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Scotland’s top academic innovators celebrated at Converge awards

Scotland’s top academic innovators were celebrated recently at the Converge Awards ceremony in Edinburgh, with life sciences innovations dominating alongside start-ups in various technology, product design and net zero-related fields. 

Professor Rebecca Goss, founder of X-Genix, a biotech start-up in the process of spinning out from the University of St Andrews was named the overall Converge Challenge winner scooping the top prize of the night totalling £69,000 in equity-free cash and in-kind business support.

X-Genix is revolutionising the way that medicines are made by transforming the process of halogenation. Fundamental to drug discovery, halogenation is currently expensive, time-consuming, low yielding and wasteful, creating numerous toxic by-products.

The company’s game-changing technology is faster, cheaper and greener using sea salt as its starting material. Already in talks with global pharmaceutical companies, X-Genix’s innovation will accelerate drug discovery, a market estimated at over $250billion each year, fast tracking new drugs including antibiotics to the global marketplace.

Professor Goss was recognised by the Converge Challenge judging panel for her passion for chemistry and “ability to articulate not just the importance of her discovery but also the economic and health impact of its applications”. She was also lauded for her “brilliant team, network, and connection to the global pharmaceutical industry which will boost its future success”. 

Cabinet Secretary for Education & Skills, Shirley-Anne Somerville, who presented Professor Goss with the Converge Challenge Award said: “The Converge Awards are an excellent example of what can be achieved when research, innovation and an entrepreneurial mind-set come together and work toward a common goal. From biotech to product innovation, this year’s winners have demonstrated outstanding talent and creativity and I congratulate all those that took part in this year’s awards for their efforts. 

“Building on the foundations we already have in place in Scotland – world-class universities, cutting-edge research, and an active investment market – our National Strategy for Economic Transformation will embed a culture in which entrepreneurship is encouraged, supported, and celebrated. This approach will ensure that the creativity, ingenuity and determination needed for a start-up nation will create an economy that works for all.”

The Converge Challenge runner-up prize was won by Professor Emanuele Trucco and veteran CEO David Bowie of Eye to the Future, a collaboration between the University of Dundee and the University of Edinburgh.

Underpinned by over 20 years of research, Eye to the Future’s software enables the early detection of glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy, the leading cause of blindness, from a simple eye exam. By improving diagnostic accuracy, the technology will also reduce patient referrals for suspected eye conditions helping health providers, such as the NHS, channel their resources more efficiently. 

Other winners included Edinburgh Napier University graduate, Erin Reid of LU Innovations – a menstrual hygiene start-up designing period products for women who enjoy outdoor activities or who work in remote environments. Erin won both the Create Change Challenge and the Rose Award, a special standalone prize sponsored by The Royal Bank of Scotland designed to boost female entrepreneurship in Scotland. Erin’s joint prize package included £40,000 in equity-free cash, over £10,000 of in-kind business support and a one-to-one mentoring session with Alison Rose, NatWest Group CEO and author of the Rose Review on female entrepreneurship.

Winning the Net Zero Challenge, a category sponsored by SSE, was University of Edinburgh undergraduate, Niall McGrath, founder of Robocean. Niall’s prize package included £30,000 of equity-free cash and over £17,000 of in-kind business support.

Robocean focuses on restoring endangered seagrass meadows – one of nature’s most effective carbon capture solutions – using autonomous and remotely operated subsea robotics. By mechanising the restoration process and lowering workforce costs, the company plans to rewild the world’s oceans to tackle climate change at the source.

Claudia Cavalluzzo, executive director at Converge, said: “Each of our finalists this year brought their A-game, leaving all of us and our judges in awe of their innovation, passion and utter brilliance. Our 15 winners and runners-up have created game-changing innovations that will make a real difference to health, the environment, society, and more. 

