The Highland Business Awards is one of the flagship events of Inverness Chamber of Commerce that celebrates the achievements of businesses throughout the region.

The Awards recognise the success of organisations large and small, new and well established, and across all sectors, while offering our business community the chance to socialise with colleagues, rekindle old connections and make new business relationships.

This year there are ten diverse categories to choose from, so enter or nominate now to recognise the businesses and individuals that are integral to sustaining a strong Highland economy.

Nominations are open until 5.00pm on Friday 9 August. Please note there will be no extension to this deadline.

Principal Sponsor – The Highland Council

Highland Business Award for Innovation
A business that has implemented new ideas, products or processes which have contributed to its success, whether in terms of profitability, new customers and/or new markets.
Download nomination form

Highland Business Award for Resilience
sponsored by Caithness Chamber of Commerce
A business that has adapted its operations to overcome a short-term difficulty or challenge, enabling it to deliver on its objectives and continue to prosper.
Download nomination form

Highland Business Award for Positive Environmental Impact
sponsored by Ri Cruden
A business that takes responsible decisions to reduce its negative impact on the environment, actively promoting the benefits and bringing about efficiencies in its operations.
Download nomination form

Highland Business Award for Global Growth
A business that is achieving commercial success by developing its activity in overseas markets, whether for the first time or as part of ongoing international expansion plans.
Download nomination form

Highland Business Award for Digital Initiative
A business that has introduced new digital activity to drive growth in its operation and change how it delivers value to its customers.
Download nomination form

*NEW* Highland Business Award for Best Marketing Campaign
A business that has engaged in standout marketing activity to support a clear business objective. Whether via social media, traditional platforms or an integrated campaign, entries must demonstrate creativity, alongside communications results and impact on the business such as increased sales, a drive in footfall, increased engagement or new business referrals.
Download nomination form

Highland Business Award for Community Engagement
sponsored by Vattenfall Wind Power
A business that demonstrates ongoing commitment to and support for its local community through its activities, helping to improve the lives of others and making the community a better place in which to live.
Download nomination form

Highland Business Award for Employer of the Year
An organisation that demonstrates dedication to its workforce, by continually investing in upskilling and training and putting staff wellbeing at the heart of its activity, resulting in a collaborative and inclusive culture and a stimulating and supportive work environment.
Download nomination form

Highland Business Award for Young Employee of the Year
sponsored by The Springfield Group
A young person who makes a positive impact in the workplace thanks to their dedication, talent and can-do attitude.
Download nomination form

Highland Business Award for Business Leader of the Year
sponsored by Saffery
Someone with a track record of leading and inspiring others, who makes a difference to the Highland business economy through their commitment and passion for the area as well as the industry in which they operate.
Download nomination form

Plus one business selected from the category winners will also be announced overall Highland Business of the Year. 

The winners will be announced at the Highland Business Awards Ceremony and Lunch which takes place on Friday 27 September at the Kingsmills Hotel, Inverness. Tickets cost £67.50 + VAT per person and may be booked individually or for tables of 10. Ticket price includes welcome drink and three course lunch with tea/coffee. Click here to reserve tickets.

Caithness Chamber of Commerce calls on the next UK Government to fully recognise the critical importance of the North Highlands, given its significant national assets.

Ahead of the General Election taking place on Thursday 4 July 2024, Caithness Chamber of Commerce highlights key priorities it believes the region’s next MP and UK Government must tackle.

Whoever forms the next UK Government must partner with business to tackle the challenges and grow the economy.  The country succeeds when business succeeds. We are asking the next UK Government to work closely with the business community to help deliver the most pro-growth policies to turbo-charge investment, innovation and job creation.

The economy ranks among the top three issues for UK voters. As a chamber network, the companies we represent are pivotal in driving economic growth and employing millions of people. Our members and employees demand confidence in the Government’s support for businesses.

