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Islands businesses resilient and innovative

A Mati Ventillon jumper.

BUSINESS start-ups in Shetland are more likely to survive longer than five years than companies based elsewhere in the UK, according to new research.

Online auction website eBay says 56 per cent of new businesses in the isles continue beyond their first five years, with Melton in the East Midlands second on the list with 53 per cent.

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The Scottish average is 42 per cent, the same as the UK as a whole.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise’s (HIE) Shetland manager Rachel Hunter said that many local businesses have an intrinsic resilience due to the challenges they overcome when starting.

Fair Isle knitter Mati Ventillon, who set up her business in 2012, participated in the research. She said demand in her products had gradually risen thanks to Internet exposure.

Mati Ventillon: 'We have been able to rapidly grow and reach new markets'.

“Online has been crucial for my business, as I’m based on an island 24 miles from the mainland,” she said.

“Running my business online has allowed me to engage a new generation with Fair Isle knitting history.

“The local knitting community is incredibly supportive of my business, and were keen to teach me their skills when I first decided to start knitting.

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“We’ve always had good business from the tourist trade, with people wanting Fair Isle knitwear as a souvenir, but by getting the online business up and running we have been able to rapidly grow and reach new markets.”

eBay undertook the economic research to highlight how “vital” new businesses are to the UK, and the ways the online giant can support their growth.

HIE’s Shetland manager Rachel Hunter said she feels local businesses often have a “built-in” innovation as a result of the hurdles they have to overcome when launching.

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“Setting up a business on an island is tough and demanding as entrepreneurs have to overcome the challenge of being distant from the main markets they serve, as well as manage the additional costs of doing business that this brings, for example additional transportation costs of moving goods and services,” she said.

“For many businesses managing these challenges means resilience is ‘built in’ at the start as you need to be innovative, outward looking and agile to overcome these.”

Hunter added that “natural resources” in and around Shetland, such as fisheries, oil and gas and renewables, have made for “significant opportunities” for entrepreneurs.

“For the service and the retail sector, the continuing increase in population and above average wage levels, along with the ‘captive’ island geography, is also a bonus,” she continued.

And she warned of complacency: “We are experiencing high levels of political and economic volatility and uncertainty and this can impact on business confidence and investment.

“But our experience has shown that businesses which innovate and seek new ways of doing and selling things as well as businesses which spread the risk by growing their business outside domestic markets, continue to grow and be resilient.”

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