Boost for Internet company

13th July 2001


Customers from as far away as Hampshire in England have been attracted as clients to a new internet company which has been set up on the Western Isles.

And despite its services only being on offer for two months, a number of major UK companies have been attracted by Reefnet, based in Aignish on Point, Lewis.

Reefnet has won the backing of Western Isles Enterprise with support under the HIE Starts Scheme, which recently replaced Western Isles New Start. Mr Alex Tearse, who has set up Reefnet with Anne Buchanan, said the HIE Starts scheme had been vitally important not just because of the cash support but also because of the training in company operations and development which was provided as part of the scheme.

Both Mr Tearse and Ms Buchanan used to work for Eolas, formerly a multi-media company which recently shut down its New Media division to concentrate on television work.

Mr Tearse, who lives in Coll and headed the New Media division, decided to set up Reefnet with Ms Buchanan, who stays in Aignish and for the moment the high-tech operation is based at her home.

Mr Tearse formerly worked for a software company called Superscape, dealing with clients like Intel, Microsoft, Lego and the European Commission and then moved to the Islands in 1998.

Ms Buchanan graduated from Lews Castle College in 1999 and was a key developer for Eolas Media. She has also got a range of management experience.

The duo are intending to develop Reefnet into a leading provider of internet services to small and medium sized enterprises in the UK, and to expand their services by the use of subcontracting rather than increasing their low fixed costs by taking on extra full-time staff.

Reefnet offered all the clients of Eolas New Media services the chance to move on to them and this provided an initial customer base when Reefnet began trading on May 1 - but the start-up went even better than expected, with a number of orders for smaller projects from Island-based groups and some big orders from the mainland, including an e-commerce solution for a trading company in Hampshire.

Eolas supported the transfer of the customer base by allowing the duo to take their computer terminals with them when they left. Reefnet is also sponsoring the Lewis Highland Games in Tong in July by providing a special website for the event.

Under the HIE Starts scheme, both Mr Tearse and Ms Buchanan receive £60 a week for 50 weeks to provide some income throughout the start-up period, and a capital grant covering 50 per cent of expenditure up to a maximum of £500. Under the scheme, consideration will be given to any viable project that can contribute to the local economy. Qualifying businesses may be started on a full-time, part-time or seasonal basis.

Mr Tearse said: "The capital grant assistance was particularly useful but the major gain came because as part of the HIE Starts grant, you are are required to attend some courses in running a business." They have been going to "informative and useful" courses run by Training for Development. He said he never thought he would have been able to cope with doing accounts but now he was able to.

WIE Chief Executive Donnie Macaulay said that small and medium sized companies were the lifeblood of the economy on the Western Isles, where a higher proportion of people ran their own enterprises than elsewhere in Scotland. It was vital to provide support to these companies, and particularly to a new local enterprise which was going to be able support other local firms to compete and market themselves better in addition to attracting business from the mainland.


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