University of the Highlands and Islands Business Competition - 2021 Winners Announced
A BUSINESS idea featuring a vertical freight farming system designed to grow sustainable crops in Scotland year-round has taken the top prize at the University of the Highlands and Islands Business Competition.
Simon Hay was inspired to set up his company Green Space Farms during the recent COVID-19 lockdown, when he was volunteering for a charity in Edinburgh delivering food packages to people in need during the pandemic.
“It really brought home to me the types of food people were eating and more importantly, foods they were not,” he said. “Much of the food we pick up from the supermarket has been in transit for at least a week and has lost huge amounts of its nutrition not to mention the impact on our carbon footprint. Food should be sustainable, reliable, affordable and local for everyone in Scotland.”
Wearable technology that identifies a seizure before it happens, a socially inclusive community space for making and remaking crafts and portable gym equipment to support training in combat sports were amongst the other winning ideas.
Nine out of 15 finalists shared in a prize fund of £8000 after pitching their ideas to a panel of entrepreneurs and business development experts on Thursday 20 May.
The Business 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. The competition attracted 90 entries this year, including 58 from students across nine colleges within the University partnership.
Run by CREATE, part of the University’s Centre for Remote and Sustainable Communities based at Inverness College UHI, the Business Competition encourages enterprise, innovation, and entrepreneurship by supporting people to take their first steps on the road to starting their own business.
The 2021 winners were:
- Top Prize of £1000 and a combined legal and accountancy package – Simon Hay, from Fortrose. Sponsored by Johnston Carmichael and Harper Macleod LLP.
- Best Student Business, £1000 – Holly Richardson, from Blairgowrie, an NQ Business student at Perth College UHI. Sponsored by the University of the Highlands and Islands.
- Best Engineer Award, £1000 – Matej Papp and Ahmed Nassar, from Inverness. Sponsored by Engineers in Business Fellowship.
- Best Researched Business Award, £1000 – Marc Forbes, from Dundee, an HNC Aircraft Engineering student at Perth College UHI. Sponsored by Engineers in Business Fellowship.
- Best Presentation Award, £1000 - Steve Hunt, from Moray, a BEng Electrical and Mechanical Engineering student at Inverness College UHI. Sponsored by Engineers in Business Fellowship.
- Youth Entrepreneurship Award, £750 - Stewart MacLennan, from the Isle of Lewis, an BA (Honours) Business and Management student at Lews Castle College UHI. Sponsored by Impact 30.
- Best Social Impact Business, £750 – Lauren Pyott, from Inverness. Sponsored by Silver Sponsors (The Apprentice Store, Impact Hub Inverness, Impact 30, Wave Energy Scotland, Jimmy Hendry Plumbing, HBS Ring Ltd and The Lunchbox Boys).
- Most Innovative Business, £750, - Simon Hay, from Fortrose. Sponsored by Northern Innovation Hub.
- Best Commercial Business, £750 - Holly Philp, Kyle of Lochalsh. Sponsored by Silver Sponsors (The Apprentice Store, Impact Hub Inverness, Impact 30, Wave Energy Scotland, Jimmy Hendry Plumbing, HBS Ring Ltd and The Lunchbox Boys).
- Accountancy Package – Sarah Speakman, Ness Natural Flowers, Inverness. Sponsored by Johnston Carmichael.
The awards ceremony took place virtually for the first time, with Sam Cairns, managing director of The Lunchbox Boys, providing the keynote presentation. Having started as a lunch deliver service three years ago, The Lunchbox Boys is now one of the biggest private catering companies in the Highlands and Islands with over 40 staff and a new café/restaurant, The Northern Point, in John O’Groats. Sam said having a growth mindset and “removing the fear of failure” had been critical to the success of the business.
