THE clock is ticking down to the deadline for entries to a major business competition and a chance to be mentored by Deborah Meaden, of TV show Dragons' Den.

With just over a week to go before the deadline for entries to the Evening Times Local Business Accelerator, businesses between one and five years old are being urged to step up for a chance of winning a course of expert help from leading local entrepreneurs.

Winning Scottish businesses will then be eligible for a national competition, where prizes include £10,000 in cash for the national winner from the Business Growth Fund.

The already exciting suite of prizes has been augmented with the offer from BT of a year's free business broadband and wi-fi access, including wireless router and free installation, and the design and manage- ment of a website with e-commerce, if required, to the overall winner

The Evening Times is participating in the Local Business Accelerators scheme for the second successive year, in partnership with the Newspaper Society and the Institute of Directors in Scotland.

We are one of 500 participating newspapers across the UK seeking the most dynamic, ambitious and interesting local companies and pairing them with top business mentors, while allocating free advertising space for their business.

The national campaign, designed to showcase the benefit of the local press, is spearheaded by Deborah Meaden, who will mentor the eventual nationwide winner.

Shortlisted Evening Times-reading businesses will be chosen by a panel of high-profile business people: Wildhearts micro-finance founder Mick Jackson; Laura Gordon, of Corporate Connections Scotland; and former Microsoft Scotland director Raymond O'Hare, in conjunction with Herald & Times Group staff.

The trio will then serve as mentors in an intensive and hands-on course of expert advice.

Ms Gordon, who is also chairwoman of the Institute of Directors in Scotland in Glasgow and west Scotland, said: "The experience, knowledge and wisdom of someone who has been through building and growing a business is immeasurable.

"For those willing to listen and learn, the right support can make all the difference."

Prime Minister David Cameron added: "The Local Business Accelerators campaign has provided tremendous support to fledgling businesses across the country.

"Local newspapers play a vital role in their communities and are uniquely placed to support small businesses, giving them the boost that they need to grow, which is good for local areas and good for the economy as a whole."

Any business in operation between one and five years can enter the contest with the Evening Times. To register, see: