A brush with brilliance: National Galleries plays host to academic ingenuity

Inside Innovation, Scotland’s hottest showcase of academic ingenuity, returned to Edinburgh last night with a dazzling display of cutting-edge ideas, inventions and solutions. 

Hosted by Converge, Scotland’s springboard for university innovators, this year’s event took place at the National Galleries of Scotland and unveiled a treasure trove of novel solutions tackling real-word problems from climate change and plastic pollution to food waste and financial fraud.

Designed to give emerging entrepreneurs the opportunity to distil and articulate their business proposition in front of a live audience, the event featured quick-fire pitches from 50 semi-finalists in the Converge, Create Change and Net Zero Challenge categories. In addition to the pitches, the evening featured insights and updates from three former Converge winners leading businesses that benefit the environment as well as making money. They included Lidia Krzynowek of Carbogenics, a business turning difficult to recycle organic waste and biomass into carbon-rich, Biochar; Niall McGrath of Robocean, a pioneering start-up mechanising seagrass restoration to improve marine biodiversity and Rosie Bristow of Fantasy Fibre Mill, a start-up connecting regenerative agriculture to ethical fashion.

The pitches were judged by a panel of business experts from Converge’s partner network including Gianna Huhn, Head of Academic Partnerships at SSE; Siobhan Moore, Senior Investment Manager at SIS Ventures and Ian Smith, Head of Investor Partnerships at CPI Enterprises with three cash prizes up for grabs in each challenge category.  

Taking ‘Best Pitch’ and £500 in the Converge Challenge category was Matthew Moore from the University of St Andrews with DroneTector, an advanced drone detection radar aiming to counter the dangerous and disruptive use of small drones.

In the Create Change Challenge category, Lizzie Smith from the University of Edinburgh won Best Pitch and £500 for Gradatim,  a project helping parents and caregivers to deliver complex disability and illness-related news to very young children through picture books.

Winning over the judges and scooping £500 in the Net Zero Challenge category was Chris Fowler from the University of Strathclyde with Airspection, a start-up providing reliable and safe drone services for hard-to-reach infrastructure.

The 200-strong audience included senior academic staff, investors, entrepreneurs, Converge funders and partners and marked the culmination of a full week of intensive business training and pitch coaching for this year’s Converge cohort. In the next phase of the programme, semi-finalists will submit a business plan with the best ideas going forward to the Converge Awards final on 3 October 2024. 

Claudia CavalluzzoExecutive Director of Converge comments: 

“Pitching is a crucial skill for entrepreneurs, especially those seeking funding to grow their businesses. That’s why our training programme incorporates pitching as a core element, and why Inside Innovation – our annual event dedicated to the art of the pitch – remains a firm fixture in the Converge calendar.

But there’s more to this event than just mastering the pitch. It’s an incredible opportunity and indeed, a privilege, to be surrounded by ground-breaking ideas and discoveries with the potential to reshape our world. Witnessing such innovation first hand is a testament to the vibrancy of our Scottish university sector, a fact we should all celebrate.

Huge congratulations to all our brave and fearless pitchers, and particularly to this year’s pitch winners as they were up against some formidable competition.”