MICROSOFT billionaire Bill Gates has praised a south Essex man for turning his life around and starting a new business after being released from prison.

Duane Jackson, 29, got the chance to meet Mr Gates during a reception to mark the 25th anniversary of the Prince's Trust business programme, which helped him set up his company.

Duane, of St Mary's Crescent, Pitsea, said: "It was nice to chat to Bill Gates. It's not every day you get to meet someone of his stature and go to the House of Commons.

"I joked with him I was providing a product that he wasn't, and I had beaten him to it. He wished me luck with it all."

Microsoft has supported the Prince's Trust since 2004 with software donations and through staff volunteering as business mentors.

Mr Gates said: "It's exciting to see so many young people who are so passionate about launching innovative new companies in the UK."

Duane spent most of his childhood in different children's homes in East London and left school at 15 with no qualifications. He said: "It was the cliche of I got into the wrong crowd, and eventually ended up with a five- year prison sentence."

"I came out at the age of 24 and knew it would be hard to get work with a big gap on my CV so I approached the Prince's Trust with my business ideas."

With an interest in IT, Mr Jackson wanted to set up a company which specialised in online software to help businesses develop websites.

He was given a loan and grant totalling £4,000 and Key One was born. Later is was developed into KashFlow, an online tool to help bosses in small businesses manage their accounts.

Duane said: "I quickly realised there was no decent software to do our accounts, so I changed tactic and KashFlow really took off. In the past year alone my business has grown by 500 per cent.

"Now I'm MD of a company with eight staff and our chairman is Lord Young. He came on board two years ago as an investor and has since admitted he didn't think it would work out, but now he is our chairman."

The Prince's Trust helped Duane with one-to-one mentoring, put him in touch with experts and helped with marketing, public relations and the launch of his product.

His personal life has also turned around and he moved to Pitsea to be with his now wife Nadia, 27, who he first dated when he was 15, and their four-year-old daughter, Aaliyah.

He added: "They were what drove me to start the business. It's been hard work but worth it. Now I can say I have a real business and it's nice to know something I created is now helping eight people to pay their mortgages."