Weed wins the prize

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The Independent Online
SEAWEED-BASED healthcare products have brought a top prize of pounds 10,000 for a young Scottish entrepreneur in this year's Shell LiveWIRE competition.

Fraser Hay, the 29-year-old owner-manager of Health Scope Direct, impressed the judges in the annual competition because his business has "achieved amazing growth in such a short space of time". Founded in December 1996 with a pounds 10 investment, the company now has 8,000 customers in nine countries. And, with sales targets continually being comfortably surpassed, is on course for a turnover of pounds 1m within two years.

Beyond that, Mr Hay from Banff is seeking to develop retail and wholesale activities alongside what is currently a direct-mail operation. He hopes to transform his current workforce of a handful of part-timers into one about 100-strong and possibly float the company before long.

Mr Hay, who insists that he will invest his prize in the fledgling business, obtained the ideas while working as a marketing consultant for a cosmetics company that was looking for alternatives to animal products. Through extensive research he discovered the miraculous properties of seaweed and found that the coast of Brittany was a particularly good source because of the presence of countless species of seaweed there, and France's reputation for having the cleanest water in the European Union.

Much of the company's success can be attributed to the growing interest in "alternative" remedies, but the continuing preoccupation with health and fitness is also playing a part. Among the best-sellers in his catalogue are a tired legs gel, one for aches and pains, and a "contouring" gel called BLT, or "Bums, Legs and Thighs".

But, though Mr Hay's entry stood out, the organisers of the national scheme, designed to help 16 to 30-year-olds realise their business ambitions, stressed that it was a strong field. Of the 10 other finalists, two were highly commended. They were Nick Horniman of Gloucestershire, who runs Pets Barn, a total pet-care service for small animals; and Patrick O'Neil, who runs a Northern Ireland company that designs and builds cranes.

John Mills, corporate affairs director at Shell UK, who presented the awards at a ceremony in London last week attended by Barbara Roche, the small firms minister, said: "All the competitors in this year's final were excellent, and I know it was a difficult decision for the judges."

The scheme works by giving young people free advice on setting up and expanding their businesses and tracks their progress with the aim of assessing those that have enjoyed the greatest levels of success and are likely to continue growing. Over the past 16 years, it has supported more than 120,000 young people to achieve a diverse range of business goals.

"Shell LiveWIRE is all about inspiring young people to make a career for themselves. It has set itself up as the leading 'voice' for young people in business," added Mr Mills.

Anybody aged between 16 and 30 and wanting free business start-up advice and information about Shell LiveWIRE can call 0345 573 252 (local call rate).