“Our winners join an enviable set who have gone on to create not only successful companies but, in many cases, life-changing innovations. While our awards last night marked the end of the 2022 Converge programme, the work of our winners and wider cohort is very far from over as their journey continues towards commercialisation – helped in no small part, we hope, by the cash prizes they have picked up this evening. It is now time for our 2022 cohort to move onto the next level of success – and our team and I will be eagerly following their progress.”

Further awards were presented to:

  • Jessica Birt of Concinnity Genetics, from the University of Edinburgh, who won the KickStart Challenge. Using its own artificial intelligence (AI), Concinnity Genetics is looking to increase clinical trial precision by ensuring gene therapy is active only in the right place at the right time, accelerating development times and advancing success of clinical trials. 
  • There were also runners-up prizes in the KickStart Challenge for Roma Gibb from the University of the Highlands & Islands with Person Centred Solutions and Sofia Ferreira-Gonzalez from the University of Edinburgh with SensiBile.
  • Mike Huang founder of Rigpa from the University of Edinburgh won the Cisco Future Tech Award for his next-generation AI chip company.
  • Hua Wang, founder of Scent No. M from the University of Glasgow, won the inaugural IBioIC Award for his ‘microbial fragrance’ which aims to expand scent catalogues by replacing the harvest of essential oils from plants to those from microbes. 

Speakers at the awards ceremony included Professor Sir Jim McDonald, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Strathclyde; Mark Logan, Scotland’s Chief Entrepreneur; Dr Caroline Barelle, CEO of Elasmogen; and Cabinet Secretary for Education & Skills, Shirley-Anne Somerville. 

Full list of winners

Converge Challenge:

ProjectNameUniversity Prize
X-GenixRebecca GossUniversity of St AndrewsWinner – £50,000 equity-free cash &
£19,750 in-kind business support
Eye to the FutureEmanuele Trucco Joint project with the University of Dundee and the University of EdinburghRunner up – £20,000 equity-free cash & £9,000 of in-kind business support

Create Change Challenge:

LU InnovationsErin ReidEdinburgh Napier UniversityWinner – £30,000 in equity-free cash &
£10,250 in business support
Everybody CountsAndrew RidgwayRobert Gordon UniversityRunner up – £10,000 in equity-free cash & £4,250 in business support
MetacarpalFergal MackieUniversity of StrathclydeRunner up – £10,000 in equity-free cash & £4,250 in business support

Net Zero Challenge:

Robocean Niall McGrathUniversity of EdinburghWinner – £30,000 in equity-free cash &
£17,750 in business support
bennu.aiJonathan FeldsteinUniversity of EdinburghRunner up – £10,000 in equity-free cash & £9,000 in business support

KickStart Challenge:

Concinnity Genetics Jessica BirtUniversity of EdinburghWinner – £10,000 in equity-free cash
Person Centred SolutionsRoma GibbUniversity of the Highlands & IslandsRunner up – £7,500 in equity-free cash
SensiBileSofia Ferreira-GonzalezUniversity of Edinburgh Runner up – £7,500 in equity-free cash
IncluNick FitzpatrickUniversity of DundeeSpecial award – Wellbeing Award – win £5,000 in equity-free cash
Abandoned ArtistsAlena RogozhkinaUniversity of StirlingSpecial award – Entrepreneurial Spirit Award – win £5,000 in equity-free cash
Vertical ForestKimia WitteThe Glasgow School of ArtSpecial award – Climate Action Award – win £5,000 in equity-free cash

Standalone Awards:

RigpaMike HuangUniversity of EdinburghCisco Future Tech Award:
£10,000 equity-free cash & package of business support including technology, mentoring and advice
LU InnovationsErin ReidEdinburgh Napier UniversityRoyal Bank of Scotland Rose Award:
£10,000 equity-free cash plus private one to one meeting
with NatWest Group CEO, Alison Rose
Scent No. MHua WangUniversity of GlasgowIBioIC Award: 
£20,000 in project funding for the university where the project originated; a dedicated IBioIC account manager and
a free membership to IBioIC