Are you a sole trader or a small business leader? Pushed for time but want to grow your business? Looking for a fresh spark for you and your business?

Often it’s business leaders, the entrepreneurs and those preparing the workplace of tomorrow in our small and rural businesses that can’t find the time, motivation or funds to continue to develop their own personal skills and access training.

With 24 fully funded places on this year’s Catalyst programme available to sole traders and small business owners based in the Highlands and Islands, Perthshire and Moray, we asked David Massey, managing director at The Apprentice Store, an inspiring social enterprise company, to share his experience of the programme.

When did you take part in the Catalyst programme?

I was actually on the very first group, back in 2016, having been put in touch with Roz by the business support team at Inverness College UHI. The programme was easy to apply for and it was exactly what I was looking for. It was a space to explore and create a different mindset whilst also learning from other people in a similar position to myself.

Person with a blurred background
David Massey, ‘The Apprentice Store’ managing director

Did you have a goal in mind when you started?

Not really. I had the start of an idea for a new nameless project which I wanted to explore.

By the end of the programme, I had registered ‘The Apprentice Store’ and had crystalised a business model which is the foundation of how the business operates today.

In what way did it unlock new thinking?

‘The Apprentice Store’ operates as a social enterprise, one of only around four in the UK that I am aware off. Our social purpose is to create sustainable employment for young people who have been excluded from employment and to assist small and fragile communities to be sustainable by allowing young people to stay living and working from them.

We offer remote quality services such as IT support, web development and cyber security advice to small and micro businesses across the UK.

The programme has given me an insight into a different way of thinking. A process to thinking outside my blue square box, where I feel most comfortable. It was challenging but I recognise that I need different types of people around me to allow the organisation to flourish.

It helped me to mould the ethos of the business and how to model its services and the team whilst supporting the career development of young talent in our local communities.

What advice would you give to those considering applying?

Do it! It will make you look at yourself and the way that you think about doing things. It is different from many other programmes that tend to focus on finance, efficiency, scaling and processes. It puts people at the core of the business.

People need to be of the right mindset and that starts with the leaders. If you look after the people and break the mould in your thought process who knows what you can achieve. Insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results.

Based at the Inverness campus, Roz Thomas is an enterprise lecturer and runs the catalyst programme at CREATE, part of the university’ centre for remote and sustainable communities at Inverness College UHI. She is committed to supporting businesses and helping them to enhance their performance and skills.

Roz Thomas, enterprise lecturer

What does the Catalyst programme offer? 

It is accessible training that is tailored to suit your needs and preferences. It will help you to develop entrepreneurial skills, improve leadership practices and productivity, and analyse, develop and pilot growth plans.

The programme consists of six modules and is taught entirely online with an initial induction on how to use the online tools and resources as well as three twilight, tutor-led group sessions.

It is supported and enhanced by experienced entrepreneurs who input their own experiences that connect you to real-life situations and references, as well as enabling you to expand your existing business networks.

Is there a cost?  

We have 24 fully funded places subject to availability and eligibility. The places are available to small and medium size enterprises and sole traders that are based in the regional communities that the university serves. We cover the largest geographical area of any campus-based university or college in the UK – the Highlands and Islands, Perthshire and Moray. 

How do I get in touch to find out more?

To apply for one of the places or discuss the programme, please contact Roz Thomas at

To find out more about support for business and employers at the University of the Highlands and Islands, visit

Catalyst is funded by the Scottish Funding Council through the University Innovation fund and administered by the University of the Highlands and Islands.

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