The North Highland region is fundamental to the nation’s transition to renewable power and is at the cusp of transformational developments and opportunities. National assets such as Space, Offshore Wind and significant electricity transmission infrastructure are being developed and planned in our region and off our shores. It is imperative that the next UK Government acknowledges the unique needs of the North Highlands, considering the significant national assets it houses.

A comprehensive action plan by the new UK ministers is necessary to foster rural employment, provide suitable housing, enhance transport connectivity, and support communities. It is crucial to ensure true progress and levelling up in collaboration with businesses, communities, and stakeholders. Whilst some of these are devolved issues, we believe UK Government still has a duty and responsibility given this region’s national importance in the UK’s transition to net zero.

Political parties and both the UK and Scottish Governments must urgently set aside their differences and prioritise delivering for the people, rather than focusing on party politics. This novel approach is desperately needed to realise significant opportunities for empowering and transforming communities like the North Highlands, ensuring they are not left behind.

 

 

Scottish EDGE is a large competitive fund to support home-grown entrepreneurial talent comprising a Dragon’s Den style pitching competition for ambitious entrepreneurs who wish to grow their business. Round 24 will launch on 14 August and close on 11 September 2024.

The competition is open to limited companies, social enterprises and charities in Scotland who have been trading for up to five years who wish to apply for up to £100,00 (max £30,000 grant, max £70,000 loan) to accelerate growth of their business. To date there have been 46 Highlands and Islands winners gaining combined monies in excess of £2.1m.

This webinar is open to HIE staff and Highlands and Islands businesses and social enterprises. Alistair Murray and Mike Muir of M2 Procurement and Commercial Services Ltd (who facilitate the programme on behalf of HIE), and a previous Scottish Edge winner will explain the methodology and benefits so that you can potentially explore if you would be suited to and may benefit from entering the competition.

Register for the GoTo webinar: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/2313201380997131351

Celebrating the North Highlands’ Entrepreneurial Spirit

We are thrilled to announce that the prestigious Young Entrepreneur of the Year and Young Business of the Year Awards are now open for entries! These awards are a remarkable opportunity to celebrate and honor the entrepreneurial spirit that drives the North Highlands forward.

Whether you’re a rising young entrepreneur or a dynamic young business, this is your chance to shine, boost your profile, and gain well-deserved recognition for your hard work and achievements.

Awards Details

Entries are open until 5pm on 30 July 2024, and winners will receive the following exclusive benefits:

Young Business of the Year (Less than five years old)

  • 2 FREE places worth £160 at the Chamber’s annual dinner for the award presentation.
  • 1 year’s FREE membership of Caithness Chamber of Commerce.
  • Media coverage through press and the Chamber’s digital and social channels.
  • Highlighted profile on the Chamber’s website.
  • Young Business of the Year 2024 Trophy.

Young Entrepreneur of the Year (Younger than 30)

  • £500 cash prize, generously sponsored by Saffery Champness.
  • 2 FREE places worth £160 at the Chamber’s annual dinner for the award presentation.
  • 1 year’s FREE membership of Caithness Chamber of Commerce.
  • Media coverage through press and the Chamber’s digital and social channels.
  • Highlighted profile on the Chamber’s website.
  • Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2024 Trophy.

For more information or a friendly chat before applying, or to request an application pack, please contact us at info@caithnesschamber.com or call 01847 890076.

Businesses and apprentices in the north Highlands can look forward to developing new skills for a greener future, thanks to additional support from the West of Orkney Windfarm.

The windfarm developer – which is planning a major offshore windfarm 25km off the Sutherland coast – has donated £50,000 to support a new apprenticeship programme.

The funds will go to FutureSkills, an apprenticeship grant scheme designed to tackle skills shortages and drive investment in new opportunities for businesses and young people in Caithness and north Sutherland.

The initiative is being led by the Caithness Business Fund and will offer eligible businesses the opportunity to access grant support of up to £24,500 over a maximum period of three years, towards employment and associated training costs of an apprentice.

