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World’s largest free business accelerator lands in the Highlands and Islands

12 August 2016

More than 30 entrepreneurs from across the Highlands and Islands are being sought to take part in a virtual support programme to accelerate commercialisation of their business ideas.

The virtual entrepreneurial accelerator programme will be officially launched today (Friday 12 August).

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) has teamed up with Entrepreneurial Spark, powered by Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), to deliver the pilot programme which is the first of its kind in the UK.

Additional funding is being provided by Scottish Government and law firm Harper Macleod, and RBS is to provide specialist mentors.

The pilot accelerator is primarily aimed at supporting pre start and young business ventures, but is also open to more mature businesses looking to kick start growth. The three month pilot will take place between September and December.

The Entrepreneurial Spark accelerator approach has been hugely successful in other parts of Scotland, the UK and overseas. To date, it has supported 660 companies, helping them to raise more than £45 million in investment, generate turnover of £85 million, and create more than 1800 jobs.

In the past it has not been practical to run the accelerator in the Highlands and Islands due to geographical challenges, as groups of participants need to work together. Now however, with massive improvements in the region’s digital connectivity and use of technology, HIE believes it can be provided in virtual form.

Entrepreneurs will have access to a suite of ten online modules on key business topics. Entrepreneurial Spark Enablers will uniquely challenge the business leader constructively to identify areas for improvement as they seek to develop their entrepreneurial mindset. They will also be connected with mentors who will provide specialist advice.

Groups of participants will collaborate on shared issues and challenges throughout the pilot through fortnightly remote fortnightly sessions with their enabler. The programme will be structured with three physical group meet-ups in Inverness over the three months – at the start, middle and end.

Donna Chisholm, HIE Regional Head of Sectors, Innovation and Programmes said: “Our economy is built upon ambitious entrepreneurs and a virtual accelerator will unlock more of this potential. We welcome the opportunity to work with Entrepreneurial Spark and our partners and contributors to help a new generation of entrepreneurs develop the skills and confidence to grow their businesses and create employment opportunities across the Highlands and Islands.”

Lucy-Rose Walker, Chief Entrepreneuring Officer (CEO) at Entrepreneurial Spark, said: “We’re very excited to be bringing this new iteration of our unique enablement programme to the Highlands and Islands. Working with the Royal Bank of Scotland, we’ve scaled our people accelerator model, which focusses on developing a #GoDo mindset, across the UK with some really humbling results and success. Our aim, however, is to give everyone the chance to grow and scale, wherever they are, so this pilot virtual model - working in partnership with Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Scottish Government, Royal Bank of Scotland and Harper Macleod - is the means to do just that.”

Ross McEwan, CEO of the Royal Bank of Scotland, , said: “Scotland is well known for its entrepreneurial spirit. This virtual hatchery means that even more start-ups will have access to the specialist knowledge they need to be successful no matter where they’re based. We are committed to helping Scotland’s people and economy flourish and our continuing work with Entrepreneurial Spark allows us to do that.

Paula Skinner, a partner at Harper Macleod which has offices in Inverness, Lerwick and Thurso, said: "As Partners of Entrepreneurial Spark and the largest law firm with a permanent presence in the Highlands and Islands, we are delighted to be backing this venture. We know exactly what it takes to build a business here and along with Entrepreneurial Spark and HIE can't wait to transform the way entrepreneurs in the Highlands and Islands are enabled to accelerate the growth of their businesses."

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