By Dan Pritchard

What have a man who loves seaweed and wants us all to enjoy its nutritional benefits, a woman who has created wellie boots you can both muck out and ride horses in and a couple who search out cool furniture for a living all have in common?

Firstly, all live and work in Devon. Secondly, all are passionate about their business. And thirdly, all were finalists in this year’s Fast Track to Growth programme.

What I love about Fast Track to Growth is the people. A growth programme open to every ambitious business in Devon means there are always going to be interesting people involved.

Who knew there’s a guy in Devon called Jeff helping bring oxygen kits into businesses to allow any of us to grasp a chunk more time in an emergency situation, before the paramedics arrive?

Who knew there’s a creative spirit called Jamie building beautiful bespoke cabins for people looking for ‘life spaces’?

And who knew that two sisters, one in North Devon, one in Sheffield, are growing a wonderful brand that creates gorgeous homeware you can buy online and from just about any John Lewis in the country?

I love Fast Track to Growth because it reveals things that are new to me, people brimming with passion who I want to get to know – people with a commitment to a cause that you know is going to dominate their lives for a good while to come. And some of them I even get to work with.

Fast Track to Growth is open to every Devon business. Every company that applies gets free access to Growth Days packed with business experts helping you with many aspects of running a business, from financial strategy and digital skills, to brand storytelling and smart use of data.

From all who apply, 15 companies are shortlisted for a free four-day growth programme before a final pitch, and a chance to win £20,000 of business support.

Virginia’s Vintage Hire have just won Fast Track to Growth 2017, and I’d like to say well done to them and all the finalists – Devon Surface Care, Ebb Tides, Lifesaver Technology, Life Space Cabins, Local Vets, LoveKeepCreate, Martha and Hepsie, The Olden Group, Red Rock Brewery, Rudds Wellies, Slingshot Six, Speedy Freight Exeter, Thermalogica Health Screening and Wellity.

I’m thrilled that Astley Media, along with the other FT2G partners, will be continuing to work with husband and wife team Greg and Ginny Banks as our winners.

If you ever needed inspiration as to how a business can be born and grow, I’ll add this final thought – it was the search for the right type of chair that set Ginny and Greg on this path.

What started with a job lot of 300 folding chairs off Ebay for a wedding with 20 guests, is now a national business supplying everything from chairs, benches and baskets to mirrors, crates and Vespa scooters for film sets, events, weddings and fashion shoots across the country, for the likes of the BBC, Burberry, Friends of the Earth, Harrods, Liberty, Lush, Seasalt, Ted Baker and Unicef.

Sorry, one more ‘and finally’ – a very important thank you to all the business experts and organisations who have supported this year’s programme. Joining Astley Media were Barclays, Cosmic, DataWise Intelligence, Devon County Council, Neligan Financial, Perfect Pigtails HR, PFK Francis Clark, Sampson Hall, SETSquared Exeter and Stephens Scown LLP. A big thank you – you were great too.