A COUPLE who set up a cider-making business are raising a glass to their success after being selected as one of the winners of the Local Business Accelerators competition.

Jo Dakin and Tony Harrison turned their backs on the corporate world to enjoy the good life running a 10-acre orchard near Warmington, just outside Banbury, and last year produced about 7,000 litres of cider including their Thorn Brook premium brand.

This year they are looking to step up production using more of their own fruit and will start selling through local branches of the Co-op, as well as pubs and festivals which proved a hit last year.

And to help them along they will receive three months’ worth of free advertising in a Newsquest publication of their choice along with a year’s support from a top business mentor.

Ms Dakin said: “The advertising will be useful as we look to launch Thorn Brook in the shops and the mentoring will be great as sometimes you feel as if you are working in a vacuum and you just want a sounding board to see whether you are going in the right direction.

“We have also talked about taking on an employee and starting to export but I have never done those things before, so meeting someone with experience will be very useful.”

The Little Orchard Company is one of three winners of the Local Business Accelerators competition run in the Oxford Mail and its sister titles.

Richard Ashton, who runs Abingdon-based WorldBeatsMusic, is also banging a drum for his business after being selected as a winner.

He formed his company after becoming disillusioned with the County Music Service where he had worked previously. Now he works with schools throughout the county running music classes and workshops and has found a ready demand for his services.

Mr Ashton said: “It is fantastic to be a winner. I am very surprised. Any help I can get will be amazing, especially as I am not very clued up on marketing and social media.

“If you had told me a few years ago that I would be running my own business, I would have laughed. But I have found a passion for it.”

The third winner is Woodstock-based Next Generation Renewable Energy, run by Greg Bishop and Rob Stocks.

Mr Bishop, an electrician by trade, and plumber Mr Stocks decided to put their skills together to start their business in 2009. They initially offered solar panel installation but have now expanded to cover a wider range of green heating and power alternatives, including solar thermal and photovoltaic installations and air source heat pumps.

Now the business is flourishing with high demand from home owners looking for cheaper alternatives to the soaring price of fossil fuels.

“I have always found advertising the business particularly difficult as I don’t understand it,” admitted Mr Bishop.

“So to have three months’ free advertising and advice on what to do with it will be a great boost for the business. And the mentoring will give us ideas on how to progress the business and open a few doors. At the same time, while we want to expand we don’t want to bite off more than we can chew.”


'Standard of entries now even higher'

OUR business mentors are looking forward to the challenge of working with the winning businesses after finding the standard of this year’s competition far higher than last year.

Bob Urwin, who runs the Oxford franchise of lettings agency Martin & Co, said: “I found compiling the shortlist for the final stage of judging very difficult.

“All business owners put forward compelling reasons why they should win the competition. The most surprising revelation was that it was not always financial rewards that drove these entrepreneurs, but how a business could thrive as well as serve a social purpose in the local community.”

Mike Jennings, chairman of the family business that runs Jennings business parks in Oxfordshire, added: “The quality of the entrants this year was exceptional and shows clearly that the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation is alive and well in Oxfordshire.”

And Brendon Cross, managing director of Witney-based telecommunications firm STL Communications, said: “The extremely high quality of the finalists goes to show that Oxfordshire is an enterprising county and that these awards are an excellent showcase for entrepreneurial spirit.”


Dragon shares her knowledge

ONE overall star business will be put forward to be in with a chance to gain Dragon’s Den star Deborah Meaden as a mentor during 2013.

Ms Meaden said: “With last year’s LBA having demonstrated the unique power of local and regional press to provide a meaningful boost to promising young businesses, I am delighted to be supporting the initiative once again.

“The campaign provided tangible examples of the real contribution that local newspapers can provide to young businesses across many different sectors, accelerating their development.

“Enterprise and entrepreneurism in the local community are more important than ever before and I look forward to another young business to mentor and drive forward.”