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Terry's innovative idea is a winner in University of the Highlands and Islands Business Competition


By Alan Hendry

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All the winners in the University of the Highlands and Islands Business Competition. Picture: Angus Findlay
All the winners in the University of the Highlands and Islands Business Competition. Picture: Angus Findlay

A CAITHNESS man's design aimed at improving safety in farming and crofting was among the winning ideas at the final of the University of the Highlands and Islands Business Competition.

Nine out of 15 finalists shared in a record prize fund of £8500 after pitching their idea to a panel of the region’s top business and enterprise professionals. The competition is run by CREATE, the Highlands and Islands Centre for Enterprise and Innovation, based at Inverness College UHI.

The award for Most Innovative Business, with a £1000 prize, went to Terry Elder (30), from Dunbeath, a crofter, welding instructor and student at North Highland College UHI.

His idea was a tractor loader front bale handle with hydraulic folding spikes which would reduce the amount of accidents on the road while adhering to new legislation that requires handling equipment to be folded back, removed or covered on the road.

Terry said: “As a fitter/welder to trade, I am always coming up with new ideas on how to make the day-to-day jobs on our croft safer and easier. This design will make a dangerous farming environment safer and if it could help stop people from getting hurt on our roads then that can only be a good thing, and I am proud to put my name to it.”

Terry Elder (left) with Professor Ken Russell, depute principal (academic development) at Inverness College UHI. Picture: Angus Findlay
Terry Elder (left) with Professor Ken Russell, depute principal (academic development) at Inverness College UHI. Picture: Angus Findlay

Now in its 14th year, the competition supports and encourages entrepreneurship within the university but also across the wider Highlands and Islands, helping people to take the first steps on the road to starting their own business.

It 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. The competition attracted 90 entries, including 68 from students across the university partnership.

Some 100 guests attended the final on Wednesday at Inverness College UHI, which followed an action-packed day of pitches by finalists to a panel of experts including Anisha Macdermid, from Exclamation Marketing; Gavin Ross, of SGL Carbon; Clarrie Murdoch, from Impact Hub Inverness; and Mark Bell, of Impact 30.

The top prize of £1000 and a combined legal and accountancy package worth £2000 went to Alison Ruickbie, from Elgin, for her zero waste shop Re:Store, which opened in Lossiemouth in October.

Alison's idea was to provide a shopping experience for customers without waste, where people can buy produce plastic-free, as well as reusable/sustainable products.

Every small step we each make will bring us closer to a better world.

She explained: “We've all seen Blue Planet and the videos of marine disasters and stricken animals affected by the plastics we use every day. It must stop somewhere.

"I wanted to change my lifestyle and reduce the amount of packaging I used, but found it was really hard to shop this way locally. We can't change the world alone but every small step we each make will bring us closer to a better world to leave to our children and grandchildren.”

She added: “I am so overwhelmed to win this award. It is going to make a huge difference to my business.”

Brother and sister duo Annie and Calum MacDonald also scooped prizes – Calum, an HND engineering systems student from Inverness College UHI, winning the award for Best Engineering Environmental Business for his red mite deterrent, and Annie, a PhD history student from Inverness College UHI, winning the Youth Entrepreneurship Award for her podcast idea.

Alick Maclean, a BEng (Hons) Mechanical Engineering student from Lews Castle College UHI, picked up two awards – Best Engineer and Best Design – for his innovative boat trailer design.

Four awards were sponsored by the Engineers in Business Fellowship (EIBF) in recognition of the importance of entrepreneurship in engineering. The charity promotes the value of business education for engineers.

The 2020 winners of the University of the Highlands and Islands Business Competition were:

  • Top prize of £1000 and a combined legal and accountancy package worth £2000 – Alison Ruickbie (50), from Elgin (sponsored by Johnston Carmichael and Harper Macleod LLP).
  • Most Innovative Business, £1000 – Terry Elder (30), from Dunbeath, a welding instructor and student at North Highland College UHI (sponsored by EIBF).
  • Best Engineer Award, £1000 – Alick Maclean (40), Ranish, Isle of Lewis, a BEng (Hons) mechanical engineering student at Lews Castle College UHI (sponsored by EIBF).
  • Best Design Award, £500 – Alick Maclean (sponsored by EIBF).
  • Best Researched Idea, £750 and a Johnston Carmichael accountancy package – Martin Welch (57), a fisherman from Kyleakin, Skye (sponsored by Essence of Harris, Impact Hub Inverness and The Apprentice Store).
  • Best Social Impact Business, £750 – Gary Souter (30), from Elgin, an HNC coaching and developing sport student from Moray College UHI (sponsored by Essence of Harris, Impact Hub Inverness and The Apprentice Store).
  • Best Engineering Environmental Business, £500 – Calum MacDonald (31), from Nairn, an HND engineering systems student at Inverness College UHI (sponsored by EIBF).
  • Youth Entrepreneurship Award, £1000 – Annie MacDonald (29), from Inverness, a PhD student at the University of the Highlands and Islands Centre for History (sponsored by Impact 30).
  • Best Student Business, £1000 – Roma Gibb (36), from Evanton, an access to nursing student at Inverness College UHI (sponsored by the University of the Highlands and Islands).
  • Best Commercial Business, £1000 – Joe Buchanan (18), from Inverness, a BSc (Hons) sport and fitness student at Inverness College UHI (sponsored by Business Gateway Highland).

