Entrepreneurial engineers among winners in 2018 University of the Highlands and Islands Business Competition

A therapeutic cow shoe, a bow stand to make archery accessible, and a sculptures from scrap metal business were among the winning ideas at the University of the Highlands and Islands Business Competition Grand Final.

10 out of 15 finalists shared in a prize fund of £6500 after pitching their idea to a panel of the region’s top business and enterprise professionals on Thursday.

The University of the Highlands and Islands’ Business Competition is run by CREATE, its Centre for Enterprise and Innovation based at Inverness College UHI.

Five awards were sponsored by the Engineering in Business Fellowship (EIBF) to mark the Year of Engineering and in recognition of the importance of entrepreneurship in engineering. The charity promotes the value of business education for engineers.

They included a new category of ‘Best Engineer’, which was awarded to Inverness College UHI student Neil Pirritt. The awards for ‘Youth Entrepreneurship,’ ‘Best Culture and Environment Business,’ ‘Best Researched’ and ‘Most Enterprising’ also went to engineering students.

Business competition winners with Professor Chris O'Neil, Principal of Inverness College UHI, and Neil Simco, University of the Highlands and Islands Vice Principal (Research and Impact)

The competition attracted 110 entries, including 82 from students across the University of the Highlands and Islands partnership.  It is now in its 13th year and supports and encourages entrepreneurship within the university but also across the wider the Highlands and Islands.

The 2018 winners of the University of the Highlands and Islands Business Competition were:

  • Top prize of £1000 and a combined legal and accountancy package from Johnston Carmichael and Harper Macleod LLP worth £2000 – Stephenie Pagulayan, from Lerwick, a student at Shetland College UHI.
  • Best Presentation Award, £250 – Gordon McIntosh, from Golspie.
  • Youth Entrepreneurship Award, £600 – Noah Stubbings, from Harris, a student at Lews Castle College UHI
  • Best Researched Award, £600 – Charlotte Smith, from Kinloss, a student at Moray College UHI
  • Most Enterprising Award, £600 – Kirsty Adam, from Aviemore
  • Best Culture and Environment Business, £600, and a Johnston Carmichael accountancy package – Colin Cannon, from Dingwall, a student at Inverness College UHI
  • Best Engineer Award, £600 – Neil Pirritt, from Dingwall, a student at Inverness College UHI
  • Best Student Business, £750, and a Johnston Carmichael accountancy package – Christine Amos, from the Isle of Lewis, a student at Lews Castle College UHI
  • Best Social Impact Business, £750, and an Impact Hub Inverness support package – Stephanie Smith, from Inverness, a student at Inverness College UHI
  • Best Commercial Business, £750 – Valerie Smith Walker, from Sutherland.

Around 80 guests attended the final at Inverness College UHI, which followed an action packed day of pitches by finalists to a panel of experts including Brian Weaver, co-founder of Impact Hub Inverness; Peter Dennis, project manager, Wave Energy Scotland; Alastair Murray, owner of Atlantic Marketing and producer with film production company Big Box Network; and Jillian Sharp, finance director, Wyvis Roofing.

Stephenie Pegulayan

Carol Langston, Head of Entrepreneurship at Inverness College UHI, said:

“The University of the Highlands and Islands Business Competition is now in its 13th year and we are continually overwhelmed by the high number of quality entries we receive from across the Highlands and Islands. Of these entries, 70 per cent came from students within the university partnership. At Inverness College UHI we work with students to encourage them to be innovative, creative and think outside the box. I am heartened to see so many wonderful ideas, particularly from an engineering perspective, and I know the judges were very impressed with the pitches this year and the quality of ideas.”

Professor Chris O’Neil, Principal of Inverness College UHI, said:

“Entrepreneurs and start-up innovation is critical to economic growth and job creation. Universities and colleges have a significant role to play in encouraging innovation and creativity within young people and at Inverness College UHI we try to embed the importance of these skills in their thinking so they move on and achieve their full potential. It was wonderful to see such a range of exciting business ideas and I would like to personally wish every single finalist success in their future endeavours.”

David Falzani MBE, President of Engineers in Business Fellowship, said:

“EIBF supports universities that run business competitions for their students and, also, inspires young engineers and technicians to get involved in creating fantastic business ideas.  We congratulate all the winners and are delighted to see that five engineering students have been awarded an EIBF prize. Employers value many of the skills involved in the ingenuity process.   These include softer skills such as commercial thinking, team working, communication skills and prioritisation.  These skills help engineers and technicians better compete in the workplace.  We hope that by supporting students at this stage, they develop a lasting passion for business innovation.”

Calum MacLeod, partner with sponsor Harper Macleod LLP, said:

"We'd like to congratulate each and every finalist, particularly Stephenie, who won the top prize category. This competition has always been a brilliant way to encourage entrepreneurs and innovation in the region. Over the years we've been involved the standard of entries has continually increased and last night's line-up of finalists was exceptional. We look forward to helping some of them use this experience as a platform to take their ideas even further and turn them into a business reality."

