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Clean Sweep for Female Entrepreneurs at Converge 2020 Awards

For the first time in its 10 year existence, female entrepreneurs have emerged as winners from the three main ‘Challenge’ categories in the 2020 Converge Awards, Scotland’s annual celebration of academic innovation and entrepreneurship, as Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, praised this year’s Converge cohort as having ‘the very qualities and the mindset that the Scottish Government will continue to encourage and support’.

Ms Sturgeon made the comments in a keynote address which sharply threw the spotlight on 18 emerging businesses who reached this year’s Converge final and with it, an opportunity to showcase their talent and innovations via webcast to a global audience.  

The Converge 2020 ‘virtual’ global Awards saw triumphs for women at the helm of three young businesses with significant potential.

Earth Blox, a University of Edinburgh start-up run by Dr Genevieve Patenaude a Senior Lecturer from the School of Geosciences, won the flagship Converge Challenge Award. Earth Blox aims to remove barriers that currently prevent the widespread adoption of global satellite data and intelligence and to provide better understanding of the profound global impact and concerns around deforestation, urban expansion and large-scale disasters mapping.

The Impact Challenge, sponsored by Social Investment Scotland, was won by Leia Kennedy of Aquaponics Garden from Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC). She co-founded Aquaponics Garden Ltd to offer a scalable, sustainable and profitable indoor farming model that overcomes seasonality. By developing new self-sustaining technology to grow crops in urban areas that convert fish waste into nutrients for plants, Aquaponics Garden hopes to reduce the impact of food production on the environment.

Elena Höge, a Design and Digital Media Masters graduate from the University of Edinburgh, secured the top prize for the Creative Challenge thanks to her newly founded start up, Yaldi Games, an interactive and educational nature experience game production company.

Converge Challenge winner, Dr Genevieve Patenaude, was thrilled with winning the top prize of £71,000 in equity free cash and in-kind business support. Genevieve highlighted the importance of timely information in mitigating natural disasters and believes that Earth Blox can offer fundamental improvements to tackling and preventing the damage caused by climate change.

She comments;

“Winning the Converge Challenge will allow us to fast track our vision of democratising planetary scale satellite intelligence, so it becomes accessible to a whole suite of organisations dealing with humanitarian and disaster relief.

Converge has been a wonderful journey for us and winning on this milestone tenth anniversary is something I shall always cherish.”   

This year’s Converge final was hosted directly from Doha, Qatar by Scottish news presenter Halla Mohieddeen. She welcomed a number of guest speakers including a keynote address by Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who joined multi-award-winning environmental entrepreneur, Kresse Wesling MBE, co-founder of sustainable British fashion brand, Elvis & Kresse, Professor Andrea Nolan OBE, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Edinburgh Napier University.

Susan Fouquier, Managing Director, Business Banking, Royal Bank of Scotland announced the winner of the inaugural ‘Rose Award’, presented to an aspiring, ambitious female entrepreneur from this year’s Converge cohort. The Rose Award was won by Leia Kennedy of Aquaponics Garden from SRUC making her a double winner on the night. Leia’s prize will include a one-to-one mentoring session with Alison Rose, Chief Executive of NatWest Group.

In a video address, Nicola Sturgeon, The First Minister of Scotland, was fulsome in her praise of this year’s event despite the pandemic restrictions and remarked on how Converge is now recognised as a significant economic driver for Scotland.

In extending her congratulating to this year’s cohort, The First Minister commented;

“It is highly commendable that Converge alumni have established around 200 new companies since it started in 2010, adding more than £20 million to Scotland’s economy last year alone. Together they have helped to create more than 500 jobs in a range of key sectors.

We know that innovation is vital to our economic future to help us meet some of the great challenges of our time.   We want Scotland to be at the forefront of meeting these kinds of global challenges by designing and inventing the advances which will shape all of our futures. That’s why we have increased Government funding for Research and Development and why we are supporting Innovation Centres in areas such as precision medicine, biotechnology and big data.”

Claudia Cavalluzzo, Director of Converge, comments:

“The standard of entries continues to reach new heights. Unquestionably, the growth of Converge is proof positive that the entrepreneurial mindset is alive and well across our university sector.

Of course, this year has unquestionably been a challenge for us all. Despite university campuses being in lockdown, the making of an entrepreneur lies in the unerring ability to overcome any obstacle and push on regardless.” At Converge, we’ve seen this time and time again.

This year’s winners are:

Award CategoryNameProject NameUniversityPrize
Converge Challenge WinnerGenevieve PatenaudeEarth BloxUniversity of Edinburgh£50,000 cash and £21,000 in-kind support)
Converge Challenge Runner-upRobyn HickersonTen BioUniversity of Dundee(£20,000 cash and £9,000 in-kind support))
Creative Challenge WinnerElena Höge Yaldi GamesUniversity of Edinburgh£20,000 cash (plus £21,000 in kind support)
Creative Challenge – Runner-upRobbie MacIsaacMacIsaac LimitedUniversity of Strathclyde£10,000 cash (plus £9,000 in kind support)
Impact Challenge WinnerLeia Kennedy  Aquaponics GardenSRUC£20,000 cash (plus £15,000 in-kind support)
Impact Challenge Runner-upFraser StewartConnex SolarUniversity of Strathclyde£10,000 cash (plus £9,000 in-kind support)