It was established in March this year with initial funding from NRS Dounreay and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

The announcement was made last week (May 22) as members of the West of Orkney Windfarm team visited Caithness for a series of meetings including Scrabster Harbour Trust, Caithness Chamber of Commerce, Wick John O’Groats Airport and JGC Engineering and Technical Services.

Stuart McAuley, Project Director, West of Orkney Windfarm, said:

“The West of Orkney Windfarm has an ambition to deliver a world-leading energy project which will create long term social and economic benefits for businesses and communities in the north of Scotland.

“This will include employment opportunities through the construction phase and for many years of operation, and we would like as many of these jobs as possible to go to local firms. It is terrific to see local businesses already embracing this exciting new world.

“This donation is an investment in this future and will help up-skill young workers so they can participate in Scotland’s offshore wind energy industry – which will become a major force in the years ahead.”

In addition to the apprentice scheme support, West of Orkney Windfarm has kick-started a number of other initiatives in Caithness, Sutherland and Orkney including a £1 million research and innovation programme at EMEC, a £900,000 pan-industry programme to support ten new STEM coordinators across the UHI partnership, and £125,000 to enable up to seven local companies to take part in the rigorous 12-18 month Fit For Offshore Renewables (F4OR) development programme.

Trudy Morris, Executive Director of the Caithness Business Fund and CEO of Caithness Chamber of Commerce, managing agent of the Fund, said:

“Caithness Chamber has been engaged with the West of Orkney Windfarm for a number of years now and we are delighted they are able to support this excellent apprenticeship scheme.

“It’s open to businesses that can demonstrate a strong commitment to hosting a modern apprenticeship and targets SMEs with the aim of facilitating new apprenticeship opportunities to stimulate business growth and overcome potential financial barriers.

“I’d encourage local firms to apply.”

For more details, please visit the fund’s website here: www.caithnessbusinessfund.com

Farr North Community Development Trust and Caithness Chamber of Commerce have teamed up to reach out to businesses in the northern Highlands to raise awareness of opportunities for receiving support when hiring apprentices.

The Farr North Apprenticeship Scheme is managed by the Trust and is supported by a grant of around £100,000 from the SSE Renewables Strathy North Community Fund.  The scheme offers eligible businesses up to £15,000 over a three-year period towards the costs associated with employing and training an apprentice.  In some cases this can be combined with the Caithness Business Fund to bring the overall level of support to over £24,000.

Apprenticeships provide a cost-effective way to upskill and expand the workforce. Taking on an apprentice can be a smart investment, benefiting both the business and the local skills base.  But as a business in the north, where do you begin?

A good place to start would be Caithness Chamber of Commerce.  The Chamber offers a huge range of help and advice to businesses across the north (not just in Caithness!) and they have links and contacts with agencies that could help you.  Through this network the Chamber can help you to decide if an apprenticeship would be right for your business, help to identify suitable training opportunities for your apprentice and help you find the right person for your company.

Find out more on about The Farr North Apprenticeship Scheme on the Caithness Business Fund website.

David Shearer, SSE Renewables Community Investment Manager commented:

“Investing in young people is a particular focus for our community funds and we have a number of apprenticeship programmes available in Sutherland.  The apprenticeship programmes ensure that there are viable employment opportunities to retain young people in the local area and also helps to ensure that the local economy benefits from thriving local businesses.”

Simon Lee, Manager of Farr North Community Development Trust commented:

“Farr North is working to develop vibrant and resilient communities.  We are delighted to be able to work with the other SSE apprenticeship programmes in Sutherland and working with Caithness Chamber of Commerce brings even more opportunities to support local businesses, develop workforce skills, and encourage our young people to stay in the area.”

CASE STUDY

GMG Energy and Finlay Mackay Modern Engineering Apprentice.

Nestling in the Strath of the river Halladale, GMG Energy is an ambitious timber processing company established by Malcolm Morrison in 2016.

