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Dynamic entrepreneurs battle for top accolade

SCOTLAND's entrepreneurial dynamism will be highlighted at a dinner in Glasgow next week when the Entrepreneurial Exchange Awards are presented in front of around 600 guests.

BUSINESS LEADER:  Keith Wight, founder and chief executive of sensor design and manufacturing company SST Sensing, won the Emerging Entrepreneur award in 2011 and is on the judging panel this year.  Picture: Gordon Terris
BUSINESS LEADER: Keith Wight, founder and chief executive of sensor design and manufacturing company SST Sensing, won the Emerging Entrepreneur award in 2011 and is on the judging panel this year. Picture: Gordon Terris

Made this year in association with professional services firm Deloitte and media partner The Herald, the awards are Scotland's longest-standing annual awards for growth-oriented entrepreneurs.

The Entrepreneurial Exchange is an organisation for ambitious entrepreneurs with over 400 members representing around £23 billion of turnover.

The awards fall into two categories: Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year, and Entrepreneur of the Year. Among the judges this year is Keith Wight, founder and chief executive of sensor design and manufacturing company SST Sensing, and who was crowned Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year 2011.

Our preview of the short-listed candidates in each category begins with the five nominees for Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year.

Alan Bonner,

Pinnacle Technology

Based: Stirlingshire

Started: 2002

Employees: 60+

Turnover: £6.3m

Alan Bonner displayed entrepreneurial instincts as a 17-year-old school leaver when he started a video library that soon became profitable.

He moved into the telecommunications industry in 1996 following stints in insurance brokerage and in sales at the BUPA private healthcare operation.

Quick to recognise the opportunities created by deregulation, Mr Bonner developed a firm that sold telecommunications products on behalf of suppliers, which was bought by a rival based in Kent.

Since acquiring the then loss-making Glen Group (now renamed Pinnacle Technology) in 2007, Mr Bonner has developed an entirely new service offering. The firm has won a range of big contracts covering events like the London 2012 Olympic Games and used acquisitions to increase its customer base.

The company has reported profits and aims to expand overseas.

Deloitte verdict: "Turning around the failing Glen Group and creating a platform for sustained growth is a major accomplishment, particularly when achieved with no external debt.

"While building his resource steadily, Alan is attuned to the growth potential of his business and has the proven tenacity to overcome challenges when they arise."

Peter Bruce,

Entier Services

Based: Aberdeen

Started: 2008

Employees: 473

Turnover: £25.5m

A trained chef, Peter Bruce spent 11 successful years at Compass Group before spotting an opportunity to start a new business specialising in catering for staff on offshore oil and gas rigs as well as onshore venues.

After quickly building a customer base that includes big North Sea operators such as Apache, Entier has almost tripled turnover since 2008. The company is on course to make its first profit in 2012 with further growth forecast in 2013.

Entier has invested heavily in research and development, developing packaging to ensure produce is as fresh as possible when it reaches offshore sites.

The company has won business in overseas markets like Canada, Egypt and the Gulf of Mexico and started working with clients in other industries.

Deloitte verdict: "Despite Entier Services still being in its infancy its rapid growth over the past four years is nothing short of impressive and, with almost 500 employees, it can hardly be viewed as small.

"Peter's commitment to a quality product and service, combined with a loyal team, makes Entier very well positioned for continued success and the possibility of becoming a real powerhouse in the offshore catering sector."

Michael O'Hare,

thebookingroom

Based: HQ in Glasgow with offices in Edinburgh, London, Paris, Hong Kong and New York

Started: 1999

Employees: 133 (excluding drivers sub-contracted for additional international work)

Turnover: £12.8m

A former golf professional at Glasgow's Sherbrook Castle, Michael O'Hare moved into the transport business by providing cars for weddings at the venue.

After buying a limousine, he expanded into offering transport services for corporate events and financial road shows through his Charlton Chauffeur Drive operation.

Mr O'Hare went on to develop thebookingroom as a business which harnesses the internet to offer a chauffeur-driven service specialising in niche markets like events and private aviation.

Based in Scotland, thebook-ingroom now has offices in London, Hong Kong, Paris and New York. Clients include giants like JPMorgan Chase, MTV and Deutsche Bank.

The company has maintained a growth rate of around 20% and is now planning further expansion into new markets such as Brazil.

Deloitte verdict: "Michael clearly has a strong understanding of the practical steps required to develop his raw ideas for expansion into tangible business success.

"The continued development and refinement of thebookingroom's bespoke logistics and customer management software indicate Michael's awareness of the importance of innovation in staying ahead in the market and gaining a competitive edge.

"To have developed into a business with international scope is testament to Michael's entrepreneurship and determination."

Gilad Tiefenbrun,

Linn Products

Based: Eaglesham, near Glasgow

Started: 1973

Employees: 174

Turnover: £17.257m

With a background that includes a degree in electrical engineering and five years working in areas like mobile phone operating systems at Symbian, Gilad Tiefenbrun joined his father's business, Linn Products, with a highly sophisticated understanding of technology

He proceeded to lead a turnaround of Linn with an emphasis on research and development. This resulted in the company ceasing manufacturing CD players in 2009 and focusing on technology designed to capitalise on the rise of digital streaming of music.

Appointed managing director in the same year, Mr Tiefenbrun increased the company's focus on innovation with the creation of a 50-strong product development team.

The company recorded a 21% increase in net profit in 2012 and eliminated its outstanding debt.

Deloitte verdict: "Gilad is an impressive entrepreneur with a very inclusive leadership style. He has successfully steered Linn through a challenging time and has completely reinvigorated the business by adhering to his clear strategy.

"At the heart of this is a commitment to quality and investing in the future of the business, both in product development and the team of people he has working alongside him.

"Under Gilad's leadership Linn has the potential to do something very exciting in the marketplace."

Hermann Twickler,

PressureFab Group

Based: Dundee

Started: 2009

Employees: 85

Turnover: £6m

A master engineer and shipbuilder by trade, Hermann Twickler honed his skills in the shipyards of Northern Germany and North America before becoming operations director of VT Group in Portsmouth.

After spurning offers of other big jobs, Mr Twickler decided to start his own offshore equipment manufacturing business. He invested his life savings, including the sale of his house and car, into creating PressureFab Group.

Started just three years ago, the group now counts some of the largest operators in the oil and gas sector among its customers and employs 85 staff.

It has been profitable since inception.

Mr Twickler says he has no desire to grow the company for exit, but instead has set his sights on wealth creation and achieving long-term growth. The company has plans to expand into new facilities, scheduled to complete in 2013.

Deloitte verdict: "Hermann has built an excellent company serving some of the largest companies in the world and has successfully bucked the trend by exporting Scottish engineering and manufacturing to the Far East and the US.

"Hermann has created almost 90 new jobs in three years, doubled revenue each year and always made profit, and he's achieved all this during the biggest recession since the 1930s."

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