LAST year The Hunts Post ran a competition for a budding entrepreneur to change their life for £1, with a £10,000 business start-up package as a prize. Six finalists braved the Dragons Den panel for a chance to walk away with a package including free pr

LAST year The Hunts Post ran a competition for a budding entrepreneur to change their life for £1, with a £10,000 business start-up package as a prize.

Six finalists braved the Dragons' Den panel for a chance to walk away with a package including free premises and expert business advice for a year.

MAX EVANS catches up with the winner six months after his company started trading.

SIX months ago Matthew Ryan was a river inspector for the Environment Agency - but now the entrepreneur says those days are just water under the bridge.

Having won over the Dragons last September with his proposal for a boat cover business, Mr Ryan has enjoyed a hectic start to trading.

Mr Ryan said: "It's been absolutely brilliant. I have got an order book that is completely full without doing any advertising.

"I have already got so much work on that I am having to put people off."

But there have been challenges to adapting to the life as his own boss.

"I see fewer people. I miss the banter - to me that's the beauty of working for a big organisation.

"Also, when I was ill after Christmas, I got a doctor's note but it didn't do a lot of good because I was just handing it to myself. That is the downside.

"But you are in charge of your own destiny. If you don't want to go into the office you don't have to. It's nice to get out and about and meet customers."

A&M Covers produces canvas, acrylic or PVC boat covers made using a technique Mr Ryan learned from his former boss before he joined the Environment Agency.

Mr Ryan said his company's competitive edge comes from being able to size up the boats personally and to give the covers a custom-made finish, which larger manufacturers cannot do.

He added: "There are a lot of people making covers in the Midlands, but they don't want to come out around here and make visits. I don't think you can get that individual look without going to see the boat.

"The customers from the local boating community have been very supportive, andI have had a lot of work from St Neots Marina. They obviously like to see somebody local."

As part of the prize Mr Ryan was awarded rent-free office space in the CreativeXchange in St Neots and Archant, parent company of The Hunts Post, provide digital and print advertising.

Legal advice was provided by Claire Clarke of Mills and Reeve, and marketing advice came from Alistair Wayne of Media Managers Ltd. Simon Laskey of Haines Watts Chartered Accountants offered financial advice, and Anglian Water's director of asset management Chris Newsome served as a business mentor.

Mr Ryan said: "You can see why the dragons have got where they are - they are focused and very inspiring. They have been really helpful."

Mr Laskey said: "We have met a few times to discuss the setting up of his business - Matthew has just needed a little guidance.

"A lot of it is being a sounding board for what he's thinking about doing, because setting up your own business can be quite a lonely experience, but he's doing very well.