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Life sciences and technology firms, particularly those looking to explore ideas that help tackle climate change, are being encouraged to consider applying for the latest Pathfinder Accelerator Programme.

Developed by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), Pathfinder is a free six-month development programme for small to medium sized businesses.

The programme was initially run in the Highland Council area before further investment from HIE enabled it to be opened up to businesses across the Highlands and Islands region.

It is targeted at firms in the life sciences, healthcare, animal health, aquaculture technology, IT, and engineering sectors.

Delivered mostly online, Pathfinder provides fast-track training and mentoring for entrepreneurs looking to build a company or launch a new product.

Applications for the programme are now open. Potential participants can register for a taster session, which is to take place on 10 November. This will give them an insight into what they can expect to gain is they sign up.

The application deadline is 14 December. The next programme starts on 14 January and will have a focus on climate change solutions.

Andrea McColl, senior development manager for life sciences at HIE said:“Pathfinder is all about accelerating the growth of businesses in the region through innovation and entrepreneurship. Participants bring their ideas and these are scrutinised and tested for their commercial viability. Specialists provide coaching and mentoring as well as help to develop networking, source funding and plan for growth.

“For this next cohort we are particularly interested in helping firms that want to contribute to improving the environment or develop a circular business model and the transition to a net zero economy.

“We are delighted to be able to expand the programme to help more companies across the Highlands and Islands. Along with our programme delivery partners, Skillfluence and Investing Women Angels, we’re really looking forward to welcoming another group of participants and supporting them to move forward with their ideas and achieve commercial success.”

Kyle Smith of Lochaber firm Energy Mutual is a previous participant of Pathfinder. He said:“One of the benefits of being part of the Pathfinder programme is that it started to open up all the other doors that you didn’t realise were out there in terms of support for small businesses in the Highlands. Having that initial contact has been really helpful.”

Based in Fort William Energy Mutual supports independent renewable energy generators through an online asset management platform. Kyle applied for the Pathfinder programme to help focus the firm’s strategy and gain the knowledge and tools to take it to the next level.  Since participating in Pathfinder, Energy Mutual has begun to expand and will continue to increase its offering and further innovate.

The Pathfinder Accelerator programme forms part of the Northern Innovation Hub, a project led by HIE, with £11m from UK Government as part of the Inverness and Highland City Region Deal, and £1.7m through the European Regional Development Fund Scotland programme 2014-2020.

It will be delivered by training specialists Skillfluence who have developed and designed a new course structure including an e-learning platform to make the course more accessible. Skillfluence will partner with Investing Women Angels to provide business advice and support to this year’s participants. They will provide coaching and mentoring as well as help develop networking, sourcing, funding and planning for future growth.