UHI Business Competition 2024 winners announced

Keith Wilcox from Dufftown has taken the top prize in the 2024 UHI Business Competition for his business ‘Lodestone Leashes’, which makes paddleboard safety products.

Keith impressed the judges with his patented release technology for paddleboard leashes, which reliably and automatically separates the board from the user if the leash gets caught on a hazard, ultimately preventing drowning. He won the top prize of £1,000, along with a combined legal and accountancy package from sponsors Harper Macleod LLP and Johnston Carmichael.

The awards ceremony was held on Wednesday evening at the UHI Inverness campus. It is organised by CREATE, the Highlands and Islands Hub for Enterprise and Innovation, based at the Centre for Living Sustainability.

On winning the award, Keith said:

“The UHI Business Competition has been a fantastic opportunity. Winning the top prize gives us a huge boost at our early stage. The legal and accounting support will enable us to work on patent licensing, and the prize money will support our next production run. We simply couldn't do this without this support.  It was great to see how FlyHighland has grown since they won last year, and I'm looking forward to seeing what Lodestone Leashes has achieved by next year.”

With funding support from the University Innovation Fund from the Scottish Funding Council, the competition aims to discover and support enterprising people, helping them take their first steps in starting their own business. Since the competition began in 2006, it has awarded £108,000 in prize money.

This year the competition attracted 78 entries from students across the UHI partnership, as well as entrepreneurs living in the Highlands and Islands, Moray, Perthshire and Argyll. The total prize fund was £8,000, with ten winners each receiving a prize from one of the sponsors.

The other prize winners were as follows:

  • Best Researched Award, £500, sponsored by platinum sponsors

Benjamin Brimacombe from Aviemore. His business, LamVac, applies technology developed by NASA in the 1960s to wind turbines. The technique involves attaching a vacuum to perforations in the skin of the wind turbine, drawing air closer to the surface and helping the blade cut through the wind more efficiently, increasing energy production by up to six percent.

  • Youth Entrepreneurship Award, £500, sponsored by silver sponsors

Jessica Lake from Inverness. Her idea, ‘Petbank Cafe’ is a place where owners and their pets can have a dining experience together while helping others through their struggles.

  • Most Innovative Award, £500, sponsored by silver sponsors

Markelo Rapti, an HNC Computing student at UHI Perth, who is looking to revolutionise renewable energy. His business idea harnesses ambient sound to power the future, converting noise into electricity and offering sustainable solutions for industries, cities, and transportation.

  • Best Use of Technology Award, £500, sponsored by Techscaler

Fernando Nuno Lopez, an HND Forestry student at UHI Inverness. His idea is to provide forestry and geomatic services by combining the use of traditional survey methods with remote sensing, using drone technology and new software that integrates AI and data analytics engines to provide customers with quality services with accurate data.

  • Best Tech Idea, £1,000, sponsored by Techscaler

Logan Andrick, a BSc (Hons) Marine Science student at the Scottish Association for Marine Science. His idea is to develop a fully functioning fleet of autonomous surface vehicles capable of capturing marine plastic waste in any ocean or body of water around the world in a carbon-green renewable format. The primary focus will be the five oceanic garbage patches, beginning with the North Atlantic garbage patch.

  • Best Social Impact Award, £1,000, sponsored by Whyte and Mackay

James Macdonald, a postgraduate certificate Sustainable Energy Solutions student at UHI North, West and Hebrides. His company, Energize Highlands, brings renewable power to remote Highland communities while empowering young engineers through work experience. Their innovative approach tackles energy challenges and bridges the gap between education and employment.

  • Best Engineer Award, £1,000, sponsored by Engineers in Business Fellowship

Lily Carmichael, an Engineering Systems student at UHI Moray. Her business idea is to create workwear designed specifically for women so that they can work more comfortably and efficiently.

  • Best Student Award, £1,000 sponsored by UHI

Gergana Sirakova studying HND Beauty Therapy at UHI Perth and Miroslav Sirakov, for their mobile gaming van business.  For birthdays, corporate events, and more, their unique service caters to all gaming enthusiasts.

  • Best Commercial Award, £1,000, sponsored by Northern Innovation Hub

Stefan Quarry, an eco-entrepreneur based in the Highlands. Highland Domes design and build high-performance, storm-resilient, geodesic greenhouses. Using geodesic technology, which combines triangles, the strongest 2D shape, to make spheres, the strongest 3D shape, they are on their way to producing the strongest and warmest greenhouse in the UK in collaboration with the University of Aberdeen.

