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Shetland-based social enterprise takes top award at CREATE Business Competition, backed by Harper Macleod

A student from Lerwick has won the top prize at this years's University of the Highlands and Islands Business Competition Grand Final, held in Inverness on Thursday, her social enterprise business, the ALICE Theatre Project, delivering theatre classes to primary school children in Shetland.

The prize collected by Stephenie Pagulayan of Shetland College UHI, brings with it £1000 and a combined legal and accountancy package from Harper Macleod and Johnston Carmichael.


Harper Macleod Partner Calum MacLeod, left, with winner Stephenie Pagulayan

Harper Macleod has been a supporter of the Business Competition run by CREATE,  UHI's Centre for Enterprise and Innovation, for the past 10 years. 

Calum MacLeod, partner at Harper Macleod, 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."

Ten 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 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.

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

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. For more information visit

The bigger winner - ALICE Theatre Project

Stephenie Pagulayan 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,” she said. “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 six-year-old daughter Isobel.