Finlay began his apprenticeship with the company in 2022 whilst studying at the Engineering Maintenance framework at UHI.  He is now working towards his SVQ3 work-based qualification.  Malcolm is delighted with his apprentice:

“He’s a bright kid, learns quickly and is a great asset to the company.” He enthused recently.

Finlay is equally enthusiastic about the experience:

“I feel I’ve really landed on my feet.  GMG Energy has given me a huge range of opportunities to apply the knowledge I get from college.  I’m gaining experience, I’m learning and I’m earning!  What could be better?”

Businesses in the region have opportunities to thrive by investing wisely, upskilling their workforce, and embracing apprenticeships. It’s heartening to see the positive impact on both businesses and individuals

Transport connectivity is crucial to the economy.

At the Focus North conference, 87% of attendees rated our regional transport network as high or very high risk for our economic prosperity.

Our workforce relies on efficient and reliable public transport services to access training and employment.

Focus North has adopted transport for employment as a key strand in its partnership programme.

Transport to the region – including lifeline air services – are a separate programme theme which has already attracted success, with the confirmation of another year’s funding for the Wick-Aberdeen public service obligation flights.

Transport for employment is a difficult nut to crack, and we started by commissioning a detailed study to give us an evidence base to build on.

Urban Foresight Transport Study

In 2023, Focus North commissioned innovation consultancy Urban Foresight to undertake research into modes of transport in the region. Their report included a survey of local residents and stakeholders that captured more than 350 responses.

The responses identified four main desires from public transport users:

  • increased bus and train services
  • affordable fares
  • better connections between transport modes
  • a shift towards sustainable transport

The main challenges were:

  • infrequent and unreliable services
  • long journeys
  • poor infrastructure for active travel

Urban Foresight’s report did not aim to completely move away from private car usage, which it recognises as unavoidable due to the remote communities in the region. Instead, it focuses on reducing reliance on private cars by providing enhanced public transport options.

Urban Foresight proposed the following solutions:

  • a network of electric, community-owned vehicles offering flexible routes
  • mini-mobility hubs with bike sharing
  • consolidated booking and payment platforms
  • oversight by a community-led organisation

Under the most ambitious modelling scenario, the above changes would reduce private car journeys by 15% and create a three-fold increase in bus transport.

However, the solution requires a significant inward investment (running a fleet of 18 electric minivans over 10 years would cost upwards of £8m).

Next steps

NRS Dounreay is leading the Focus North partnership on the ‘transport for employment’ programme theme.

Both NRS Dounreay and Highland Council have a significant procurement spend on bus services in the area, and they are working together to find more innovative and co-ordinated ways of working.

In the more immediate term, Focus North is investigating the potential for pilot-level activity as a follow-on from the Urban Foresight report.

For more information, download our short briefing paper or read it in full below:

File Name: Future_Transport_NScotland_Final.pdf

 

Focus North is delighted to announce the first round of its Net Zero Accelerator programme. With the support of NRS Dounreay, Focus North can offer 15 fully-funded places to small and medium enterprises in Caithness and north Sutherland.

Outcomes include:

  •  12 months dedicated 1:1 help and support
  • UK Government (SECR) carbon accreditation
  • Audited carbon accounts
  • Credible SECR Carbon Reduction Plan (CRP)
  • Membership of the Focus North Net Zero Accelerator

About the Accelerator

Focus North has commissioned award-winning social enterprise Net Zero Nation to deliver this Accelerator for our region.

Thanks to the support of NRS Dounreay, we are able to offer this programme free of charge to local businesses.

The first cohort is now open for applications, and we are looking for 15 businesses representing a variety of sectors, business types and sizes. Collaboration across the cohort is a valuable part of the programme, and we look forward to seeing what businesses learn, and how they leverage it for commercial advantage.

