Rum, climate change - and the massive opportunity for businesses in the Highlands and Islands

Published 20/01/2022 by Catriona Ramsay 4 min read


This summer I went on a cycling holiday to the Hebridean island of Rum. As my partner and I pedalled across the island (often drenched from the rain), we kept spotting a group of four young people driving a Land Rover Defender loaded up with gear.  So, when we all ended up in the single cafe on the island at the end of our trip, I decided to find out what they were up to. I discovered they were the founders of Askival Rum and were busy renovating the bothy next to the cafe as a base for their ‘rum from Rum’.

When I had dried out and was back at my desk at HIE, I found that we’ve supported the Askival founders via our IMPACT30 programme, and more recently via the Young Company Capital Investment Grant Scheme. This is a great example of why I love living in the Highlands and doing the job I do: not only is it a fantastic place to live, but there’s so much support available for businesses. I’ve found people don’t always realise how many opportunities there are in this region; I, for one, wasn’t aware of the extent of support available before I started this job. It’s excellent to see the realities of how we’re helping companies improve.

In my role as development manager in the Northern Innovation Hub team, I combine my knowledge of project management, marketing and events to support businesses within a variety of sectors including life sciences, the creative industries, food and drink and tourism. I’m particularly impressed by the wealth of science-based companies in this region: there are a variety of innovative businesses operating within aquaculture, animal health, technology, health and care, engineering - and the list goes on.

Many companies working on climate-friendly products and services have been supported through our Pathfinder Accelerator programme, which is specifically aimed at the science and technology sector.  There’s Climavore from Skye, who are establishing the UK’s first intertidal polyculture farm and creating an open source, cooperative model for sustainable seafood production; Celnor from Invergordon have an innovative compostable packaging material; and the Hydrotrailer from Proterra Energy based in Drumnadrochit, which provides accessible renewable energy in developing countries.

I have an interest in what these companies are doing because of my desire to protect our natural resources and this is probably inspired by my love of the outdoors. Growing up, I explored the hills and went on many outdoor adventures with my family; our holidays tended to involve camping in the wilderness, particularly in the northwest Highlands. It’s part of the reason that I live in Moray now; these early explorations inspired my connection with the outdoors, and I gained an insight into just how much there was to explore within this region. I recently completed my Mountain Leader qualification to help develop my own outdoor skills.

Find out more about Pathfinder and the other ways in which the Northern Innovation Hub can support you and your business. The next cohort of Pathfinder is for businesses connected to animals, animal health and aquaculture, and is open for applications until 18 February 2022.

I’m lucky to have been able to combine this interest in protecting the environment with my job at HIE. In spring I was temporarily part of the net zero team, who I helped with planning on the run up to COP26. I was also fortunate to complete The Royal Scottish Geographical Society’s Climate Solutions programme during 2021 alongside Claire Munro and a team of 45 colleagues who make up HIE’s climate champions.

When I left my family home near Strathpeffer as a teenager, I never expected to be back in the Highlands as an adult. But after a few years in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and some time spent abroad in Toronto, I was pulled back and there’s now nowhere I’d rather be. I believe there are so many exciting opportunities within reach in the Highlands and Islands: not only does it offer a good quality of life, but there are excellent career and business opportunities, too - there’s so much more here than people might imagine. I work in a passionate team that’s excited about the products being developed by the companies we support because we see their potential to make a huge difference.

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