Converge shatters ‘entrepreneur’ myth as it launches 2023 challenges

Claudia Cavalluzzo (Converge)

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CONVERGE, the premier company creation initiative for Scotland’s universities and research institutes, is dispelling the myth that you need to call yourself an “entrepreneur” to set up a business as it reveals this year’s challenges.

The initiative – which helps staff, students, and recent graduates to launch businesses – is instead highlighting the impact that founders can have through their companies, both for people and for the planet.

This year’s quartet of challenges – Converge, Create Change, KickStart, and Net Zero, which all open on Wednesday – will help innovative start-ups and spinouts to create products and services that go beyond simply making a profit but also have an impact on people’s lives.

£320,000 in funding and support is available to the winners and runners-up, along with access to the advice, events, and training that make Converge the most-effective company creation initiative in Scotland.

Since it began in 2011, the initiative has helped more than 600 people to launch more than 300 businesses, creating in excess of 800 high-value jobs and raising £280 million in follow-on funding along the way.

Companies launched with its support have a 69% survival rate after three years, compared with a UK average of 40%.

Dr Claudia Cavalluzzo, executive director of Converge, said: “Words like ‘entrepreneur’ and ‘entrepreneurship’ are off-putting for lots of people, especially women and impact-driven individuals.

“Converge wants to help overcome this ‘entrepreneurship’ image problem by broadening the language we all use when we talk about setting up businesses to tackle problems.

“It doesn’t matter whether you call yourself an ‘entrepreneur’ or a ‘founder’ or a ‘creative’ because we don’t care about those labels.

“If you want to make a difference to people’s lives or to the planet then Converge can help you gain the skills and the tools that you need to make it happen.”

As well as working with 18 of Scotland’s higher education institutions, Converge is funded by the Scottish Funding Council, Creative Scotland and ten corporate partners including Cisco, the Royal Bank of Scotland, SIS Ventures, SSE, BeyondHR, Chiene + Tait, CPI, Haseltine Lake Kempner, I4 Product Design, and MBM Commercial.

News of Converge’s 2023 launch and ambition to dispel myths around “entrepreneurialism” comes as one of last year’s winners, LU Innovations, prepares to raise seed funding. 

Erin Reid, 25, an Edinburgh Napier University graduate, created the LU hygiene kit to help adventurers reduce the risk of infections, infertility, and toxic shock during their periods.

As a passionate outdoors enthusiast, she became frustrated at the lack of products and support for women when they have their periods in remote locations.

Her kits are designed for women who find themselves in places without toilets, bathrooms, or hand washing facilities, where good menstrual hygiene would otherwise be difficult.

They enable the storage, application, cleaning, and disposal of menstrual products in a safe, hygienic way, and help to reduce waste.

Erin’s research found that 82%[1] of female soldiers have not received enough information or resources to carry out effective menstrual hygiene when on field exercises or deployment, while 77%[2] of women want better period products.

Outdoor enthusiasts, adventurers, and armed forces personnel are among the most at risk from urinary tract infections (UTIs), toxic shock, or infertility because poor hygiene increases exponentially in remote environments where there is no access to toilets, handwashing facilities, or places to dispose of used menstrual products, Erin pointed out.

LU Innovations won last year’s Converge Create Change Challenge and the Rose Award, a standalone prize sponsored by the Royal Bank of Scotland to help women start businesses.

As well as a £40,000 cash prize and £10,000-worth of business support, Erin won a one-to-one mentoring session with NatWest Group chief executive Alison Rose.

Now, Erin is preparing to raise £200,000 in seed funding and bring on board both a business partner and a non-executive director to help her grow her company.

“Our adventures shouldn’t stop just because our periods start, and the support that I’ve received from Converge will be essential in helping adventurers to continue enjoying the outdoors, even when they’re in remote locations during their periods,” Erin said.

“I love being outdoors – especially cycling, hillwalking, and my time with the University Officer Training Corps – but I’ve always been infuriated by the lack of products, solutions, and education for women who have their periods in remote environments.

“Coming up with the idea for LU was only the start of the journey, but the help that I received both during Converge and as part of its network of alumni afterwards has helped me to take my next steps.

“I can’t wait to start selling my first product, which will mean women can continue enjoying the outdoors because they’ll have their own ‘LU’ to hand even if there’s not a proper ‘loo’ around when they have their period. If you would like to join my mission, get in touch via LU’s website.”

LU Innovations is already working with Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen to further develop its design and with the Medical Device Manufacturing Centre at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh on relevant healthcare standards.

Dr Cavalluzzo added: “Erin and her LU Innovations are great examples of the drive that lies at the heart of Converge – to give everyone the chance to solve a problem, no matter their background or gender.

“Erin spotted a problem that she wanted to fix and teaming up with Converge and our university partners will help her to make a difference in the lives of women around the world.

“Inclusion sits at the heart of Erin and LU’s mission and we want to make this year’s Converge even more inclusive and diverse because everyone deserves the chance to turn their ideas into innovations.

“You don’t need to think of yourself as an ‘entrepreneur’ in order to tackle a problem – Converge can help you to develop the skills you need to set up and run a business.”

As well as the support from Converge, LU Innovations has been helped on its journey by the Bright Red Triangle enterprise skills team at Edinburgh Napier University.

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