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University of the Highlands and Islands business competition open with £8500 up for grabs

By Calum MacLeod

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ENTRIES for the 2021 University of the Highlands and Islands Business Competition are now open, with a prize pot of £8500 up for grabs to help turn a business idea into a reality.

Left to right, Postgraduate research students’ Celia Delugin, Lydia McGill, Alison Martin, Joanna Rodgers, Sunny Bradbury and Odin the dog, and Shraveena Venkatesh. Nursing student Roma Gibb pictured at the front.
Left to right, Postgraduate research students’ Celia Delugin, Lydia McGill, Alison Martin, Joanna Rodgers, Sunny Bradbury and Odin the dog, and Shraveena Venkatesh. Nursing student Roma Gibb pictured at the front.

The competition is open to all students studying across the University of the Highlands and Islands partnership, as well as non-students living in the Highlands and Islands, Moray and Perthshire.

Now in its 15th year, the competition is run by Create, part of the University’s Centre for Remote and Sustainable Communities based at Inverness College UHI, and encourages enterprise and innovation by supporting people to take their first steps on the road to starting their own business.

Entries are now open and budding entrepreneurs are invited to apply and be in with a chance of winning a share of the £8500 prize pot. This includes special cash prizes for business ideas from engineering students. Finalists will also receive feedback from some of the region’s top entrepreneurs and business advisers and get support to take their idea forward.

The closing date for entries is Friday March 26. Entries will be shortlisted to 15 and finalists will be invited to meet the competition judges to discuss their ideas further on finals day in May.

Last year’s top prize went to Moray business owner Alison Ruickbie, who won a £1000 cash prize and a £2000 legal and accountancy package to help her develop Re:Store, her own zero waste shop in Lossiemouth.

Last year's winner Alison Ruickbie from Lossiemouth.
Last year's winner Alison Ruickbie from Lossiemouth.

“At first, I didn’t think the competition was relevant for me, but after realising I met all the criteria, I thought ‘why not?’" she said.

"It really made me sit back and look at my business, almost from an outside perspective. I found myself re-visiting and re-evaluating my business plan. The impact of winning this competition has been huge – not only in terms of publicity, but confidence. Suddenly I could see what I had achieved and the impact I was making, but also where I was going.

“I realise now the only difference between someone who has a business and someone who has an idea for a business is the first person has just done it, and taken that first wee step. You’ll never know if you don’t try and you might always regret not trying. Don’t hesitate and don’t doubt yourself.”

Nursing student Roma Gibb from Evanton took home last year’s prize for best student business with her idea for a night-time assisted positioning aid to help people with mobility problems correct their position in bed. She used her £1000 prize money, support and advice to drive forward her business.

She said: “I had my idea for a while, and when I found out how easy it was to apply for the competition, I decided to give it a go. It gave me so much confidence in myself and belief in my idea. I now say ‘yes’ more, because you never know where it might lead.

“I have gone from having an idea to taking part in the IMPACT 30 business programme and developing a sellable product, which will make a difference to the lives of people with mobility issues. The business competition is an amazing experience and above all it’s good fun, you’ll meet great people, gain new skills, and you never know where it might take you.”

Nursing student Roma Gibb
Nursing student Roma Gibb

Vicky Johnson, director of the university’s centre for remote and sustainable communities, said: “This competition supports people with ideas to be innovative, ambitious and creative, and helps them take that next step in turning an idea into a reality. The pandemic continues to have a huge impact on our communities across the Highlands and Islands , and by helping people develop their skills, providing expertise and signposting them to wider networks of support, we can help to rebuild our economy and the entrepreneurial thinking that drives it and moves us in a more sustainable direction.”

Following on from the success of last year’s competition, there is again an additional focus on engineering this year, thanks to sponsorship by Engineers in Business Fellowship (EIBF), a charity that promotes the importance and value of business education for engineers.

EIBF president David Falzani said: “We are delighted to sponsor the engineering prize for the third year. Research tells us that introducing business education to young engineers and technologists makes them better engineers, makes them more employable, more effective in the workplace and it’s better for the UK economy. We are proud to support student innovation at the University, especially as many winners go on to create real businesses that have a positive impact in society.”

The competition also continues to receive sponsorship from Harper Macleod LLP, Impact 30 and Johnston Carmichael all of whom offer additional support as part of the prize package; as well as The Apprentice Store, Impact Hub Inverness, James Hendry Plumbing, and the Northern Innovation Hub.

Chris Kerr, partner at Harper Macleod LLP, said: “We've supported the University of the Highlands and Islands Business Competition for more than a decade and in that time have seen some tremendous ideas presented and the level of entrepreneurial acumen rise year on year. At a time such as this it is more important than ever to encourage entrepreneurs and promote innovation in enterprise across the region. That's why we are delighted to again lend our support to this competition, which can inspire the next generation of businesses that can grow to be a big part of the local economy's future."

Scott Jeffrey, partner at Johnston Carmichael, said: “2020 has brought unimaginable personal and economic challenges, and as we look to 2021, the entrepreneurial spirit celebrated at the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Business Competition is more important than ever. We are thrilled to be sponsoring this event again, and look forward to meeting entrepreneurs and hearing about their vision and passion for their new business ventures.”

The University of the Highlands and Islands Business Competition has attracted more than 1500 entries since it launched 15 years ago and has awarded more than £78,000 in cash prizes.

Apply online at https://www.createhighland.com/learners/competitions.aspx by noon on Friday March 26 2021.

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