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Harper Macleod backs a winner in this year's UHI Business Competition

A ZERO waste shop has won the top prize at this year's University of the Highlands and Islands, Create Highland, Business Competition, held in Inverness.

Alison Ruickbie from Elgin, who open Re:Store in Lossiemouth in October, scooped a prize of £1000 and a combined legal and accountancy package worth £2000 from Harper Macleod and Johnston Carmichael.

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Ross Thomson, Partner at Harper Macleod, and Scott Jeffrey of Johnston Carmichael with winner Alison Ruickbie

Harper Macleod has supported the competition for more than a decade, and Inverness-based Partner Ross Thomson said: “We are delighted to continue our support for the Business Competition this year. The standard of the finalists was exceptional, and we'd like to congratulate them all, particularly Alison, who won the top prize. We look forward to working with her.

"As an entrepreneurial business, with considerable experience in advising entrepreneurs and innovators, we recognise the value of the University’s Highlands and Islands’ Centre for Enterprise and Innovation and the importance of encouraging others to pursue their business ideas and hopefully make them a reality."

Alison's idea was simple – to provide a shopping experience for customers without waste, where people can buy produce, plastic free, as well as reusable/sustainable products. She wants to help people reduce their packaging, particularly single use plastics and food waste through promoting the concepts - refill, refuse, reduce, renew, repair, recycle, redefine and rethink. She is keen to grow and develop the business by adding new product lines, including a pergal milk dispenser so customers can re-use their bottles, and increasing her outreach activity within the community, businesses and schools.

Alison said: “We've all seen Blue Planet and the videos of marine disasters and stricken animals affected by the plastics we use every day. It must stop somewhere. I wanted to change my lifestyle and reduce the amount of packaging I used, but found it was really hard to shop this way locally. We can't change the world alone but every small step we each make will bring us closer to a better world to leave to our children and grandchildren. I am so overwhelmed to win this award. I didn’t think it was going to be me – there were so many amazing business ideas. I thought to myself, I’ve had a fantastic day, so when they read out my name, I was very shocked. I felt very emotional. This prize is going to make a huge difference to my business.”

Nine out of 15 finalists shared in a record prize fund of £8500 after pitching their idea to a panel of the region’s top business and enterprise professionals on Wednesday.

The Business Competition is run by CREATE, the Highlands and Islands Centre for Enterprise and Innovation based at Inverness College UHI. Now in its 14th year, the competition supports and encourages entrepreneurship within the university but also across the wider Highlands and Islands, helping people to take the first steps on the road to starting their own business.

The 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 & Islands, Moray and Perthshire. The competition attracted 90 entries, including 68 from students across the University partnership.

100 guests attended the final at Inverness College UHI, which followed an action packed day of pitches by finalists to a panel of experts.

The 2020 winners of the University of the Highlands and Islands Business Competition were:

  • Top prize of £1000 and a combined legal and accountancy package worth £2000 – Alison Ruickbie (50), from Elgin. Sponsored by Johnston Carmichael and Harper Macleod LLP.
  • Most Innovative Business, £1000 – Terry Elder (30), from Dunbeath, a welding instructor and student at North Highland College UHI. Sponsored by Engineers in Business Fellowship.
  • Best Engineer Award, £1000 – Alick Maclean (40), Ranish, Isle of Lewis, a BEng (Hons) Mechanical Engineering student at Lews Castle College UHI. Sponsored by Engineers in Business Fellowship.
  • Best Design Award, £500 – Alick Maclean (40), from Ranish, Isle of Lewis, a BEng (Hons) Mechanical Engineering student at Lews Castle College UHI. Sponsored by Engineers in Business Fellowship.
  • Best Researched Idea, £750 and a Johnston Carmichael accountancy package – Martin Welch (57), a fisherman from Kyleakin, Skye. Sponsored by Essence of Harris, Impact Hub Inverness and The Apprentice Store.
  • Best Social Impact Business, £750 – Gary Souter (30), from Elgin, an HNC Coaching and Developing Sport student from Moray College UHI. Sponsored by Essence of Harris, Impact Hub Inverness and The Apprentice Store.
  • Best Engineering Environmental Business, £500 – Calum MacDonald (31), from Nairn, an HND Engineering Systems student at Inverness College UHI. Sponsored by Engineers in Business Fellowship.
  • Youth Entrepreneurship Award, £1000 – Annie MacDonald (29), from Inverness, a PhD student at the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Centre for History. Sponsored by Impact 30.
  • Best Student Business, £1000 – Roma Gibb (36), from Evanton, an Access to Nursing student at Inverness College UHI. Sponsored by the University of the Highlands and Islands.
  • Best Commercial Business, £1000 – Joe Buchanan (18), from Inverness, a BSc (Hons) Sport and Fitness student at Inverness College UHI. Sponsored by Business Gateway Highland.

Professor Chris O’Neil, Principal of Inverness College UHI, said: “Innovation and entrepreneurship are the wellsprings of any economy as they help to create jobs and identify new and better ways of doing things. All academic institutions have a responsibility to stimulate innovation and creativity for the greater good of society. The Business Competition is a prime example of our ambition to inspire, encourage and support students, staff and the business community to develop the knowledge, skills and motivation they need to realise their potential through enterprise.

"I know the judging panel had a very difficult job trying to identify the winners, however, all the finalists should be regarded as winners. I hope that they can capitalise on this experience and wish them all every success in the future. Collaboration with our partners, sponsors and judges make this event the success it is, and I would like to thank them all for their support once again.”