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PICTURES: Bright sparks impress at University of the Highlands and Islands business awards


By Philip Murray

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Overall winner, Simon Hay from Fortrose.
Overall winner, Simon Hay from Fortrose.

A ROSS-SHIRE man's idea for a farming system that will enable sustainable crops to be grown in Scotland year-round has taken the top prize at the University of the Highlands and Islands Business Competition.

Winner Simon Hay, from Fortrose, was inspired to set up his company Green Space Farms during 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.”

Mr Hay’s idea for a modular, vertical freight farming system which would use redundant land and create perfect growing conditions to provide organic and economical produce, scooped him the top prize of £1000 and a combined legal and accountancy package and a further £750 for most innovative business.

He was among nine successful finalists sharing in the £8000 prize fund after impressing a panel of entrepreneurs and business development experts with their ideas at an online pitching session.

Run by Create, part of the University’s Centre for Remote and Sustainable Communities based at Inverness College UHI, the competition is open to all students studying at the UHI partnership as well as non-students living in the Highlands and Islands, Moray and Perthshire. This year’s competition attracted 90 entries.

Other winners included Inverness business partners Matej Papp and Ahmed Nassar, who collected the engineering prize with their innovative boxing equipment designed to create a better training experience for someone new to boxing.

Fellow Inverness resident, part-time jewellery-maker Lauren Pyott, won the social impact award for Clachworks, a new social enterprise creating a socially inclusive space for making and remaking in Inverness.

Also from Inverness, 57-year-old grandmother Sarah Speakman won the accountancy package with Ness Natural Flowers, a community interest, social enterprise flower farm which encourages people to make more environmentally sustainable choices when buying flowers.

“Like food, there is a growing interest in the provenance of flowers,” she said.

“My idea seeks to connect people with one another, but also the natural environment, which is good for both mental and physical health.”

The best presentation award went to Steve Hunt, an electrical and mechanical engineering student at Inverness College UHI, who hopes to patent an improved design for a low-energy ion accelerator used in specialised medical devices.

Best student business winner Holly Richardson, from Blairgowrie, a former NQ business student at Perth College UHI, has an idea for affordable, fashionable, wearable smart technology that identifies seizures before they happen.

Marc Forbes, from Dundee, an HNC aircraft engineering student at Perth College UHI, took the award for best researched idea with a phone app that can track a lost wallet or keys.

Youth entrepreneurship winner Stewart MacLennan, a business student at Lews Castle College UHI, wants to open an affordable, strength training gym in Stornoway, while best commercial business winner Holly Philp, from Kyle of Lochalsh, came up with the idea of creating a safe, overnight parking area with waste disposal facilities for motorhomes and campervans on her farm to encourage more visitors to stop off on their way to Skye.

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 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.”


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