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Academic innovation takes centre stage at Converge Awards 2021

A new company developing medicines for patients with debilitating chronic conditions; an innovative digital platform bringing the craft of knitting into the 21st century; a lightweight robotic glove empowering patients with hand weakness – these are just some of the ideas that triumphed at the Converge Awards, Scotland’s annual celebration of academic innovation and entrepreneurship.

Broadcast online and streamed live from a production studio in Edinburgh on Thursday 30 September, the event showcased 27 finalists with breakthrough projects across a diverse range of sectors including technology and engineering; the creative industries; the life sciences and healthcare. Competing across four challenge categories – KickStart, Creative, Impact and Converge – and with a total prize pot of £300,000 up for grabs – eight of Scotland’s most promising academic entrepreneurs walked away with significant prize packages to fund their new ventures. Additionally, and in recognition of their achievement in reaching the latter stages of the competition, each KickStart finalist received £500 with £2,000 going to each Creative, Impact and Converge finalist.

The top prize of the night totalling £74,200 in cash and in-kind business support went to University of Strathclyde graduate, Mallikarjun Chityala, who triumphed in the coveted Converge Challenge category with Fitabeo Therapeutics Ltd, a pharmaceutical company developing new medicines to support patients with advanced incurable diseases when it matters most.  Around the world, over 11 million people in palliative care suffer from moderate severe pain, often challenged by swallowing difficulty.  Fitabeo’s breakthrough, patented technology enables precision drug delivery via oral thin films for both immediate and controlled release.

On winning the prize, Mallikarjun Chityala commented;

“As a finalist, I was obviously hopeful of winning Converge Challenge but for it to actually happen is incredible – particularly as the competition was so strong. However, this win isn’t just about me but the culmination of a true team effort built on hard work, innovative science, industry know-how and strong industry relationships.  We think we have a phenomenal opportunity to help people across the world living with chronic conditions and we’re so glad the judges agreed.  Just knowing that gives us great confidence for the future.”  

Winning the Creative Challenge category and a prize package of over £40,000 was Lucy Fisher, a graduate from Robert Gordon University with Knit It, an innovative platform aiming to revolutionise the age-old craft of knitting with digital knitting patterns and online tutorials.

Coming top in the Impact Challenge category was University of Edinburgh graduate, Ross O’Hanlon, with BioLiberty, a biotech start-up developing a robotic glove using Artificial Ingelligence (AI) that could help millions of people recover muscle grip in their hands. Ross wins £34,900 in equity-free cash and in-kind business support to fund his business venture.

The winner of the KickStart Challenge, an early-stage category sponsored by the Royal Bank of Scotland with a £10,000 cash prize, went to University of Edinburgh graduate, Thomas Cartwright, with DeepQA, a web application that uses AI to improve the quality, reliability and efficiency of software testing

This year’s Converge final was hosted by broadcast journalist, Rhona McLeod, and attended by 200+ guests including university principals, investors, entrepreneurs and the wider entrepreneurial ecoystem. The evening featured a packed line-up of speakers including a live ministerial address from Kate Forbes, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy who also announced the winner and runner-up in the Converge Challenge category. Joining in the studio for a Q&A style interview was Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne, founder of Genius Foods, the UK’s leading gluten-free bread brand. Other guest speakers included Professor Iain Gillespie, Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of Dundee; Paul Thwaite, CEO of Commercial Banking at the NatWest Group; Alistair Phillips-Davies, Chief Executive of SSE and Chintan Patel, CTO of Cisco UK & Ireland.

In addition to the challenge category prizes, three special standalone awards were presented to deserving winners from this year’s Converge cohort. They included Jodie Sinclair, a University of Dundee graduate who won this year’s Royal Bank of Scotland Rose Award with her sports recovery wearable, Theo Health. Designed to boost female entrepreneurship in Scotland, the Rose Award prize package includes £10,000 in cash plus a money-can’t-buy mentoring session with NatWest Chief Executive, Alison Rose.

The Cisco Future Tech Award, a prize sponsored by technology giant, Cisco, went to Jonathan Feldstein from the University of Edinburgh with, a Robotics-AI company using AI to create the world’s smartest bin. Designed to sort waste automatically, Jonathan’s innovation will help to address the growing issue of waste contamination which is driving up costs and sending over half a million tonnes of recycling to landfill in the UK alone. Jonathan wins £5,000 in cash plus a package of tailored support from Cisco including technology, advice and mentoring.

The last standalone prize of the evening, the SSE Net Zero Award, went to Ken Morrow, a graduate from Robert Gordon University with Hydrowheel, the world’s first inflatable waterwheel. Designed for easy installation across the developed and developing world, the technology generates affordable, accessible, renewable energy without causing harm to local ecosystems.  The prize, sponsored by low carbon energy company, SSE and presented on the night by SSE Chief Executive, Alistair Phillips-Davies, includes £20,000 in cash plus a package of in-kind business benefits.

In a live ministerial address Kate Forbes, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy, praised this year’s Converge cohort for their resilience in overcoming the recent crisis and remarked on how Converge is now a recognised economic force for Scotland. 

In extending her congratulations to this year’s cohort, Economy Secretary Kate Forbes said:

“All of the finalists and nominees demonstrated outstanding talent, drive, and creativity. I was incredibly proud to announce the winners and support the Converge awards.

“The ideas and spin off businesses emerging from Scottish universities are world class and we want to encourage and support more innovative, entrepreneurial and sustainable economic growth in this area.”

Claudia Cavalluzzo, Director of Converge, comments:

“Our university sector has experienced a difficult year with uncertainty regarding return to campus and budgets, international students and research projects.

However, despite all the odds our institutions have risen to the challenge with ingenious ideas and ground-breaking innovations that have the power to transform not just our economy but people’s lives and also the planet.

The sheer ingenuity and creativity of this year’s Converge winners and finalists show just how innovative we can be as a nation which gives me great hope for our post-pandemic recovery”.

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 in helping Converge alumni businesses on their journey to success.  They include Cisco, SSE, The Royal Bank of Scotland and CPI Enterprises.

Full details on the winners are listed below:

Award CategoryNameProject NameUniversityPrize
Converge Challenge WinnerMallikarjun ChityalaFitabeo Therapeutics LtdStrathclyde£50,000 cash and £24,200 in-kind support
Converge Challenge Runner-upStuart HannahMicroplate DxStrathclyde£20,000 cash and £10,920 in-kind support
Creative Challenge WinnerLucy FisherKnit ItRobert Gordon£20,000 cash and £20,700 in-kind support
Creative Challenge – Runner-upJonathan O’NeillMake Your Own MusicalsRoyal Conservatoire of Scotland£10,000 cash and £9,420 in-kind support
Impact Challenge WinnerRoss O’HanlonBioLibertyEdinburgh£20,000 cash and £14,900 in-kind support
Impact Challenge Runner-upRuth CrozierSilver Lion Innovations LtdStrathclyde£10,000 cash and £8,280 in-kind support
KickStart Challenge WinnerThomas CartwrightDeepQAEdinburgh£10,000 cash
KickStart Challenge Runner-upJoe GibsonGibson RoboticsStrathclyde£5,000 cash
Royal Bank of Scotland Rose Award WinnerJodie SinclairTheo HealthDundee£10,000 cash
Cisco Future Tech AwardJonathan Feldsteinbennui.AiEdinburgh£5,000 cash
SSE Net Zero Award WinnerKen MorrowHydrowheelRobert Gordon£20,000 cash

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