Small companies offered mentoring by experts on Harris and Barra

Entrepreneurial Spark virtual entrepreneurship course at the Kingsmills Hotel, Inverness. This pic: Jamie McGowan of Buth Bheag candle company

Owners of small businesses on the Hebridean islands of Harris and Barra will have the opportunity to learn how they can benefit from innovation at two free workshops this month.

Run as part of the recently launched Co-Innovate programme, the sessions will include talks by experts and provide advice on mentoring and funding.

Managed by development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), Co-Innovate was established last year to work with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in some of the most fragile areas of western Scotland.

At the first workshop, at Talla na Mara on Harris on March 20, Jamie McGowan, owner of Essence of Harris, will speak about how innovative ideas helped him grow his award-winning business.

Jane Morrison-Ross, chief executive of Taigh Chearsabhagh, will talk about the innovative approach that helped the arts and heritage centre develop in North Uist at the second workshop at Castlebay Community Hall on March 29.

Co-Innovate programme manager Donald Murray said: “These workshops will explain how the programme can benefit businesses in the Outer Hebrides.

“Each company’s needs around innovation development are different, so everyone’s journey through the programme will be unique.

“The programme supplies the tools and support to help innovate, differentiate and compete successfully.

“It can help businesses identify opportunities for growth and create a vision to make it happen.”

He added: “There will also be mentoring and consultancy as part of the programme, as well as grants for research and innovation, with support from academic institutions and for SMEs to engage an intern for cross-border collaborative projects.”

The five-year £14.6million Co-Innovate programme is supported by the European Union’s INTERREG VA programme and managed by the Special EU Programmes Body.

In Scotland, it brings together development agencies, including HIE and Scottish Enterprise, to deliver the programme for SMEs in Argyll and Bute, Lochaber, Skye, the Outer Hebrides, Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway.

Co-Innovate also covers Northern Ireland and the border counties of Ireland.

The programme gives SMEs the chance to learn about the benefits of innovation, identify opportunities for growth and progress along the path to greater business success through attendance at one of the free tailored workshops.