A £100,000 challenge fund which will stimulate new ways of working within the North Highlands' tourism and food & drink sectors is being launched today (Friday).
Businesses or organisations joining forces in Ross-shire, Caithness and Sutherland to develop new products and services which can show viable market demand will be able to apply for a share of the pot.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and the Scottish Government are providing the funding for the North Highland Challenge Fund, which could support projects with up to 50% of their initial costs.
Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment Richard Lochhead announced the initiative at a business and community conference in Sutherland.
He said: "The North Highland Challenge Fund will encourage new, exciting and innovative collaborations which I hope will create an array of fantastic new products to add our already impressive larder of top quality Scottish produce. Worth £12.4 billion to the Scottish economy, our food and drink industry is also our fastest growing export sector. This new initiative, supported with funds from the Scottish Government, will help drive up even more growth in our food & drink, and tourism sectors in the North Highlands and across Scotland."
The Brora event, hosted by HIE and the North Highland Initiative, was attended by a range of businesses, social enterprises, voluntary groups and public sector workers. Its aim was to explore how partnership working could deliver more for the local economy.
Roy Kirk, HIE Area Manager for Caithness and Sutherland, said: "We know that innovative projects are made stronger by blending the skills and knowledge of the private sector, academia, our public agencies, and the community. It's important that initiatives are encouraged and nurtured. By providing this support we want to make it easier to work together and to take forward opportunities in the tourism and food & drink sectors."
"As well as providing some financial support we will also work with our partners including Business Gateway, Visit Scotland, Historic Scotland and others to help the successful groups develop their projects. We hope this event today and the launch of the North Highland Challenge Fund offers companies and organisations a chance to share ideas on how we can work together successfully to deliver the best results."
It is anticipated that awards will be made from February 2013, and information on how to apply will be available soon on the HIE website or from the HIE office in Thurso.