A SOAP maker from Argyll was crowned Scotland's entrepreneur of the year last night.
Denice Purdie, founder of Purdie's Scottish Soap Company, won the prize, sponsored by The Scotsman. at the National Business Awards for Scotland for her "exceptional vision and leadership".
In only five years, she has gone from running her business in her cottage to operating three shops, in Glasgow, Dunoon and Inverary.
Purdie, who was presented with her prize by enterprise minister Jim Mather, plans to open a fourth shop, in Oban, later this year.
She beat off stiff competition from five other finalists for the entrepreneur of the year award, including Tracey Devine, of Aberdeen-based Angels hair salons; Christian Arno, of Edinburgh-based translation company Lingo24, and Tony Banks, of Forfar's Balhousie Care Group.
Golower's Hannah Sutter, who founded the dieting programme, and Dr Rabinder Buttar, of Glasgow-based ClinTec International, were also on the shortlist.
Philip Forrest, chairman of the judging panel at the National Business Awards for Scotland, which are sponsored by Orange, said: "In what is reported as the most difficult economic climate of the past 30 years, it would have been expected that this would impact on the quality of this year's entry.
"Not so: the entry for the National Business Awards for Scotland was as robust as ever, showed many outstanding business performances and reflected an air of confidence for the period ahead."
He added: "Entrepreneurialism and innovation were particularly strong attributes exhibited this year, and, again, the whole entry had a feel of the national pride in achievements of many parts of Scotland's commercial community.
"There were seven other categories. Petroleum Experts, the Edinburgh software company, was named as the Grant Thornton business of the year, while Cordia won the Orange best use of technology in business award for its work in care services for Glasgow City Council.
Flexlife, the Aberdeen oil services firm, won the University of Glasgow business innovation of the year award for its engineering prowess, and Inver House Distillers took the Hilton customer focus award. Fake Bake, the self-tanning system run by Sandra McClumpha in Glasgow, landed the Symon Media growth strategy of the year prize.
Glasgow's Odin Consulting Engineers went home with the small to medium sized business of the year trophy for its civil engineering work, while Bright Grey, the Edinburgh insurance firm, was presented with the employer of the year accolade.
Robert Ainger, director corporate marketing at Orange, added: "The quality of finalists this year made it a fiercely fought contest with many of the judging decisions being very close calls."
• For full details of all the winners, look out for a special report in The Scotsman tomorrow.