"It's unbelievable. When I got the news, my hands started shaking and I was in heaven. I'm still in heaven."
This was the response of Artur Steinerowski, a doctoral student at the UHI, the prospective University of the Highlands and Islands, after beating hundreds of established academics to a prestigious international research award for his work on social entrepreneurship.
Mr Steinerowski, from Gliwice in Poland, is in the third and final year of a PhD at the Centre for Rural Health at UHI. He first came to Inverness for a year as an Erasmus exchange student in business administration and thought he would never follow his dream of studying in the UK because of overseas student fees. But in 2004, while he was studying for a masters degree at the Technical University of Opole, Poland joined the European Union.
Mr Steinerowski joined the University of Aberdeen for the third year of the business management programme, gaining masters degrees from both institutions. He then heard about an opportunity to do PhD research at UHI.
His doctorate, on the growing importance of rural social enterprise in supporting healthcare and welfare services, is sponsored by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Scottish Government's economic and community development agency for the region.
"Voluntary organisations rely on subsidies and grants," he said. "Social enterprise operates as a commercial business, generating income through trade or services, but money is just the tool. The first aim is the social mission."
Last year, Mr Steinerowski was delighted when his abstract was accepted for the annual entrepreneurship conference run by Babson College in Massachusetts. Of 534 abstracts submitted from 38 countries, only half were accepted. And he was stunned when his paper, "Who are the social entrepreneurs and what do they do?", won Babson's Lewis Institute Award. It will be published in leading journal Frontiers of Entrepreneurship Research this spring. He has been invited to this year's conference to receive the award.
He has found that social entrepreneurs tend to be driven individuals who want to create a better world by helping the needy. But he argues that while their ethos differs from that of their commercial counterparts, they promote social change through business skills and knowledge and should therefore be classified as entrepreneurs.
Jane Farmer, UHI's professor of rural health policy and management and Mr Steinerowski's director of studies, said: "It was a great distinction to be chosen to present a paper at the Babson conference, but winning the award is very special indeed."