THE finalists have been announced for the NatWest Venus Awards honouring Dorset women in business and the workplace.

Semi-finalists gathered at Bournemouth’s Norfolk Royale Hotel to hear the shortlists announced for each of the 13 categories.

Tara Howard, who founded the awards in Dorset in 2009, said: “Being a mother of four and juggling business and family, as so many women have to do, I realised that women are not always on a fair playing field with men when it comes to recognition and awards.

“That is why I started the Venus Awards. “After five years of running the awards, my experience is that the main thing holding most women back is themselves. “Whatever the reason, we often underestimate what we can achieve in the business world.

“The awards reaffirm to local business women that they are on the right track and give them a confidence boost that may be the first rung on a ladder to endless possibilities. “I often have women coming up to me saying: ‘This has changed my life.’ “To think something as simple as an award can make such a difference is humbling.”

Sam Acton of Domestic Angels in Southbourne, who is an ambassador for the Venus awards after winning the award for best home-based business last year, urged the nominees to make the most of the recognition.

She quoted the speech in which Theodore Roosevelt argued ‘it is not the critic who counts’ but ‘the man who is actually in the arena’ and who ‘at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly’.

“The fact that you are here shows that you have dared greatly,” she said.

“For that, I admire each and every one of you.”

Julie Barker, director of business banking for Nat West, told how 27 per cent of the bank’s new business accounts were being opened for women.

The Venus Awards are now sponsored by NatWest in eight regions. The Dorset finals take place at Poole’s Lighthouse on Wednesday, June 11.

The nominees are: Daily Echo Business Mother of the Year: Sarah Milligan, Innovate Ltd; Anna-Lee Kewley, Baby Moo’s; Kelly Elsworthy, children's book author and business owner of The Adventures of the Cuddle Pirate. Inspire Accountants Entrepreneur of the Year: Rachel Day, LoveKeepCreate Ltd; Felicity Mead, NFC Publishing LLP; Simone Thomas, MWAH & Hair Loss Bournemouth.

Employer of the Year: Jacqui Cheke, Capelli of Poundbury Ltd; Claire Escott, Bournemouth Integated Youth Service; Claire Tillotson, Treehouse Family Play Ltd.

Green Business of the Year: Zoe Phayre-Mudge, ZPM LTD; Mary Boughton MBE, Dorwest Herbs Ltd; Sarah Watson, Rural Works Ltd.

Gem Freeman Jewellery Home Based Business of the Year: Jane Adkins, A Head for PR Ltd; Christina Pengelly,; Dawn Truscott, Hampshire Accounting Solutions.

Breeze Volkswagen Influential Woman of the Year: Pauline Monk, Purple Teardrop Campaign; Alexandra Wiggins, TARA Business Limited T/A The Lighter Path, Vanessa Ugatti, The True Worth Expert.

Infant loss Training Inspirational Woman: Joanne Keeling – Izzy and Ollie Ltd; Pauline Monk, Purple Teardrop Campaign; Linda Parkinson-Hardman, The Hysterectomy Association.

Move On Rentals Lifetime Achievement: Jackie Phillipson, P-PR Media Solutions Ltd; Pauline Monk, Purple Teardrop Campaign; Joanna Kane,Trailblazers Coaching and Consulting.

NatWest New Business Award: Pippa Latimer Harris, Latimer House; Claire Tillotson, Treehouse Family Play Ltd; Zhara Woods, Upperdog Bournemouth Town New Media and Online Business Award: Zelda De Hollander, Studio Shotz Photography; Racheal Springford, Bakeryboxx; Anna-Lee Kewley – Baby Moo’s.

Evenlines Professional of the Year: Alexandra Eaton, AE Marketing Solutions; Maria Kemp, Kemp & Co Property Ltd; Katy Wise, Free Spirit Holistic Therapies.

Dutton Gregory Small Business of the Year: Pippa Latimer Harris, Latimer House; Simone Thomas – MWAH & Hair Loss Bournemouth; Claire Tillotson, Treehouse Family Play Ltd Heart Employee of the Year: Silva Bala, Riviera Hotel & Holiday Apartments; Hannah Parson, Forest Holme Hospice Charity; Lesley Telford, The Grove Hotel (Macmillan Caring Locally).