THE New Business Award is one of the most exciting categories in the event. Will the winner go on to be a solid, successful local company? Or is it the seed-bed for a multinational of the next generation? Too soon to tell, of course, but the judges will be looking for a sound business plan that acknowledges the competition, how the business has performed against - and, perhaps, adjusted on the hoof to changing economic circumstances - and how realistic its plans look for the coming three years. In the frame as this year's finalists are a nail salon from St Ives, an innovative off-licence in St Neots and an expanding property-services company from Huntingdon. Clare Moss and Lyndsay McIntosh set up The Nail Retreat in October last year, five years after they first met as trainees at Huntingdonshire Regional College and following 18 months of meticulous planning. The work clearly paid off. Full appointment books from day one have led to extended opening hours and recruitment of additional staff to cope with the workload. Even in the current economic climate it, like many other Huntingdonshire businesses, is thriving - to the extent of being more than 70 per cent ahead of forecast turnover. The Smiling Grape Company is even younger, having been founded just a few months earlier this year by Matt Ellis as the only independent off-licence within 20 miles of its St Neots base. But independence is not enough: selling wine needed a different approach, Matt believed. Not only would he stock original wines from different growers, but he would make it easy for customers to choose the wine that was right for them, their mood, their food and their occasion - even wines to match a CD or a DVD. So far it has worked. Bierce Technical Services was formed from a buy-out from a property consultancy that managed energy-efficiency projects in the domestic housing sector. After the company went into administration, former director Stephen Birch and his partner Leigh Holden offered to buy it and its contract-base. The business has grown strongly, enabling it to invest in capital equipment and expand its services and client base. Rising energy costs and the introduction of Energy Performance Certificates have expanded business opportunities that Bierce has grabbed.