The Converge Awards, Scotland’s annual celebration of academic innovation and entrepreneurship for staff, students and recent graduates across all Scottish Universities, took place on last night (Wednesday 25th September) at the V&A in Dundee.
The annual quest to find the country’s most promising academic entrepreneurs with innovative and commercially-viable business ideas was attended by 200 guests including university principals, investors, entrepreneurs and the wider business eco-system. The evening showcased 18 finalists – over half of them women – with an impressive and diverse range of projects across health care, the creative industries, renewables and food security.
The evening belonged to Dr Andrew Woodland from the University of Dundee with new drug discovery company, In4Derm, who won first prize in the coveted Converge Challenge category. In4Derm re-engineers oral drugs and turn them into novel topical drugs to help patients suffering from skin diseases improving their quality of life.
On winning the prize, Andrew Woodland commented:
“To emerge as winner from the final eight-strong field of exceptionally talented innovators is truly humbling and the most amazing confidence-building boost any academic entrepreneur could have! Plus the prize package will really help me to develop the business – not just from a financial perspective, but also the amazing network that comes with it.”
The runner-up prize for the Converge Challenge category was taken by Dr Fiona Rudkin from the University of Aberdeen with Mycobiologics.
Mycobiologics is focussed on bringing new, life saving therapeutics to market to fight bacterial and fungal infections that are currently resistant to available treatments.
The Impact Challenge category was won by Faisal Ghani from Heriot-Watt University with SolarisKit – a flat-packable, solar collector providing clean energy in the form of hot water. As well as tackling climate change head on, the technology is empowering some of the world’s poorest people by providing access to low-cost, clean heat.
The runner-up was Jamie Bankhead with Konglomerate Games, a game developer specialising in gamification in healthcare from Abertay University. The company’s current prototype – designed in partnership with Microsoft – turns the daily chore of physiotherapy exercies for children with cystic fibrosis into a series of fun computer games.
The newly introduced Creative Challenge category, part-funded by The National Lottery through Creative Scotland, was won by ‘architect-turned-entrepreneur’ Pooja Katara of SENSEcity Ltd, a new-age travel guide using augmented reality and immersive technology to bring to life stories from the distant past that remain tucked away in the corners of Glasgow.
Runner-up was Marwa Ebrahim of Atypical Cosmetics Ltd, who offers bespoke skincare to people with allergies using AI customisation technology. Through Atypical Cosmetics’ online service, customers will be able to select the ingredients in their facial moisturisers to ensure allergy-safe beauty products.
Both Pooja’s and Marwa’s projects are joint ventures between the University of Glasgow and The Glasgow School of Art demonstrating, once again, the power of collaboration.
The speaker line-up at the event included Richard Lochhead MSP, Minister for Further Education; Poonam Gupta OBE, CEO of PG Papers; Professor George Boyne, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen and former Converge alumnus, Christopher McCann of Current Health.
This year for the first time ever, all 18 Scottish Universities have joined forces with the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) to pledge financial support for Converge, with SFC earmarking over £1 million funding to cover the next three years. Further additional support has been pledged by The National Lottery through Creative Scotland for the new ‘Creative’ Challenge.
Claudia Cavalluzzo, Director of Converge, said:
“As ever, Converge has produced exceptional winners and finalists this year. Many congratulations to them all. What we have seen again this year is the incredible collective talent of our Universities to create transformative, game-changing innovations that have the power to change people’s lives for the better. From disrupting the healthcare market to novel, low cost solar energy collector, Scotland’s Universities have set a new bar for innovation.”
Richard Lochhead MSP, Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, who presented trophies to winners in the Impact and Creative Challenge categories, comments;
“Warmest congratulations to winner Andrew Woodland from the University of Dundee, on the success of his ground-breaking drugs firm In4Derm. The overall entrants to Converge this year were outstanding and once again demonstrates Scotland’s strengths in academic innovation and entrepreneurship.
Building on the ‘CAN DO’ agenda, the Scottish Government will continue to support academia-industry collaboration to boost Scotland’s innovative performance.”
Converge is Scotland’s leading entrepreneurial development programme for staff, students and recent graduates of Scottish Universities and Research Institutes. Converge represents all of Scotland’s Universities and Research Institutes, demonstrating a strong collaborative enterprise agenda in Scotland. The programme has trained 300 aspiring academic entrepreneurs and supported over 200 businesses, with an overall 84% survival rate.