Engineering students Neil Pirritt, Colin Cannon, Noah Stubbings and Charlotte Smith with Keith Mitchell and Paul Rochford, engineering lecturers at Moray College UHI Linkwood Technology Centre

Scott Jeffrey, audit partner with sponsor Johnston Carmichael, said:

Johnston Carmichael is delighted to be a sponsor of the University of the Highlands and Islands business competition again this year. It was fantastic to see and hear about the quality of business ideas coming through the competition.  I would like to congratulate all the finalists and prize winners, and in particular the top prize winner Stephenie.”

Competition judge Peter Dennis, project manager at Wave Energy Scotland, said:

“At Wave Energy Scotland we are focussed on innovation and finding novel solutions to wave energy generation, so having the opportunity to judge in this competition and hear about innovative ideas from engineering students and others finalists was really inspiring. All the finalists presented credible business ideas and there were a number of them that have huge potential.”

The keynote speaker was Jamie McGowan, co-founder of candle and home fragrance company, Essence of Harris. In September 2017, two years after the company was established, the team rebranded and have since started shipping worldwide, including export into the US market. They have around 100 stockists, two shops and a third confirmed for next year. He said:

“My advice for anyone starting out in business is to ask for help wherever possible, surround yourself with people who compliment your weaknesses and never lose sight of your vision. You will definitely face obstacles throughout your journey into business, but understanding how to cope and grow from the fall-backs is key.”

The University of the Highlands and Islands Business Competition has attracted more than 1300 entries since it launched 13 years ago and has awarded more than £65,000 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, University of the Highlands and Islands, Harper Macleod LLP, Impact Hub Inverness, Johnston Carmichael, The Apprentice Store, Big Box, Business Gateway, Essence of Harris, Wave Energy Scotland, Wooha, Wow Scotland and Wyvis Roofing.

CREATE was formed to support innovation and entrepreneurship in the university and wider region.

Winners profiles

Top prize - Stephenie Pagulayan

Stephenie (34) works as an Employability Officer at Shetland Islands Council and is studying for an MA in Art and Social Practice at Shetland College UHI. Having been involved in community theatre for over 20 years, she recently started her own social enterprise business, the ALICE Theatre Project, after identifying a lack of opportunities for young people to be creative in devising and performing theatre.

Stephenie decided to return to study so she could further develop her skills as a theatre practitioner and recently founded the ALICE Theatre Project, which stands for Act, Learn, Imagine, Create and Excel. The business delivers theatre classes for primary school children in Lerwick and has piloted adult and family workshops. The project provides a supportive and creative space for people to develop their skills, support people to grow, families to play together and artists to thrive.

While there is a strong theatre-going community in Shetland, there hasn’t traditionally been an emphasis on the creative side of theatre. She plans to use the prize money and support to expand her business into the north and south mainland Shetland and explore opportunities in Orkney.

“I am just completely overwhelmed and so grateful to win this prize. I decided to form the ALICE Theatre Project because of my own love of performing, which I wanted everyone on the islands to have the opportunity to experience. This money will be a massive help but I’m really excited about the support. I have felt quite isolated setting up this business and the advice and guidance will really help me upscale the business, enabling me to hopefully go self-employed. I really want to develop the full potential of my business and this really makes this dream a reality.”

Stephenie is married to Ian and has a 6-year-old daughter Isobel.

Best Presentation Award - Gordon McIntosh

A keen cyclist, Gordon (49), like many others, had experienced common cycling-related overuse injuries to his hand. In the most extreme case, he was unable to hold a pen for more than a week. This promoted him to come up with BikeSenz, an ergonomic bicycle grip which would address injuries of the hand and wrist suffered by more than 40 per cent of medium to long distance recreational riders. The grip promotes good posture, preventing collapse of the wrist. Load is also distributed more evenly over the hand, reducing pressure on sensitive areas and causing less fatigue. Gordon, who lives with his wife Laura, said:

“I’ve often experienced the various forms of non-traumatic cycling injury that we tend to think of as ‘just the price we pay’ for cycling. Having tried and researched many of the offerings on the market, I realised a better solution was available.”

Youth Entrepreneurship Award - Noah Stubbings

Noah (17) is studying Performing Engineering Operations at Lews Castle College UHI. His business idea is to reuse scrap metal to fabricate sculptures with the theme of the Outer Hebrides. He wants to create attractive and affordable art sculptures using recycled material for the garden or home.

“I think it fills a niche in the market previously unexplored locally and will bring in a new type of revenue, as I will be sourcing material from scrap locally and exporting.” 

