TEN of the most promising young companies in Oxfordshire have been selected as finalists in our Business Accelerators competition.

The shortlist followed long hours of deliberation by judges and business mentors Mike Jennings, Bob Urwin and Brendon Cross, who sifted through almost 40 entries before agreeing on their choices.

Each was impressed with the quality of the firms and the entrepreneurs behind them as they develop their businesses, despite the gloomy national economic picture.

Mr Jennings, chairman of Jennings Business Parks in Oxfordshire, said: “There was a good mix of entries which reflects the diversity and imagination of entrepreneurs in Oxfordshire.

“Inevitably it was difficult to select the top 10, but for me it was based on potential for future growth.”

Mr Urwin, who runs the Martin & Co lettings franchise in Oxford, said: “What really stood out was how passionate these people are about their businesses. I was really impressed at the huge strides some of the entrants have made in such a short time. They should all be really proud.”

Mr Cross, managing director of STL Communications in Witney, added: “It was very difficult to whittle it down to 10, but I got there in the end!”

One of the companies delighted to be on the shortlist is Hilltop Chauffeurs based in Enslow, near Kidlington.

Nathan Thomas started the firm with just one car 18 months ago and thanks to a lot of help from family and a loyal business clientele, he has added another, as well as an eight-seater minibus.

The idea for the business followed the birth of his daughter Molly, now two.

Mr Thomas, 37, said: “I had been wanting to start my own business for some time and when Molly was born, it gave me the inspiration to build something for her.”

A former logistics manager for office furniture and stationery supplier B-Line Business Supplies based in Stanton St John, Mr Thomas had always had a passion for cars.

To test the water, he spent time working as a taxi driver and gained the relevant licences before investing in a £23,000 two-year-old Mercedes E-Class.

Mr Thomas added: “I started going to as many business networking meetings as I could, won my first major contract and it has gone from there.”

Now his father Michael is working as a driver, along with cousin Lee Thomas, while wife Kay handles the administration for about 25 regular clients and also does some driving.

Mr Thomas added: “It has been the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, but I have no regrets.

“The business has built up well and I couldn’t be happier.”

And Mr Thomas is “very excited” about the Business Accelerators competition. If he is among the three winning businesses, he will receive three months’ free advertising in the Oxford Mail and its sister titles and mentoring from one of the business experts.

He said: “I just want to get the company name out there and be a major player.”

The winners will be revealed in the Oxford Mail on Wednesday, January 11.