iStart Challenge finals a great success

On Thursday 3rd December, the North Highland College UHI – with support from the North Highland Regeneration Fund – hosted the finals of the iStart Challenge, a competition designed to encourage and support entrepreneurial spirit amongst young people in the area.

From an initial pool of nineteen applications, eight contestants, comprising a mixture of teams and individuals, were selected to go forward to the first pitch stage, held at the North Highland Regeneration Fund AGM on 11th November. There, the contestants pitched their ideas to a panel of local judges, who gave them advice and feedback on their business ideas.

The eight contestants were given a chance to incorporate the judges’ feedback and polish their ideas to perfection, before being invited to the final stage, where the best idea would be awarded a £400 cash prize, sponsored by the North Highland Regeneration Fund.

All the contestants gave fantastic pitches, leaving the judges hard-pushed to select a final winner, but at the end of the day Tom Walker stood out with his idea, Book Repair Café. This innovative social enterprise aimed to address the issues of social isolation amongst older people in the area and, through use of the much-lauded Men’s Sheds model, help young people to gain valuable skills.

In addition to Tom as the overall winner, a number of other prizes were handed out:

Best Presentation – LouBou (Louise Calder) – sponsored by Moray Firth Radio
Creativity / Innovation – The Tartan Cracker and Gift Company (Marysia & Sean Frame) – sponsored by The Caithness Collection
Best Improved – Sports Match (Ross Mackay) – sponsored by The Ryman National Enterprise Challenge
Best Proposal – Project Playzone (Gemma Sutherland, Ann-Marie Shearer, Erin Shearsmith and Lauren Mackay) – sponsored by Caithness Chamber of Commerce

All of the prize winners were also awarded a cash prize of £200, and all those selected to go forward to the pitch stage were awarded a cash prize of £100.

In addition to the pitches and prize-giving, attendees also heard inspiring speeches from Ashleigh Porter-Exley, winner of the BBC Young Apprentice 2012, and from local entrepreneur Jill Innes, of Storyboard Films, who also showed a short video of her work for the North Highland College UHI.

Speaking after the event, NHRF Chairman The Rt. Hon. The Viscount Thurso said: “I am delighted that the North Highland Regeneration Fund has been able to take this opportunity to work with and support some of the brightest and most enterprising young people in the area.

“My congratulations go to Tom Walker, whose achievement in winning the overall prize is only amplified by the fact that the pitches were of such a universally high quality. I have no doubt that Tom and all the other young people who took part in the competition will go on to achieve great things.

“While the Fund’s primary purpose is the provision of business loans, it has always had wider goals than simply providing financial support to businesses in the area. We want to support a dynamic, sustainable local economy in Caithness and North Sutherland, and providing support and encouragement to these young people as they take their first steps into the world of business is a key part of that aim.”

Donald MacBeath, Principal of North Highland College UHI, said: “The iStart Challenge has an important role in the College’s strategy for enhancing and recognising the enterprise skills of our students. It was very encouraging to see the number of students stepping up to the challenge, the range of new business ideas identified and the quality of their presentations. The College is very proud of them all.

It was also very pleasing to see further evidence of College staff working closely and productively with local employers and stakeholders to deliver a highly successful event of real benefit to the participants”

The Fund offers support by the way of loans of between £5,000 and £50,000.  Applicants must be in the Dounreay travel to work area, must have an appropriate commercial structure to which funding can be delivered (such as a limited company) and be able to demonstrate long term viability and job growth and retention in the area.

Any business interested in finding out more can do so by visiting http://www.nhrf.co.uk or contacting the Managing Agent on 01847 500103 or enquiries@nhrf.co.uk for an informal chat.