All the judges and finalists at the UHI Business Competition

All the finalists with the judges and organisers of the UHI Business Competition 

Professor Neil Simco, Deputy Principal Academic and Research at UHI, who opened the awards ceremony and presented the best student award, said:

“One of the reasons UHI exists is to make a difference, and we are pleased to support people who have the skills, energy, and commitment to take forward business ideas that make that difference across our regions. This competition shows that whoever you are, wherever you are, and whatever age you’re at, if you want to, you can be entrepreneurial.”

The keynote speaker was Debbie Strang, Director and Chief Operating Officer of SaxaVord Spaceport in Unst, Shetland. She told the finalists:

“Congratulations everybody. It’s fantastic that you have seized this opportunity. Work hard and stay determined, don't become derailed, keep focused, and remember that people are key. It’s also important to celebrate your achievements. And keep going!”

This year’s judges were Màiri Macdonald, Local Enterprise Manager at the Royal Bank of Scotland; Gillian McGill, Talent Acquisition Manager at Skillfluence and Founders360, Mark Sutherland, Head of Highlands and Islands Regional Engagement for Techscaler and CodeBase, and Rojan Kumar Subramani, co-founder and CEO of DigiTechtive and member of the board of management of UHI Inverness.

Rojan Kumar Subramani said:

“It is an honour for me to have been invited to join the panel of judges. We were impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit and innovation shown by all the finalists and winners. As a mentor and business adviser, I aim to inspire and introduce social entrepreneurs to the world of business. I am passionate about using technology to enhance the Scottish Highlands, support social impact, and create employment opportunities for young people. Therefore, I will continue supporting the winners and finalists and look forward to seeing these ideas continue to grow. Thank you to Roz Thomas and Helen Miller from the CREATE team who have gone the extra mile again this year to make this wonderful event.”

Màiri MacDonald said:

“It’s a pleasure to be involved in the UHI Business Competition once again. We had the difficult task of shortlisting 78 applications down to 15 finalists. This competition really encompasses some of the very best innovation in the North of Scotland, and it was great to see the diversity of thought and the true drive behind the ideas. Well done to all the finalists on your pitches, and for putting your ideas forward in the first instance. A huge congratulations to all the winners.”

Gillian McGill said:

“I’m delighted to have been invited back to review this year’s applications alongside my fellow judges. The level of creative thinking, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit has been incredibly impressive. I was excited to hear the final presentations and I’m hopeful that we will see some of the applicants on IMPACT30 this September, as HIE’s fully funded programme can provide the essential tools, skills, knowledge and mentorship required to help grow their businesses.”

Mark Sutherland said:

"As a former student and lecturer of UHI, it's been an absolute pleasure to be a part of the judging panel for the first time this year.  It's exciting, but not surprising, to see so much innovation and creativity in the Highlands and Islands, and the students, staff and community of UHI have been no different in their quality of problem solving. Social impact was at the heart of most of the applications, and it's wonderful to see such a desire for a fair and just society, locally and globally, across a huge range of industry sectors. Given my role delivering Techscaler, (Scottish Government funded entrepreneurial support for founders building software products or product based businesses with large software components across the region), it was also wonderful to see so many tech based entries, embracing the fourth industrial revolution in innovative ways. I'm looking forward to the next stage of the finalists’ business adventure and in helping support them along the way"

The other finalists were:

  • Sandie Gordon, who runs Candles from the Croft, which combines family tradition and community spirit with sustainable practices, offering luxury, handcrafted, home fragrances.
  • Hannah Inglis, a BA (Hons) Business and Management student at UHI Perth and Alison Inglis. Their business ‘Neigh Bother!’ is a free neighbourhood resource-sharing app for car sharing and other resources in local communities.
  • Alishia King, a Social Sciences Level 6 student at UHI Inverness, who has a solution to potholes, cracked and uneven conditions, by using a heated mixture of tar and old tyres and applying it to road surfaces, speed bumps and pavements.
  • Annie Ramsay-Stagg and Camille Hayes, whose business will provide informative and interactive birth and baby preparation workshops to ensure parents and carers have the skills and knowledge to experience a positive journey to parenthood.
  • Helga Scott from North Ronaldsay, who produces seaweed kombucha, a sparkling, fermented handcrafted drink.

Vicki Nairn, UHI Principal and Vice Chancellor said:

“Our region is phenomenally important economically, and this competition has had a huge impact on the entrepreneurial spirit of its people. It has again highlighted the great potential for innovative local business ventures, and I have no doubt that the future is very bright for our winners. Their resourceful ideas and solutions demonstrate the enterprising drive and initiative that we strive to nurture.”