A FATHER-of-two who felt “out of his depth” when he entered the Evening News-backed Dragons’ Den-style contest has made the shortlist.
Paul Johnston, 51, who runs the online advertising company Vertex eCommerce, is now hoping he can win the entire competition to secure free advertising in the paper, mentoring, and a chance for personal one-to-one business advice from real-life TV “dragon” Deborah Meaden.
The nationwide Local Business Accelerators competition has attracted more than 3000 entrants and will see 1500 firms across the UK receive £15 million of free advertising.
Locally, six businesses have been shortlisted and must now battle it out for the top spot.
Mr Johnston said: “For someone who right at the start thought, ‘am I out of my depth?’ and had to convince myself that I wasn’t, I was very pleased to be on the shortlist – it was like a stamp of approval.”
Mr Johnston set up his own business from his South Queensferry home in March last year to advertise local companies on the internet.
He said: “It’s really to make local businesses available on the market to local people – 64 per cent of searches on the internet are local. People aren’t looking for a lumber company in Lithuania, they are looking for a hairdressers in South Queensferry, for example.
“The Yellow Pages is getting thinner and thinner and everything is now on the internet, and we have to move with the times. It was a market I saw that was neglected.”
Joining Vertex eCommerce on the shortlist are social enterprise Greetings from Leith; Market Prepare, in Prestonpans; Gardening Services Edinburgh, in Colinton; tea boutique eteaket, on Frederick Street and AM Lettings, based in Dalkeith.
Three winners will be selected, with the trio receiving free advertising in the Evening News and a three-month mentoring programme from the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce.
They will also go forward to the national final round for the chance to be mentored for a year by Ms Meaden, and win an advertising campaign by a top London agency.
Mr Johnston said his reasons for entering the competition were two-fold, with the advertising and expert advice up for grabs both playing their part.
He said: “With it being a local business for local businesses, the local advertising was a major draw.”
He added that it would be a “tremendous personal boost” if he was to go on and win the competition.
Mr Johnston was in the army for 12 years until 1988 before working as a bodyguard for two years and then setting up a lighting business in Dubai.
Last month, the finalists made their pitch to a panel of judges – entrepreneur Sir Tom Farmer, former Prince’s Trust director Geraldine Gammell, former Scottish Businesswoman of the Year Liz McAreavey and Evening News editor Tom Little.
Mr Johnston said: “Whether I win or not, I have gained an awful lot by sitting in front of these people.
“At the end, each one of them gave me a little bit of advice and it was lovely that they took the time to do that.”