Utah's top entrepreneurs were honored Thursday night, as nine award recipients were announced during the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of Year ceremony at the Salt Palace.

Alan Layton, speaking for the awards program judges, said the judging panel was looking for characteristic that set the entrepreneurs apart.- Consumer products. Paul D. Lyon of the Salt Lake-based The Lyon Co. His company is a gift designer, importer and distributor that sells to theme parks, specialty stores and department stores. He has helped develop gifts using themes from Lucille Ball, Elvis and Betty Boop.

- Distribution and wholesale. Phil Adams, of Brigham City-based Flying J, helped pioneer the company's travel plaza concepts. The internationally, fully-integrated oil company has more than 8,000 employees and is recognized as the largest diesel retailer in North America. The firm has about 140 travel plazas on major interstates.

- Emerging. Eric Ruff of Orem-based PowerQuest helped innovate the award-winning PartitionMagic software along with DriveCopy, Drive Image and Drive Image Professional. The company expects to have more than $50 million in sales during 1998, doubling its 1997 revenues.

- Manufacturing. Although his company had a rough first few years, Louis M. Pope hung on to help Orem-based US Synthetic grow into one of the fastest growing companies in the United States. The company manufactures synthetic diamond materials for oil and gas drill bits for the oil drilling industry.

- Speciality services. John Netto said Thursday night that entrepreneurs should never stop dreaming. He had plenty of reasons to as a high school dropout. He eventually created his own business, Water & Power Technologies, which builds water purification systems for industrial and commercial clients.

- Sports and leisure. When a pair of ski boots wouldn't fit, Robert J. Shay knew there must be a better way to design and customize ski boots. The founder and CEO of Park City-based Surefoot LC has expanded that idea into a leading ski boot manufacturer at resorts in North America and with plans for global expansion.

- Life sciences technology. Hunter Jackson is helping push back the frontiers of health at Salt Lake-based NPS Pharmaceuticals. His company is taking molecules found in spider venom and finding ways to counteract problems associated with stroke, oesteoporsis and other diseases.

- Special achievement. Kristine F. Hughes was honored with a special achievement award for nuturing the dietary and nutritional supplement company, Nature's Sunshine, based in Provo. The company sells products through a multilevel marketing network of more than 660,000 distributors in the United States and 16 countries.

- Services. Steven J. Nelson has expanded his concept of reselling shipping services for small business into a booming business. With 298 U.S. franchises and plans to expand into Europe, the company saw a healthy 30 percent growth rate in 1997.

For complete profiles of the companies, go to business section on the Deseret News Web edition at (www.desnews.com) or see the special Utah Entrepreneur special section in last Sunday's paper.