New innovations emerging from Scotland’s universities could change life as we know it

Dr Claudia Cavalluzzo, Director of Converge
  • Approx 90 academic entrepreneurs now through to Converge 2021 semi-finals
  • Leading firm of accountants, Chiene + Tait, joins the Converge family

A NOVEL vaccine production platform that could prove decisive in the battle against Streptococcus; a fun, social robot designed to promote and instil handwashing behaviour in schoolchildren and an electric alternative to the jet engine to enable sustainable flight – these are just some of the revolutionary ideas that have made it to the 2021 semi-finals of Converge, Scotland’s largest company creation programme for the university sector.

Academic entrepreneurs from across Scotland’s university sector are now through to the next stage of the Converge programme. Split across four challenge categories – Converge, Creative, Impact and KickStart – all 18 of Scotland’s universities are represented in the final shortlist. In a reflection of the current Covid crisis and the ongoing climate-change emergency, the three dominant themes among this year’s semi-finalists are the life sciences, wellbeing and net zero. 

In the life sciences are a number of projects that could help democratise the availability of life saving medicines by significantly reducing their production costs.  Among them is Helge Dorfmueller, a University of Dundee lecturer, who has created RhaPSeda, a novel vaccine production platform that could prove decisive in the battle against StrepA, a contagious bacteria that kills 500,000 people annually, mainly from low-income countries. 

Despite a 100-year hunt for a vaccine, none currently exists with the pathogen showing increasing signs of antibiotic resistance. RhapSeda’s patented technology significantly reduces manufacturing costs, taking us a step closer to a worldwide solution to this global killer.

In the wellbeing space is Yvonne Wryoslawska, a graduate from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, who is looking to harness the power of music to address postnatal depression which affects between 10-15% of new mums in the UK.

Meanwhile, Mako Aerospace Ltd, founded by University of Strathclyde graduate, Kieran Duncan, is one of a number of net zero focused projects to make it through to this year’s semi-finals.  The company is on a mission to create the engine technologies required for sustainable flight with their first product, an electric alternative to the jet engine, reducing aircraft fuel costs by up to 60% and enabling all-electric flights on today’s battery technology.

This year’s cohort also includes early-stage projects on the very first steps of the commercialisation journey. A clear trend this year is for projects with an environmental mission at their heart including renewable biomass briquettes, an advanced robotic system that sifts out contaminants at recycling centres and natural plant-based yarns for sustainable fashion which are homegrown and spun in the UK.

Commenting on this year’s cohort announcement Dr Claudia Cavalluzzo, Director of Converge, said:

“I’m always amazed at the inventiveness and creativity of the projects coming through Converge and, despite the difficult times we’re experiencing, this year is no exception.

Starting a business right now might seem counterintuitive. However, as the history books show, difficult business environments can offer rich opportunities with moments of crisis serving as a powerful impetus for innovation. We can’t wait to get started and would like to congratulate all our semi-finalists on getting through to this stage”

This year’s cohort will now attend intensive business training followed by a series of masterclasses from Converge’s network of professional advisors.

Joining the Converge partner network this year is leading firm of accountants, Chiene + Tait who, under a three-year agreement led by partner Neil Norman from the firm’s Entrepreneurial Tax Team, will support both emerging and more established entrepreneurs on key tax and finance issues as well as wider business matters.

Commenting on the new partnership, Dr Cavalluzzo, said:

“Our professional partners play a vital role by providing invaluable, free advice to our cohort and alumni community to set them up for success. Chiene + Tait bring a wealth of expertise and have an unrivalled reputation in the early-stage investment space so we are absolutely over the moon to welcome them to the Converge family”

Neil Norman said: “This is an exciting partnership with Converge, an initiative which continues to get bigger and better. We’re delighted to have this opportunity to work alongside the group’s other highly regarded corporate partners to further support their extensive network of entrepreneurs behind innovative university spin-out businesses.

Chiene + Tait’s expertise in tax and financial matters along with our in-depth experience in supporting businesses with high growth potential brings real value to this partnership”

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