It was nearly midnight one evening, in January 2012, when I sent off a last-minute application to The Lloyds TSB Enterprise Awards. I tapped out my entry in between mouthfuls of coffee and as I hit the big green 'submit' button, I had no idea what I'd just started.
When an e-mail landed in my inbox a few days later informing me I had been shortlisted, I was struck by the feeling that every start-up founder knows well - one of simultaneous excitement and pressure. As I scanned the list of my fellow finalists, I spotted BrewDog on the list and felt a bit nauseous. BrewDog. Surely Scotland only had room for one trashy blonde?
On the first day of March I headed to Edinburgh University to pitch in the eighth and final regional heat. Where I had two minutes to pitch to a judging panel comprising of local business leaders, Lloyds TSB professionals and advisors from business support organisations. Two minutes is not a very long time, so being concise and articulate was key. I had to get across where my idea had come from, what I'd done so far, and what my plans were for the future.
When everybody had pitched, we were joined by more local businesses and other influential professionals in the region for a champagne networking reception and a three course lunch. I wasn't sure what I was more excited about; drinking bubbly in the middle of the day or having my very own Little Riot table. I mean, how cool is that?
After lunch we heard a brief speech from Fiona Godsman from the Scottish Institute for Enterprise about what define an "entrepreneur". When it was finally time for the announcement of winners, everyone around my table wished me good luck.
Incredibly, Scotland did have room for two trashy blondes after all, and Little Riot scooped "Best Start Up" and BrewDog taking "Best Enterprise", the award for more established businesses. What followed next was flurry of congratulations, press interviews and photographs.
As the Scottish heat was the last one, I didn't have long to wait until the grand final. Taking place in Liverpool to coincide with the Global Entrepreneurship Congress, I now had to pitch against the 'Best Start Up' winners from the other seven regions. The panel of judges this time was verging on intimating, with individuals including Kamal Ahmed, the Business Editor of The Telegraph and Jamie Murray-Wells, founder of opticians giant Glasses Direct.
Having thought the regional heat lunch was impressive, I was blown away by the set up for the black tie awards dinner that evening. Sporting my first ever full-length frock, Lloyds treated myself and the other finalists (and guests!) like VIP celebrities all evening. Although, it must be said, having to eat whilst facing an Andy-Warhol'd picture of my own face was a little disconcerting!
Best Start-Up went to KwickScreen and Best Enterprise went to Yasa Motors. I was also still a winner that night, as I was lucky enough to win tickets to the Olympics in a prize draw! I met a lot of great contacts, loved every minute of socialising with other young entrepreneurs, and had a whale of a time with my Andy Warhol face.
The Lloyds TSB Awards are open to anyone who has founded or co-founded their own business, who is a university student or a graduate from within the last five years. You can check out the website and submit an application here. You've got just under two weeks!
So why should you enter? There are loads of business competitions out there, right? What's so different about this one? This one is different because it's not just a competition, it's a gateway into an amazing networking and ongoing support. Lloyds TSB don't just give you a trophy and some cash and leave you to it, they actually care what happens to you and want to support the people they've gone to the effort of crowning winners.
What did I get from it? Of course, I got £1,000 cash, a weighty trophy and the accolade of being a winner. That is what you get from most competitions, but it was all the other things that really helped my business move forward. I received two incredible mentions in the Sunday Telegraph and the words written about me by the Telegraph's Business Editor still both humble and motivate me every day.
A few months after the awards, Lloyds TSB took all the winners to London and laid on an incredible day of workshops and training for us. We learned about recruiting people, intellectual property and how to conduct ourselves in media interviews. We had the opportunity to catch up with our fellow winners, swap stories and advice, and the day culminated with a drinks reception in the Houses of Parliament. What other competition has ever given you that?
Other benefits have included mentorship from a Lloyds TSB manager and being chosen as a 'poster girl' for this year's awards. I had an exciting photoshoot day, the results of which are now on the business banking website and on posters and leaflets at universities across the country.
There are lots of reasons why you should enter, and if you get even a small piece of what I have from the experience, then you are a winner by any means.
(NB. This post wasn't sponsored by Lloyds - they didn't even ask me to do it - it was written off my own back and I mean every word :)