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Caithness News Bulletins March 2004

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The success of a youth technology and innovation competition developed in the Highlands and Islands will see it become a major national contest next year.

The PICT ICT Youth Challenge encourages small teams of people under the age of 20 to develop innovative information and technology projects that have the potential to become commercially viable ventures.

PICT (Producing Information Communications Technology) Innovation Ltd takes innovative IT related ideas, supports and champions them in order to turn them into real businesses and jobs.

Launched by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) in 2002, the competition is run by Alness-based PICT Innovation Ltd, a partnership company established by HIE to nurture good ideas and turn them into business ventures by supporting research and commercialisation.

The company works in partnership with Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Ross and Cromarty Enterprise (RACE).

The youth challenge has rapidly established its popularity with schools, community youth groups and families in the HIE network area, from Shetland to Argyll. More than 40 teams entered the inaugural competition and this year's challenge has attracted over 100 entries.

That popularity has led to the decision by the organisers and sponsors to extend the contest to young people throughout Scotland from next year.

Enterprise Minister Jim Wallace welcomed the move.

Mr Wallace said: "Last August I visited PICT in Alness and saw for myself the wonderful work they were doing with young people. It is a tribute to them that their technology and innovation competition is now being rolled out across the whole of Scotland.

"I have often been struck by the creativity and skills of young people I have met in schools. Competitions like this help encourage that creativity and harness it in a way that will hopefully bring long term benefits to our economy."

HIE chairman Dr Jim Hunter said: "From the start, the youth challenge recognised the importance of investing in young people and supporting their education and development through innovation. It has provided a great opportunity for young people interested in ICT innovation and over the past two years has demonstrated the wealth of up-and-coming talent and creativity in the Highlands and Islands. "I am delighted that this opportunity, developed in the Highlands and Islands, is to be offered to young people throughout Scotland."

Initial entries for the youth challenge are considered by a team of judges, which then invites the teams with the best and most innovative ideas to present them to a panel of industry experts. The panel selects a short list of teams, which are asked to develop their ideas with specialist advice and support. The finalists are then invited to a residential seven-day "Hot House" event where project prototypes are produced and competitors are judged on teamwork, innovation, feasibility, communication and peer opinion.

Last year the concept of an "e-purse," giving users a convenient and universal way to pay for services and communicate while on the move, saw the five-strong Team McHarg from Alness Academy emerge as the eventual winners. The runners-up from Plockton High School also adapted mobile phone technology to create a prototype global positioning device, which could aid mountain rescue.

Team McHarg were rewarded with an all-expenses-paid trip to Dublin, where they were given an insight into the cutting-edge information and technology research at Media Lab Europe, the European research partner of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab.

PICT Innovation Ltd are still working with teams from last year's challenge. A team from Fortrose Academy is continuing to research a
business model for roll-out of their youth information and advice website with Channel 4 and expertise from companies in the Highlands and Islands.

Ewan McFarlane, chief executive of PICT Innovation said: "The truly unique thing about our youth challenge is the way it brings young people with brilliant ideas together with industry experts who have the skills and experience to turn ideas into reality. Our industry sponsors really feel they are making a difference and at the same time get the opportunity to work with the next generation of consumers and employees."

Last year HIE joined forces with Media Lab Europe in an exclusive strategic partnership. The unique collaboration is aimed at accelerating commercial application of "blue sky" research emerging from the Dublin laboratories and the Boston-based MIT Media Lab, for small and medium enterprises in the Highlands and Islands.

Researchers from Media Lab Europe are involved in this year's youth challenge, judging entries and providing support and advice to teams. This year's winners will again be invited to the Dublin lab.

The youth challenge is currently supported by a range of sponsors, including BT Scotland in conjunction with BT's research and technology business Btexact Technologies, Channel 4 IDEASFACTORY, Careers Scotland, Media Lab Europe, Business Lab, MFA, Omnitech and e design.

Companies wishing to become sponsors of the PICT ICT Youth Challenge should contact Ewan McFarlane, chief executive, PICT Innovation, tel: 08700 636300 or visit the website: www.pict.org.uk