Best Researched Award - Charlotte Smith

Charlotte is studying Light Vehicle Maintenance and Repair at Moray College UHI. She wants to set up her own business as a mobile mechanic in Moray, providing basic repair, servicing and pre-MOT checks at a location of the customer’s convenience. She would add value to the business by providing basic car maintenance classes (changing wheels/checking oil) for new drivers to give them confidence and knowledge when dealing with garages.

“Over the past year, I’ve spoken to a lot of people, particularly women, who have had difficult encounters with garages and who would be keen to try a female mechanic. The classes would empower car users when dealing with mechanics and their own car.”

Most Enterprising Award - Kirsty Adam

Kirsty (20) is studying Aero Mechanical Engineering at Strathclyde University. Her idea, "Pick & Play" was for a box full of fun, which people holidaying in the Cairngorm National Park could hire. It would contain a range of toys and games. By hiring the box, families don’t need to buy items they might only use once a year on holiday. It also provides an alternative to expensive activities. It encourages families to get outside and the opportunity to try new activities, get competitive and discover hidden talents.

“Some of my fondest childhood memories were created whilst playing simple games like Frisbee, throwing a ball or building sand castles.” 

Best Culture and Environment Business - Colin Cannon

Colin (29) is studying HNC Engineering Systems at Inverness College UHI. His business idea is for a food and drink walking tour in Inverness. It would include local history, inspiring views and folklore, as well as local produce. Colin loves travelling and learning about different cultures and believes his tour idea would fill a gap in the market, but also provide the kind of experience people are looking for when they visit Inverness.

“I’ve been to Venice, Italy, a few times and had my first experience of a food and wine tour there. I learned more in a few hours with a local guide about the food, wine, culture, history and social etiquette than I could imagine. Tourists are always on the lookout for something intimate and memorable.”

Best Engineer Award - Neil Pirritt

Neil Pirritt, who is studying HNC Engineering Systems at Inverness College UHI, came up with the idea, Bow Buddy, a free-standing, self-supported disabled bow-stand, which would allow people with a physical disability to enjoy the sport of archery. The stand would be mobile and height adjustable to accommodate wheelchairs. The idea came from a class project he led on.

"People with physical disabilities and impairments deserve the opportunity to enjoy outdoor activities and sports. I would be delighted if Bow Buddy opened up the world of archery to those who have previously been excluded due to their disability.”

Neil run his own landscape business before deciding to change his career path and study engineering.

Best Student Business - Christine Amos

Christine (42) is studying HNC Business at Lews Castle College UHI. She came up with the idea of an adventure activity centre in the grounds of Lews Castle. It would include two zip lines, a challenge course and an adventure playground. The centre would be designed to blend into the natural terrain and have minimal impact on the local environment. There are no high roped activities on the islands of Lewis and Harris and tourism in the Outer Hebrides continues to grow. As well as appealing to tourists, she thinks it would also be attractive to local people. Christine, a mother of three, works as part-time at a local primary school and said teachers often struggle to come up with ideas for school trips.

“While the Hebrides are a wild place, there are few attractions dedicated to offering adventure and challenge in a controlled environment. The Lews Castle grounds are a rugged and wild place with small valleys and wooded areas. My eyes are drawn to the landscape and its variety and I feel it would be the perfect place for such a facility.”

Best Social Impact Business - Stephanie Smith

Stephanie (25) is studying a BA in Child and Youth Studies at Inverness College UHI. Her idea is a charity called Lifeskills 4 Life, which would work with and support care experienced young people, providing learning opportunities on topics like household management and maintenance, budgeting and cooking. The charity would work alongside other agencies to cover topics of interest to young people like getting a job and staying healthy. Stephanie, who was in care until the age of 17, said:

“Most of these things people take for granted, but care experienced young people have a need to learn these basic life skills but are leaving care ill-equipped.”

Best Commercial Business - Valerie Smith Walker

Valerie is the founder of Forbovi Limited, which she established after identifying an opportunity to develop a product which would improve cow foot health, particularly for dairy cows. Foot disease and lameness are endemic in dairy farming, creating health and welfare issues for the industry and costing the milk industry billions. While products exist to treat lameness, including wooden and plastic blocks which are glued on to protect the cows’ feet, nothing has been designed for longer term wear.  Valerie has designed a patent-pending therapeutic cow shoe and has already carried out research into robust materials. She believes the product would address welfare issues but also the financial losses experienced by farmers faced with treating on-going instances of foot disease and lameness.

“Farmers are looking for a better solution to the problem of lameness and want something that is affordable and does the job. I do believe this will change how we manage intensively farmed animals for milk production through dairy cow welfare innovation, improving milk quality and farmers’ prosperity.”


For more information, please contact Helen Aird, Marketing and PR Officer, Inverness College UHI at helen.aird.ic@uhi.ac.uk or telephone 01463 273315 / 07584 616252.