The programme structure looks like this:

Onboard – set-up, software licensing, meet the team

Welcome – meet your accelerator peers

Master – learn about carbon accounting, standards and compliance

Measure – 1:1 support with a carbon expert

Manage – share your Carbon Reduction Plan

Momentum – build competitive advantage, take Net Zero to market, discover toolbox

Maintain – review progress and plan for future

Review – share and discuss progress with accelerator group

Evaluate – look back on the year, review effectiveness, celebrate

These sessions will take place both online and on-site, with timings agreed. There is flexibility built into the programme and support for delivery, but Accelerators must commit to the course and allow sufficient time to benefit from it.

 

Applications now open

Focus North encourages applications from SMEs in the north Highland area.

For more information or to request an application form, please email netzeronation@focusnorth.scot

The closing date for applications is Monday 6 May 2024.

  • Venture North Tourism Gathering 2024
    Venture North Tourism Gathering 2024

Future opportunities for tourism businesses and organisations were explored at Venture North’s third annual Tourism Gathering last week. 70 attendees gathered at Mackays Hotel in Wick ahead of the summer visitor season.

Cathy Earnshaw, Destination Strategy Manager for Venture North opened the day by showcasing an overview and short film of Venture North’s key strategic activities in delivering the Tourism Strategy for Caithness and Sutherland 2021 – 24. With the Gathering’s theme being ‘Destination Opportunities’, she also discussed potential future focus areas to generate ideas and feedback from the tourism sector and community organisations, which will help shape the region’s tourism priorities towards Outlook 2030.

Marc Crothall MBE, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance set the scene by introducing key tourism policy focuses including the recently launched Policy Agenda ‘Our Industry Manifesto to Support Scotland in Becoming a World Leader in 21st Century Tourism’ which sets out a series of ambitious priorities ahead of the forthcoming UK general election and the next Scottish Parliament election in 2026. He discussed the value of working with destination management organisations (DMOs) such as Venture North to shape and deliver tourism in Scotland.

Chris Taylor, VisitScotland’s destination development director for the Highlands and Islands revealed information on current visitor trends and opportunities for travel trade.

Representatives from Wick Development Trust, John O’Groats Mill Trust and the John O’Groats Development Trust all provided updates on current community tourism initiatives in Caithness, with NatureScot and the North West Highland Geopark presenting insight into the valuable opportunities for responsible tourism and collaborations with UNESCO status.

Trudy Morris, Chief Executive of the Caithness Chamber of Commerce also shared about career opportunities across the tourism and hospitality sector for young people.

William and Adelaine Munro of Caithness Seacoast Ltd commented: There was a very positive atmosphere. It was great to see such a diverse range of tourism service providers and an abundance of experience. We particularly liked hearing about the focus on young people joining the tourism industry. As a result, we approached Developing the Young Workforce North Highland and have signed up to provide marine tourism experience to interested high school pupils”.

Attendees rotated round breakout groups in the afternoon, which dug deeper into the themes of travel trade, building responsible tourism collaborations with UNESCO world heritage sites, and maximising opportunities for community tourism.

Fiona Saywell, Geopark Manager for the North West Highlands Geopark said, I have at least 3 new contacts from Thursday’s networking, with multiple pieces of information and possible routes to follow up on for future and existing work. Having opportunities through co-leading the afternoon breakout groups, to find out what tourism providers think, know and want to know about the North West Highlands Geopark, was so valuable”.

Venture North’s Tourism Gathering was held on Thursday 28th March 2024 and was sponsored by Caithness Chamber of Commerce & Developing the Young Workforce North Highland, with support from Highlands and Islands Enterprise, NRS Dounreay, and VisitScotland.

Magnus Davidson, Dounreay’s Socio Economics Manager, said: “NRS Dounreay is pleased to be working with Venture North to help promote responsible and sustainable community-led tourism in the north Highlands and building valuable partnerships to boost a collective voice is crucial in doing this effectively.”

Presentations from the Venture North Tourism Gathering 2024 can be viewed online, visit: https://www.venture-north.co.uk/about-venture-north/tourism-gathering-2024