Sophia Mackay, 22, project manager at Hebridean Spa (credit Catherine Macdonald/Hebridean Spa)

Janice Findlay, innovation programme manager with Co-Innovate, shares an example of innovation in a small rural business

One of the great things about being involved in the Co-Innovate programme is getting to meet and work with some great businesses who really love to collaborate on new ideas.

During the turbulent and deeply uncertain past couple of years, most businesses have suffered. But many have also found opportunity. They’ve explored diversification, implemented efficiencies in their operations, or developed ideas for new products.

We’re currently working with a company called Hebridean Spa based in Stornoway, which is a great example.

Trading as ishga, this company’s unique selling point is its use of sustainably harvested Hebridean seaweed in its luxury range of spa, retail, and professional skincare products.

The firm is now halfway through a 12-month research and innovation project to determine the sunlight-blocking and damage prevention potential of extracts of brown seaweed.

Through the Co-innovate Programme Hebridean Spa secured a grant to employ a project manager to accelerate this idea. 

Sophia Mackay, 22, studied Biochemistry and Immunology at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow and joined the business back in July 2021, bringing two years’ experience in cosmetics.

When I asked her about her new role, she told me it was the ideal fit for her because it ticked so many boxes.

“It allows me to combine my life-long interest in cosmetics with my scientific background,” she said.

“I grew up in the Hebrides, so working for a local company that utilises natural island resources, such as seaweed and water, for industrial purposes was an additional benefit.

“I was aware of the importance of natural and cruelty free products in contributing towards sustainability and innovation, and I was eager to work for a company that values these concepts.”

ishga products are exported across the globe, and it was feedback from international markets such as Australia that led to the project.

I spoke to company director, Malcolm Macrae, who told me his customers demand high performance innovative products. 

“We knew the next step for our product range was to include sun protection, but we didn’t have the expertise or equipment in house to make that happen.

“The funding from Co-Innovate meant we could employ Sophia to manage this research project while we also received expertise from our academic partner, Dr James Murphy from the Institute of Technology Sligo in Ireland.

“James brings a wealth of knowledge to the project through his work in cellular health and toxicology research. The collaboration with IT Sligo has also given us access to specialised testing equipment, methodologies and lab space. Without this input the project would not be where it is today.”

Sophia, meanwhile, is well aware of the significance of what she’s taken on.

“This project introduces a brand new concept to ishga and could even be revolutionary for the cosmetics industry. It’s an incredible opportunity to be a part of it and I can’t wait to see what it leads to.”

I’ll be back next month with another blog focussing on our Co-Innovate projects; their project managers and their collaboration with Irish academic partners.

Co-Innovate supports small or medium sized businesses based in the Outer Hebrides, Skye and Lochalsh, Lochaber and Argyll and the Islands. While applications for the business and academia projects are now closed, business advisers can still it can still provide advice, signpost to relevant support and help connect to networks to those looking to develop a new product, service or process

Co-Innovate is supported by the European Union's INTERREG VA Programme and managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB). It is delivered in the Highlands and Islands by Highlands and Islands Enterprise.


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