2024 UHI Business Competition open for entries

ASPIRING entrepreneurs with innovative start-up ideas are invited to apply to the 2024 UHI Business Competition which has £8,000-plus in prize money up for grabs.

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Jack Marley McIntyre and Thomas Eccles

The long-standing annual competition is now open for entries from anyone over 16 living in the Highlands and Islands, Moray, Argyll and Perthshire, as well as all students studying across the UHI partnership. 

Now in its 18th year, it discovers and supports people with enterprising ideas to help them take their first steps to starting their own businesses. All finalists receive feedback from some of the region’s top entrepreneurs and business advisors. 

The top prize in the 2023 competition went to Thomas Eccles from Nethybridge, the founder of FlyHighland Ltd, who impressed the judges with his ambitious plan to establish Scotland’s first net zero airline to provide affordable and sustainable flights across the Highlands and Islands. 

Thomas, who won £1,000 plus a combined legal and accountancy package, invested the prize money in a new website to be launched soon and is in discussions about feasibility studies that will be carried out in partnership with UHI. 

His pitch outlined his plan to improve flight connections by working with a leader in aerospace concepts to operate aircraft using hydrogen propulsion from Wick Airport. 

“Winning the UHI Business Competition has given the project kudos,” said Thomas.  

“I also gained valuable experience in pitching a business idea and overall it was a great experience. I’m happy to support the search for the next winner and I would say to those thinking of applying, ‘you have to be in it to win it’.” 

The competition is run by CREATE, the Highlands and Islands hub for Enterprise and Innovation based in the Centre for Living Sustainability at UHI Inverness. CREATE aims to inspire and support staff, students, graduates and businesses to develop enterprising behaviours and skills for life, work and self-employment.  

Professor Chris O’Neil, Principal and Chief Executive of UHI Inverness, said: “Our competition recognises the importance of fostering enterprising spirit and highlights the potential of ideas to drive economic growth. It also underlines our commitment to cultivate local talent and provide a platform for individuals to turn their ideas into reality. 

“It is open to aspiring entrepreneurs from all walks of life, and we are seeking ideas that have the potential to make a lasting impact. This is not just a competition; it's an opportunity to be part of a community that values creativity, collaboration and forward-thinking.” 

The closing date for entries is noon on Tuesday, 18 April 2024. Entries will be shortlisted to 15 and finalists will be invited to meet the competition judges at the UHI Inverness campus to pitch their ideas on finals day on Wednesday, 22 May.  

Jack Marley McIntyre, the STEAM Coordinator and Technologist at UHI Inverness, won the Best Cultural and Environment Award and £1000 on finals day in May this year. His idea is to create a social enterprise to build the Rose Street Roundhouse, a sustainable events venue in the centre of Inverness. 

Jack said: “The competition is a fantastic opportunity for members of the public to realise an idea; be it an innovation, a good cause, a solution to a problem, or whatever they are passionate about, and develop it as a future business. 

“It's an exciting experience to bring this passion to reality and compete for the chance to fund an idea in front of successful and fellow passionate entrepreneurs. It is also an opportunity to build resilience, as it's both exciting and a bit nerve-racking! But at the end of the day, you can say, ‘I did this, I'm making this a reality’. 

“The competition has allowed us to have great discussions about this concept with local champions of live music and national experts in green built environment and 

technology. We’ve also invested in expanding our 3D printing capability to support local STEM and STEAM endeavours and local artists.” 

Once again there will be special cash prizes of up to £3000 for the best engineering and computing ideas, with these awards sponsored by the Engineers in Business Fellowship, a charity that promotes the importance and value of business education for engineers and computing students.  

New sponsors for next year’s competition are Codebase, the UK’s largest technology incubator based in Edinburgh, and Royal Bank of Scotland. 

Mark Sutherland, CodeBase’s Head of Highlands and Islands Regional Engagement, said: “We're delighted to sponsor this year's UHI Business Competition. Entrepreneurship is at the heart of the Highlands and Islands economy, with a huge amount of innovation, creativity and problem solving. It's such a great opportunity for students, staff and the communities of the region to have their business ideas supported by the CREATE team and the wider UHI Stakeholder network. As an alumni of UHI myself, I know the value of the support the organisation can provide, and it's a pleasure to be able to help CREATE with the UHI Business Competition this year." 

The UHI Business Competition is organised by strategic partners CREATE, UHI and UHI Inverness, with additional funding and support from The Apprentice Store, Engineers in Business Fellowship, Harper Macleod LLP, Johnston Carmichael, the Northern Innovation Hub and Whyte and Mackay, Techscaler/CodeBase and Royal and Bank of Scotland. 

Apply online by noon on 18 April 2024.