, applied for the Dacorum’s Den grant to boost her marketing. After moving her business from Berkhamsted to Tring this year, Lucie's marketing will focus on raising awareness of her salon's results-driven treatments, complemented by a highly skilled and professional therapist team.
- £1,000 to Abbelle party, prom, pageant, cruise, bridesmaid and evening wear boutique based in the Old Town, Hemel Hempstead. Owned by mother and daughter team of Karen, 46, Ellen, 21, and Abbey Holdsworth, 19, they will be investing the money in social media and online marketing.
- £1,000 to MRO Accounts of Apsley. Owner Mel O’Donnell, who is due to have a baby at the end of the year, is developing an online training portal for small businesses to get advice and help on financial matters.
- £1,000 to Gilded Bee of Tring. Owned by next door neighbours and mums Emily Stone, 34, and Vicky Thomson, 38, they will be using the Dacorum’s Den grant for website development.
For more information on the scheme, please visit our Dacorum’s Den page.