Professor Chris O’Neil, Principal and Chief Executive of Inverness College UHI, said: “Once again, I have been so impressed with the quality of entries received this year and the innovation, ambition and creativity shown by all our finalists. It is incredibly exciting to play even a small part in supporting these new businesses. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a huge impact on our communities and the University of the Highlands and Islands partnership has a key role to play in supporting people in the region to develop their skills, become more entrepreneurial and to create opportunities for partnership working which will help drive the sustainable recovery of our economy. This event would not be possible without our judges and sponsors, and I would like to thank them once again for their support.”
Professor Neil Simco, Vice Principal - Research and Impact at the University of the Highlands and Islands, said: “The Business Competition is a fantastic showcase of how the University of the Highland and Islands partnership is connecting with the business community across the region. At its heart it is about fostering an entrepreneurial and ‘can-do’ attitude amongst participants, and the truly creative business ideas from everyone who took part from across the University’s partnership and beyond were inspirational.”
Sponsor Cathy Breeze, of the Engineers in Business Fellowship, said: “Engineers in Business is pleased to support University of the Highlands and Islands Business Competition which equips students with skills that enable them to create businesses. I was delighted to attend this year’s awards ceremony and hear the innovative ideas and business pitches. Congratulations to all the winners and we look forward to seeing the winner of the engineers in business prize compete in our champion of champions final later this year!”
Sponsor Scott Jeffrey, Audit Partner with Johnston Carmichael, said: “This has been a year like no other, so we are delighted and proud to continue to sponsor the University of the Highlands and Islands Business Competition. Working with business owners who are passionate about their product, service, or design, is always exciting to be a part of. We continue to support and encourage start-up businesses as it is incredibly important for the local and national economy to encourage entrepreneurs throughout their journey. Meeting the finalists virtually and hearing first-hand about their ideas and those with established businesses was inspiring.”
Judge Sam Cribb, from HBS Ring Ltd, said: “It has been an honour to participate in and support this year’s University of the Highlands and Islands Business Competition. As one of four judges, I had the privilege of seeing all 90 entries and the very difficult task of shortlisting and selecting winners. I come away inspired by the wealth of creativity, drive and ambition. Supporting entrepreneurship helps to deliver positive change via innovation that can have a lasting benefit not only for individuals but for the wider community. I am encouraged by the richness of business ideas designed to challenge current market sectors, community and environmental issues.”
Sarah Burton, Chair of the Inverness College UHI Board of Management, added: “The Highlands and Islands has a long-established, and globally recognised expertise in the creation, growth, and support of social enterprise, community-focused, and research driven businesses. The Business Competition has showcased many of these enterprises over the years and this year’s event was no exception. The competition brought forward an exciting range of well-formed enterprises, underlining the value that the University partnership adds to its region in supporting the individuals and teams who are embracing entrepreneurship and contributing to business excellence in the Highlands."
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.
It has been made possible with the support of sponsors Engineers in Business Fellowship, the University of the Highlands and Islands, Harper Macleod LLP, Johnston Carmichael, Impact Hub Inverness, The Apprentice Store, Impact 30, Wave Energy Scotland, James Hendry Plumbing, Northern Innovation Hub and The Lunchbox Boys.
Simon Hay, Top Prize and Most Innovative Business Award
A director of photography, Simon Hay (36), from Fortrose, was inspired to set up his company Green Space Farms, utilising a vertical freight farming system, during the recent COVID-19 lockdown, when he was volunteering for a charity in Edinburgh delivering food packages to people in need during the pandemic.
“It really brought home to me the types of food people were eating and more importantly, foods they were not,” he said. “Much of the food we pick up from the supermarket has been in transit for at least a week and has lost huge amounts of its nutrition not to mention the impact on our carbon footprint. Fresh food should be sustainable, reliable and affordable for everyone in Scotland – as well as creating local employment.”
“I grew up on a farm and I know how limited Scotland’s growing season is and how difficult this makes it to grow some crops here, particularly fresh salad, herbs, vegetables and fruit year-round, yet, we have so much wasted, degraded space in our cities, towns and villages and islands that could be put to better use.”
