BUDDING entrepreneurs could win a pot of cash and turn their business idea into a reality by entering this year’s Inverness College UHI Business Competition.
Entries are open and anyone with an interesting idea is encouraged to apply to showcase their talent and get advice from some of the region’s top business minds.
Organised by Create – college’s Centre for Enterprise and Innovation – the competition is now in its 12th year and supports and encourages people to take their first steps on the road to starting their own business.
The competition 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, and last year attracted more than 130 entries.
Carol Langston, head of Create, said: "This competition was launched to encourage more students and members of the public to explore opportunities in enterprise and innovation.
"We really want to hear from anyone with a creative business idea, and that could be commercial or one that has a social impact.
"Don’t worry if it’s nothing more than an idea, Create is here to help entrepreneurs develop their ideas and take them forward, with the eventual aim of encouraging more start-ups.
"We have been really impressed by the wealth of entrepreneurial flair in the past and we expect this year to be no exception."
Entries will be shortlisted to 15 and finalists will be invited to meet Create representatives to discuss their idea further at the finals at the college on November 23.
Judging this year’s competition will be Stewart Thomson (regional manager for the Prince’s Trust, a youth charity that helps young people aged 13-30 get into jobs, education and training), Brenda Dunthorne (director of In Your Element, formerly Boots N Paddles) and Brian Weaver (Impact Hub Inverness).
There will be various categories and winners will share a pot of £5000.
After the competition, finalists will be offered a one-to-one with the Crreate team and guidance to develop their business idea.
Supporting this year’s competition is former winner David Plested.
He was in the second year of the BA (Hons) visual communication and design degree when he decided to enter the competition with his idea for a picture book for children, which he developed on his course.
Drawing on the myth and legend of the Fairy Glen near his home on the Black Isle, The Fairy Glen School for Fairies: An Adventurous Journey tells the story of the fairy school’s trip to the beach and the challenges they encounter from the natural world along the way.
The book aims to encourage children’s learning and curiosity about wildlife and the natural environment, with five per cent from each book sold going to the RSPB.
"I went on holiday to Iceland, where there’s lot of wonderful books and stories about trolls, and it gave me the idea of doing a similar thing here around fairies and the Fairy Glen," said the 25-year-old, who will graduate from Inverness College UHI this month.
"I had already developed a prototype but winning the business competition gave me publicity and allowed me to produce a run of 400, which really got the book off the ground.
"It was also a real confidence boost for me too.
"I’d encourage anyone with an idea or business concept to apply – you’ve absolutely nothing to lose and it could just be the start of something really special.
"It’s a great opportunity, not only to see other people’s ideas but to get feedback and advice. It’s quite unconventional for a children’s book to win a business competition, but I did it – and you can too."
He hopes to publish his second book in the The Fairy Glen School for Fairies series later this year. He also has plans to develop a website, educational games and apps to teach children about the natural world plus further books based on Scottish folklore across the Highlands and Islands.
Also backing the competition is former competition judge Gordon Pearson, owner of Wow Scotland Tours, who has delivered talks on running a business to college students.
Mr Pearson said: "Wow Scotland started off as a business plan written in an entrepreneurship class, where I had the opportunity of pitching to a panel of business experts.
"This gave me the confidence and motivation to turn the idea into a reality."
Last year’s winner Rachel Parker, from Oban, who impressed with her home-made, gluten-free baking range, is now running her own business.
The 25-year-old, who is a former student at the Scottish Association for Marine Science UHI, used her winnings to buy equipment for her business, which started trading online as Rachel’s Gluten Free in March.
She makes cakes, traybakes and fudge for people and businesses in the Oban area.
"Winning the competition has really made all the difference because it allowed me to purchase the equipment I needed to make it viable," she said.
"Create has just been incredible. I can’t praise them enough, they helped me develop my pitch for the judges and supported me to develop and market my idea afterwards.
"They’ve always been there to answer my questions and have really given me the confidence to believe in my business and move it forward."
Since the competition, she has been highly commended in the Scottish Institute for Enterprise (SIE) Fresh Ideas competition, been a semi-finalist in Scotland’s Investing Women competition and a finalist in the Converge Challenge KickStart competition.