Professor Chris O’Neil, principal of Inverness College UHI, said: “Innovation and entrepreneurship are the wellsprings of any economy as they help to create jobs and identify new and better ways of doing things. All academic institutions have a responsibility to stimulate innovation and creativity for the greater good of society.

"The business competition is a prime example of our ambition to inspire, encourage and support students, staff and the business community to develop the knowledge, skills and motivation they need to realise their potential through enterprise.

Top prize winner Alison Ruickbie, from Elgin. Picture: Angus Findlay
Top prize winner Alison Ruickbie, from Elgin. Picture: Angus Findlay

"I know the judging panel had a very difficult job trying to identify the winners. However, all the finalists should be regarded as winners. I hope that they can capitalise on this experience and wish them all every success in the future.

"Collaboration with our partners, sponsors and judges make this event the success it is, and I would like to thank them all for their support once again.”

David Falzani, president of Engineers in Business Fellowship, said: “We’re delighted that four engineers received an Engineers in Business prize.It’s a privilege to support the university’s mission to inspire students to create innovative solutions to real-life problems which may lead to new businesses and jobs and benefit the UK economy.”

Ross Thomson, partner with sponsor Harper Macleod LLP, said: “We are delighted to continue our support for the business competition this year. As an entrepreneurial business, with considerable experience in advising entrepreneurs and innovators, we recognise the value of the university’s Highlands and Islands Centre for Enterprise and Innovation and the importance of encouraging others to pursue their business ideas and hopefully make them a reality.

"The standard of the finalists was exceptional, and we'd like to congratulate them all, particularly Alison, who won the top prize. We look forward to working with her."

Scott Jeffrey, audit partner with sponsor Johnston Carmichael, said: “Working with business owners who are passionate about what they do is one of the best parts of my role at Johnston Carmichael. We support and encourage entrepreneurs who decide to set up their own business, as it’s incredibly important for the local economy and Scotland overall, and that’s just one of the reasons we’re very proud to continue to sponsor this competition.

"Meeting the finalists and hearing their vision and passion first-hand is what makes this a really exciting event to be part of. The ideas and established businesses we’ve learned about are inspiring and I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate all finalists for their hard work and dedication, in particular Alison, for winning the top prize for her zero waste shop.”

Competition judge Gavin Ross, maintenance manager for SGL Carbon and a member of the Inverness College UHI board of management, said: “The quality of the entries was exceptionally high and showcased the talent and innovation that exists within the University of the Highlands and Islands. It was a privilege to be part of the judging panel.

"Ultimately it was the passion, innovation and clear communication of their vision that finally separated the winners, and I and the other judges wish them every success as they continue to develop and grow their businesses.”

Keynote speaker Mark Councill from Logie Timber. Picture: Angus Findlay
Keynote speaker Mark Councill from Logie Timber. Picture: Angus Findlay

Keynote speaker was Mark Councill, co-founder of Logie Timber, a full-circle timber business based on the Logie Estate in Moray.

He talked about his start in business, and the importance of perspective and perseverance, as well as his business values, including consideration of the environment, which influence his decisions and direction of the business. He also talked about the importance of finding a rewarding career.

The University of the Highlands and Islands Business Competition has attracted more than 1400 entries since it launched 14 years ago and has awarded more than £70,000 in cash prizes. It is open to all students studying at the University of the Highlands and Islands as well as non-students living in the Highlands and Islands, Moray and Perthshire.

It was made possible with the support of sponsors Engineers in Business Fellowship, the University of the Highlands and Islands, Harper Macleod LLP, Impact Hub Inverness, Johnston Carmichael, The Apprentice Store, Business Gateway, Essence of Harris, Exclamation Marketing, Impact 30, Logie Timber and SGL Carbon.

All the finalists, judges and sponsors in the University of the Highlands and Islands Business Competition. Picture: Angus Findlay
All the finalists, judges and sponsors in the University of the Highlands and Islands Business Competition. Picture: Angus Findlay

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