His idea to use a modular, vertical freight farming system aims to utilise redundant land and create perfect growing conditions to provide organic, nutritional, economical produce, that would not normally be grown locally, while reducing the carbon footprint that currently exists from crops being flown, shipped and driven in from overseas.
“I’ve worked as a director of photography for the last 10 years in film and television. Lockdown was pretty tough on all of us, but equally it gave me time to think about what I could do to help the planet and keep our food healthy, fresh and local.
“I feel incredibly humbled to win. It’s given me fresh focus and I feel in a really empowered space just now and excited about the future. The support from CREATE has been amazing – the University and this competition is an asset to the region and is really helping support the businesses of tomorrow. It has been fantastic to see the diversity, enthusiasm and entrepreneurial clout that exists in the Highlands. The whole experience has been life changing – let’s grow some awesome local food together.”
Twitter - @space_farms @Haysimonhayesq
Instagram - green_space_farms
Holly Philp – Best Commercial Business Award
Mum of three, Holly (35), from Kyle of Lochalsh, came up with the idea of creating an Aire – a safe, overnight parking area with waste disposal facilities for self-contained motorhomes and campervans on her farm. Holly hopes her business idea will encourage more people to stop in Kyle of Lochalsh en route to the Isle of Skye, spend in businesses there and boost the local economy.
Holly said: “My business idea began with a conversation with my sister during a long lockdown walk about the issues our local area faces post-pandemic. With a huge increase in staycations, and the growing popularity of the area as a holiday destination, we recognised that specific infrastructure was needed for motor homers and that we could benefit other businesses in our area by encouraging them to stop here before going on to the Isle of Skye.”
Holly, who is studying a Certificate in Criminal Law and Prosecuting Practice with Glasgow City College, added: “I have thoroughly enjoyed taking part in the competition, the competition organisers have been fantastic. I’m already developing ideas for scaling the business and really excited about the future. I’d encourage anyone considering entering in the future to have faith in yourself and go for it. You won’t regret it.”
Stewart Maclennan – Youth Entrepreneurship Award
Stewart (24) recently completed his BA (Hons) Business and Management at Lews Castle College UHI and currently works in property management. He recently qualified as a gym instructor. His business idea is S2 Fitness Solutions, an all-in-one affordable, strength training gym experience in Stornoway designed to meet all his clients’ fitness needs, from clothing, supplements and accessories to training, food and nutrition. “My inspiration came from my own experience of training in gyms and realising what was missing – this all-in-one experience can’t be found anywhere else on the Western Isles.”
“Winning this award gives me validation for my idea and I feel more confident in bringing it forward as an experienced panel of judges saw potential in it.”
Matej Papp and Ahmed Nassar – Best Engineer Award
Business partners Matej and Ahmed are engineering graduates and co-founders of Boxfluence – a business that combines their skills in engineering with their passion for combat sports. Their idea is to manufacture innovative boxing equipment to support sparring sessions and create a better training experience for someone looking to learn the ropes in boxing, making the combat sport more accessible to personal trainers, users of small gyms and boxing enthusiasts. They’re also working on designs for fightwear, boxing gloves and boxing equipment made out of recycled material as green initiative is a big part of our core values.
Matej (30), from Inverness, a boxing personal training and former amateur boxer, said “We’re always looking for a challenge and this has given us a real morale and confidence boost, plus the financial support is such a help when you are a start-up. It’s been such a great learning experience and we got to meet other like-minded people in the Highlands who are on their own entrepreneurial journey – we’ve had so much guidance and unwavering support. It feels great to receive this degree of recognition, particularly as we are coming closer to launching our product."
“This idea combines our passion for boxing with engineering and we’re really keen to use Boxfluence to influence young people through the sport of boxing.”
