Inspirational day with a ‘dragon’

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Two local businesses were given the chance to meet retail magnate Theo Paphitis at an exclusive event.

Harrogate Motorhomes’ owner Annette Wingate and Angela Russell, founder and director of Northallerton-based It’s Nut Free, met the Dragons’ Den star at a seminar he had organised for entrepreneurs given a leg-up via his weekly Twitter initiative, Small Business Sunday.

Annette and Angela were among around 400 delegates from over 200 small firms at the exclusive, invitation-only gathering in Edgbaston on March 30. They enjoyed a champagne reception and lunch before hearing a two-hour presentation by the business guru, investor and philanthropist who recalled the pain of his early days in business.

The Small Business Sunday initiative sees Mr Paphitis inviting small business owners to send him messages via Twitter to promote their business every Sunday between 5pm and 7.30pm.

He then looks through them and chooses six to re-tweet to his 234,000 followers.

Annette had been so grateful for her inclusion in January that she named the newest micro-camper in her company Theo.

And when she found out she’d been invited to meet the businessman himself, there was just one obvious mode of transport to the event - the motorised Theo.

“I wasn’t sure if there was going to be time for the two Theos to get together but the real one had already heard about us naming our latest addition after him and I was thrilled when he agreed to be introduced,” she said.

Annette said that the inclusion in Small Business Sunday of Harrogate Motorhomes, which she founded in 2010, had helped win her £15,000 worth of business in a matter of days, putting the firm 30 per cent ahead of its 2012 forecast after just three months.

“We’re enormously grateful for Theo’s help and support. Naming our newest vehicle after him just seemed a great way to express it – although we can’t claim all the credit,” she added.

“The idea came from an online competition we ran which was won by Harrogate’s Anna Glazier, who suggested Theo first. It seemed the natural choice after all the help we received from the real one.”

It’s Nut Free was included in Mr Paphitis’s Small Business Sunday in August last year, and Angela, who lives in Harrogate, said it had helped raise awareness of her specialised food company, which she founded a decade ago.

She said: “Our tweet described It’s Nut Free and the nut free products we make. As soon as it was re-tweeted, I started getting messages through on my phone. That lasted for days! Our Twitter followers increased dramatically.

“It has certainly helped to raise awareness of It’s Nut Free and we saw a big spike in the number of hits on our website,”

And how did the two businesswomen find their experience of meeting Mr Paphitis?

“His advice was to have passion and belief in your business – and to do something else if you don’t love what you’re doing,” said Annette.

“It was an inspirational day and a fantastic opportunity to meet other small businesses, some of whom are now making millions.”

Angela, who attended the event with her daughter Melissa, said: “I felt very proud to be there. Theo gave us a lot of his time, with details of a new website he’s set up for winners ( and a lengthy question and answer session. He was very inspirational.”