IT WAS a very tough decision for the judges but three Local Business Accelerator contenders have been selected as winners after taking part in a Dragons’ Den-style event.

Betty Hobcraft, from Betty Blue’s Loungerie, Kaia Vincent, from Brevity Marketing, and Sarah Evans, from RightBag, were picked from five finalists shortlisted for the event.

Five contenders made 10-minute pitches to the panel of judges – Gazette Newspapers’ editor Mark Jones, RSM Tenon’s Basingstoke managing director Nick Parker, and Lamb Brooks partner Simon Arthur.

All three businesses can look forward to receiving three months of free advertising from Gazette Newspapers and three months of business mentoring from Nick and Simon – and one of them will be selected as the overall local winner.

Betty outlined why she set up her online loungerie sales business in 2011 from her home in Hartley Wintney, after graduating from De Montfort University.

Despite suffering from ME since the age of 12, she has quickly started to make a name for herself, garnering some national press coverage when she showcased her wares at last year’s Conservative Party conference as a finalist in an initiative called Start Up Hub UK.

Betty explained to the panel that she created Betty Blue’s with the aim of offering women garments that are “sensual and alluring, yet warm and comfortable, so you can lounge at home looking like a Hollywood starlet of eras gone past.”

She explained that she found a gap in the market which she said was saturated with either unisex type tracksuits or silken slips.

“I am looking to achieve sales of £30,000 for 2013, but I need some help,” explained Betty, Sarah, from RightBag, also impressed the judges with her business that sources and sells laptop and mobile device cases, covers and bags.

The entrepreneur set the business up at her Hatch Warren home, in Basingstoke, after struggling to find stylish practical and feminine laptop bags.

In a short time, she caught the attention of BBC TV’s Dragons’ Den investor Theo Paphitis, who awarded her his Small Business Sunday twitter award. She has also won a WOW Award from the chief executive of Ann Summers, Jacqueline Gold. And most recently, she has won a Gold Website Award from Mumpreneur UK.

Nick Parker was particularly impressed with RightBag’s website, designed by Basingstoke-based design agency theESCAPE.

Sarah told the judges: “I want to quadruple my sales, but it’s not an easy task. Now I need help through mentoring and advertising for the business to grow.”

Kaia runs Brevity Marketing from her Grove House offices at Chineham Court.

“Marketing has always been a passion of mine,” explained Kaia.

“It’s so important for businesses to have marketing to be successful, but one of the ways that small businesses struggle is that they can’t afford a full-time marketing manager. What they do is struggle by. So Brevity Marketing provides an outsourcing service and expertise.”

Among her local clients are Two Guys Kitchens and Wote St Recruitment.

Kaia, who is aiming for double growth this year – with some help from her mentors – spoke of a business hero of hers, Sir Richard Branson. She said: “Over 20 banks said no to Richard Branson, but he kept going and so will we!”

Excellent pitches were also made by the other two finalists – The Nautical Company, run by Sandrine Wyatt-Gonord, selling authentic Breton clothes and accessories, and schools procurement specialist Minerva Procurement Solutions, run by Lorraine Ashover. Both of these firms have already landed awards in prestigious business competitions.

All five finalists deserved to be LBA winners, but with just three places up for grabs, the judges chose the businesses that they thought, at this time, could best benefit from the mentoring and advertising prizes on offer.

The judges said: “We were very impressed with the presentations made by all five finalists. All five businesses show great promise and some have already chalked up awards successes.

“The people leading all five of these small businesses clearly have great drive, determination and passion which will stand them in good stead. We wish all five every success as they take their business forward.”