Marc Forbes – Best Researched
Marc (19), from Dundee, is an HNC Aircraft Engineering student at Perth College UHI. He came up with his business idea – Money Mate – after losing his wallet three years ago. “I just remember feeling helpless,” he said. Money Mate tracks your lost wallet and keys by creating a replica bank card/key and using a phone app and tracking device. “The idea provides a sense of security.”
He added: “I was so shocked to win this award, I couldn’t believe it. The competition was an amazing experience, I wouldn’t hesitate to enter again. I’m looking forward to doing more research and developing this business idea further.”
Sarah Speakman, Ness Natural Flowers – Accountancy Package
Grandmother Sarah (57), from Inverness, hopes to encourage people to make more environmentally sustainable choices when buying flowers by growing and selling locally cut flowers. Her business idea is Ness Natural Flowers, a community interest, social enterprise flower farm.
She said: “Like food, there is a growing interest in the provenance of flowers. I’m passionate about garden and growing flowers and my business idea seeks to connect people with one another but also the natural environment, which is good for both mental and physical health.”
Sarah is already developing the enterprise and currently searching for land for the flower farm.
She continued: “The experience of entering the competition has been such a good one, the team are so supportive at every stage of the competition process. If you have a business idea then give it a go as the process really helps you define your ideas.”
Facebook: @Ness Natural Flowers
Holly Richardson – Best Student Award
Holly (19), from Blairgowrie, is a former NQ Business student at Perth College UHI. Her business idea is for affordable, fashionable, discreet, waterproof, wearable smart technology that identifies all types of seizures before they happen. This helps ensure the person is in a safe place to have a seizure without injuring themselves and to give them time to call a family member.
Holly was inspired to come up with the idea having grown up with epilepsy. She said: “Your body experiences changes before a seizure happens and these precious minutes can really save someone’s life by giving that person time to get somewhere safe, creating less risk to themselves and others. My college lecturer encouraged me to enter and I’m so happy I did. There are no words to describe my happiness. It’s been so useful as it’s made me consider new aspects of the business too.”
Lauren Pyott – Best Social Impact
Lauren (32), from Inverness, is a part-time jewellery maker with a background in research and organising events across Scotland and the Middle East. She came up with the idea for Clachworks, a new social enterprise which aims to establish a socially inclusive space for making and remaking in Inverness, including a tool library, makers space, community garden and café. She also plans to run classes and repair workshops from the space.
“We have recently witnessed a rise in craft, DIY and gardening throughout the course of the pandemic and it’s clear how many health benefits they bring. However, I also know first-hand that many of these activities are often expensive or have hidden costs or barriers. These are not just economic, but social too. Clachworks will encourage a transition away from the linear economy of ‘take, make, use, discard’ to the circular economy of ‘make, remake, reuse’, with the aim of reducing the overall waste of materials in landfill, lowering personal costs for individuals and strengthening community solidarity.”
She continued: “I am a firm believer in strengthening local resources so was delighted when I saw the Business Competition. I am especially pleased to have won the best social impact award as this goes straight to the heart of the project’s aims. It is a huge confidence boost and I am looking forward to working with CREATE in the coming months to further develop my idea.”
Steve Hunt- Best Presentation
Steve is a BEng Electrical and Mechanical Engineering student at Inverness College UHI. His idea, developed from his 3rd year engineering project, is an improved design for a low energy ion accelerator of the type used in specialised medical devices to treat cancer. His business concept is not to build and sell such devices, but to license the design once patented. Eventually he hopes to build a portfolio of such intellectual property.
Steve said: "Building on my existing experience in electronics, the BEng in Electrical and Mechanical engineering allowed me to up-skill to the latest engineering technology and tools. The remote learning option and flexibility fitted in with my existing work commitments. Our world has been built by engineer entrepreneurs - Brunel, Tesla, Edison, Bell, Watt, Musk, Bezos, Mayer, Pichai - and nothing must be more satisfying than seeing your ideas make money for yourself rather than someone else. The Highlands is an ideal location to build a business, with very low costs, a great quality of life and good support environment for business."