THE hunt for the country's top entrepreneur narrowed down yesterday with 12 standout performers making the cut for the final run-in.

The event has two categories - one for promising business owners whose firms are just up and running and one for an established entrepreneur running a bigger, more mature firm.

An overall winner - the Entrepreneur of the Year - will be selected from these two groups.

Mr Patrick Goh, a co-founder of Intero Enterprise, was one of three winners of the Young Entrepreneur prize named yesterday by the event's organisers, the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (Asme) and the Rotary Club of Singapore.

Mr Goh's firm, which wholesales and distributes bedlinen among other products, was set up in 2006 with just seven staff and a start-up capital of $150,000.

It has since increased headcount to around 120 and now supplies major retailers in Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Thailand.

The journey has not been easy, said Mr Goh, adding: "Being an entrepreneur, you really must have the passion and you must accept the challenges and setbacks. Owning an SME, you are on your own."

Others named Young Entrepreneurs of the Year were Mr Sky Tan, chief executive of interior design firm Sky Creation, and Mr Neeraj Sundarajoo, CEO of advertising agency Comwerks.

The nine business people named in the Established Entrepreneur category include two from the same company - Rasel Catering Singapore.

Managing director Alan Tan and creative director Chris Loh started their company during the Asian financial crisis in 1997.

They were colleagues in an insurance company but decided to start a food business after a lunch.

"We saw a man carrying a lot of food and we thought this market did not look too bad, we should do an analysis of the business," said Ms Loh yesterday.

The firm has increased its staff strength from four during its early days to 50 now.

Ms Loh and Mr Tan said Rasel will expand beyond Singapore within the next two years, possibly to Shanghai, Beijing, Yangon and even South Africa.

The 12 top entrepreneurs named yesterday will undergo a final round of judging next month before the Entrepreneur of the Year is announced in December.

OCBC Bank is the main sponsor of the awards, which are in their 25th year.