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Successful business programme marks five years

Published: 14/04/2023

A programme designed to give fast track training and mentoring to entrepreneurs in the Highlands and Islands has supported 133 business to build a company since it began five years ago.

A programme designed to give fast track training and mentoring to entrepreneurs in the Highlands and Islands has supported 133 business to build a company since it began five years ago.

Pathfinder Accelerator gives participants practical tools and techniques to put their ideas through their paces, aiming to build a new company or launch a new product or service, in a shorter space of time with substantially less money.     

The programme is developed by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and delivered mostly online. Seventeen entrepreneurs joined the most recent intake in March to begin the 12-week programme. Applications for the next intake, due to begin in May, close on 21 April.

The fully funded programme is aimed at businesses, social enterprises and start-ups with aspirations for growth or those with exciting ideas to progress.

Entrepreneurs are coached directly by experts across a range of areas including new product development, innovation, business strategy, finance, investment and more.

The programme includes a ‘Dragon’s Den’ style pitching session in front of real investors to help to prepare participants for just about anything in the commercial world.

Sacha Woolham, owner of Orkney-based The Strategy Collective is a web and marketing consultancy also took part in Pathfinder. She said: “It was fantastic to see the diversity of innovation that’s happening in the Highlands and Islands. Personally, it’s been great to meet lots of different entrepreneurs with completely different products but all facing very similar challenges.

Carrie Afrin, a voice over artist from Tain-based, Carrie’s Voice, said: “An unexpected part of the programme has been the network that comes with it - I hadn’t expected that. I’ve started meeting up with someone that on a group before me and one that was on a programme after me and we keep each other accountable for our goals weekly so that’s been amazing.

Isle of Bute-based previous participant, Chris Ratcliffe owns Zone VS.io - a meta data meeting platform firm helping companies engage virtually with their customers such as at online art galleries or other cultural experiences. He said: “This course is what I needed. During the programme, I transformed from being a technologist to a businessperson and used all of the programme’s upskilling components to achieve this.”

The programme forms part of the Northern Innovation Hub, which is led by HIE and funded by the Inverness and Highland City-Region Deal partnership, with £11m from UK Government.  

The Inverness and Highland City Region-Deal is a joint initiative supported by up to £315m investment from the UK and Scottish governments, The Highland Council, HIE and UHI, aimed at stimulating sustainable regional economic growth.
  
Although originally targeted at SMEs in the Highland Council area, the Pathfinder Accelerator programme has been extended for anyone interested across the whole of the Highlands and Islands area through additional funding from HIE.  

The programme is delivered online by training specialists Skillfluence Ltd, which has developed a new course structure including an e-learning platform to make the course more accessible. Skillfluence Ltd will partner with Investing Women Angels to provide business advice and support to the participants.

Catriona Ramsay, development manager at HIE, said: “It’s fantastic to welcome another group of businesses to Pathfinder Accelerator, which takes us to 133 since the programme launched five years ago. Together with our partners Skillfluence and Investing Womens Angels, we are excited to continue the successful programme and support more businesses to move forward with their ideas and succeed.”

Places are available on future Pathfinder Accelerator programmes for businesses, social enterprises, charities and entrepreneurs from across the Highlands and Islands. The next intake (with 21 April deadline) will be targeted at researchers looking to commercialise a project or area of research and will begin in May 2023, with applications open now.  A themed cohort focusing on entrepreneurs with a nature-based solution will begin in September 2023.