Meeting the start-ups which have been born in the face of an economic storm
By Simon Willis
Starting a business must be like having a child.
If you sat down and calculated the long-term financial implications, the figures would probably be so scary they would dissuade you from the enterprise altogether.
You would certainly want a few things in your favour.
With a new business, you would want a bank to be lending at a decent rate; you would want a buoyant, growing market; you would want a feeling of optimism in the economy, a feel good factor, to put a fair wind in the sails of your good-ship "enterprise".
In short, you would not want a credit crunch.
Yet as the economic storm clouds roll overhead and the chill wind of recession gathers just beyond the horizon, new businesses continue to launch.
These are the life-blood of Scotland's economy, particularly outside the central belt.
Kenneth Whitehead thinks the credit crunch could be good for his business
They sustain local economies, keeping people in homes, children in schools, and money passing through local shops.
Big firms have more political clout, but in the Highlands, small businesses predominate.
Yet their disparate nature means their collective voices are rarely heard.
Newsnight Scotland and the BBC news website have identified four start-up business, all in the Highlands, each in a different sector.
In the worst economic conditions for decades, we will follow their progress as they try to grow.
From time to time we will return to discover what effect government policies and market conditions are having on their bottom line.
At elections, at budgets and at key economic events, we may ask our four business people what initiatives they believe are necessary to calm the economic storm.
Derek Grier engraves glassware which he sells through gift shops
We found the four businesses through Highlands and Islands Enterprise. Each had attended a business start-up course run for HIE by a company called Development Partners.
On our behalf, they emailed all the businesses which had passed through their courses in 2008.
We are grateful to all the businesses which responded, and from that list we selected our four firms:
Digital Recyclers is owned by Kenneth Whitehead near Tain.
He recycles and sells computers. He hopes the credit crunch will be good for business as people seek out lower priced, second-hand computers.
"It's mainly down to price," he said.
"We can do brand name machines for £100-£200 and they all come with TFT monitors and new hard drives.
"There's nothing really that could go wrong."
Equus Riding School is owned by Lisa Malone near Forres.
Lisa Malone started her riding school in April
She is worried that people may spend less on pastimes like riding if they are trying to save money.
She said: "It's still considered very much a luxury item.
"I think it's probably one of the first things that people would look at with their own expenditure.
"They will ask themselves whether their children really need riding lessons."
David Dignan Technical Services is owned by David Dignan, based in Glean Spean.
He works for rural firms on a project basis, introducing new plants and machinery.
He works for larger firms which, for now, seem to be using the down-turn in the economy as a time to invest in new plants and equipment.
"Like all investments, the biggest cost is downtime to production," he said.
David Dignan left a well-paid job to start his own firm
"Therefore planning for one or two years ahead - or even further - is the right thing to do.
"It's about having the confidence to do that."
KeaTek is owned by Derek Grier in Morrar.
He engraves giftware, guitar plectrums, glasses for local hotels.
He is worried that his business is closely linked to the faltering tourism industry, so he hopes to diversify into the industrial market, making control panels.
He said: "It's a difficult time to start a business.
"Part of my business relies on the tourism industry.
"If we don't have the tourists here, I don't have the turnover and products that go into the industry."
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