Scotland’s Got Talent: Top academic innovators reach the finals of Converge 2021

Kate Forbes, MSP

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THE finalists for Converge 2021, Scotland’s largest entrepreneurial development programme for the university sector, have been revealed. Exemplifying the cream of Scotland’s innovation pool, and hailing from institutions across the nation, 28 academic entrepreneurs are now through to the Converge Awards Final which takes place on 30 September 2021.

Drawn from four challenge categories – Converge, Creative, Impact, and KickStart – and representing entrepreneurs across all sectors and stages of development – finalists will now compete for a slice of the £300,000 prize pot of equity-free cash and in-kind business support. New for this year, and regardless of whether they emerge as winners, all finalists will receive a cash prize to help fund their new ventures.  This includes £2,000 for each Converge, Creative, and Impact Challenge finalist and £500 for each KickStart Challenge finalist.

Problem-solvers by nature, this year’s cohort of finalists include businesses with solutions to the growing climate crisis but also to animal and human health. In the Converge Challenge category, this includes Markus Rondé from the University of Edinburgh with Exergy 3, a low-cost, thermal energy storage technology that has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions of thermal power plants by up to 70%. Also, in the Converge category, is Stuart Hannah from the University of Strathclyde with Microplate Dx, a rapid, low-cost antibiotic susceptibility test designed to improve patient care, mitigate antibiotic resistance, and facilitate better antibiotic stewardship. 

Some of the entries hoping to come out as winners in the Creative Challenge include Jo-Anne Tait and Barry Robertson from Robert Gordon University. Jo-Anne’s business, an immersive technology company creating products to support inclusive engagement in the arts, has developed,’SeatViewer,’ an online app enabling people with access issues to see the view from any seat in any venue, helping them to plan-ahead, by choosing the most appropriate seat for their needs. Meanwhile, Barry Robertson has created ‘The Grey Hill,’ a multimedia tech-based company providing international audiences with accessible theatre content.

Competing in the Impact Challenge category is Ruth Crozier from the University of Strathclyde with Silver Lion Innovations, a digital health solutions business which has developed a ‘smart’ mattress topper powered by technology that safely turns people with mobility issues in bed. Also in the Impact category is Erin Reid from Edinburgh Napier University who is addressing the unmet need of female military personnel with an easy-to-use product for managing their periods when out on exercises or deployed in the field.

In the early-stage KickStart Challenge category, designed for entrepreneurs on the first steps of the commercialisation journey, some of the innovations going through to the finals include an in-vitro drug screening platform to improve pre-clinical drug testing; a state-of-the-art medical imaging device improving patient outcomes through AI-enhanced diabetic foot care management and software testing technology that uses AI to improve the quality, reliability and efficiency of software testing.

This year’s Converge final will be filmed live and hosted by broadcast journalist, Rhona McLeod. Guest speakers – joining both virtually and live in the studio – include world record-breaking biologist, conservationist and explorer, Sacha Dench and Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Kate Forbes MSP.

Claudia Cavalluzzo, Converge Director comments:

“If you had any doubts about the strength of university-led innovation in Scotland, particularly given the setbacks of the last 18 months, then this year’s Converge finalists quickly dispel those. Despite all the odds, the quality, creativity and sheer ingenuity of their business ideas is nothing short of exceptional and should give us great hope – not just for our economy but for people and planet too.

Turning problems into opportunities is what entrepreneurs do best – even seemingly insurmountable problems like climate change. With COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference, just around the corner, it’s great to see that Scotland’s university sector is rising to the challenge and creating a new generation of solutions that will one day turn the tide on the growing climate crisis”

Converge is funded by the Scottish Funding Council, all 18 Scottish universities, Creative Scotland and a roster of partners and sponsors – all of whom lend their invaluable expertise and knowledge to helping Converge businesses on their journey to success. They include Cisco, SSE, the Royal Bank of Scotland and CPI Enterprises.  

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