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The Stars of Scottish Innovation Shine Bright at the Converge Challenge Awards

Carbogenics, a spin out the from University of Edinburgh has secured the coveted first prize at the 2018 Converge Challenge awards with their innovative waste solution. Turning low value paper waste products into a carbon-rich material, their revolutionary product CreChar improves biogas production and enhances digestate as a sustainable alternative to energy-intense mineral fertilisers

The annual celebration of innovation and entrepreneurship for Scottish academia took place yesterday in Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms. Over £160,000 worth of prizes was awarded to 10 entrepreneurs from Universities and Research Institutes from across Scotland at the gala awards, which were attended by over 200 representatives from higher education, the investment community, and the Scottish entrepreneurial ecosystem. The evening showcased an impressive diversity of projects ranging from new circular economy models to web engines for charity shops to novel antifungal drugs and reusable sanitary pads.

The winner, Carbogenics, was born at The University of Edinburgh out of a desire to transfer knowledge arising from many years of research in the areas of biogas and biochar and to create products that help promote carbon sequestration while reducing the impact of climate change.

Lidia Krzynowek had this to say:

“Jan and I are over the moon. Winning Converge Challenge represents a huge step in our company’s growth. The financial and business support provided by Converge Challenge will enable us to test the production of CreChar on a large scale, raise our profile and make Carbogenics investment ready.”

Second prize goes to Peter Orrell from MycoNourish, a business that harnesses the power of beneficial microbes to improve crop production. The new technology not only increases yields but also improves the margins for farmers and crop producers who, in the current climate are seeing their margins shrinking. Peter’s is the first spin-out form the James Hutton Institute to secure a Converge Challenge prize.

The Design and Creativity Award

This award was presented to Kenoteq from Heriot-Watt University.  Kenoteq produces different coloured bricks made from 90% recycled materials from construction waste. Once discarded, Kenoteq can reuse this material and ensure that less waste reaches landfill. A fantastically creative venture and example of design thinking and innovation in the circular economy.

KickStart Award

The KickStart Award category that recognises promising early stage projects had two winners this year. Winning the Royal Bank of Scotland funded £5,000 prize for the best start-up project is Crover Ltd from the University of Edinburgh. Crover is bringing to market the first robotic device able to move within stored grains and measure conditions, enabling grain owners to minimise losses.

Also receiving £5,000, this time sponsored by Talent Spark, was HiRes Solutions from the University of Heriot-Watt for best early stage spin-out company. HiRes Solutions is developing a software for ultrasound image processing that provides highly detailed maps of the circulation of tumours, thus allowing for faster and better cancer diagnostics.

Social Enterprise Award

The Social Enterprise Award category, supported by Social Investment Scotland in collaboration with Weber Shandwick, focuses on ideas that will have a positive impact on wider social and environmental issues. The first prize was snapped up by One Cherry from the University of Edinburgh.

One Cherry has developed an online marketplace for second-hand shops.

The runner-up is Health Design Collective from Queen Margaret University, a social enterprise that collaborates with end-users to co-design fit-for-purpose, attractive and affordable health care products, starting from footwear.

Entrepreneurial Spirit

Three young female entrepreneurs; Martina Zupan from Edinburgh Napier University, Saskia Goeres from Glasgow School of Art and Ruth McLaren from University of Strathclyde were selected by their peers and the Converge team to win the Entrepreneurial Spirit Award. These £1,000 cash prizes recognise the entrepreneurial drive, focus and determination of the Converge Challenge participants.

The speakers on the night included Jamie Hepburn, Minister for or Business, Fair Work and Skills; Professor Craig Mahoney, Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of the West of Scotland, and Jacqui Ferguson, OBE who have all highlighted the importance of celebrating successes and promoting role models among the staff, students and recent graduates who are putting into practice the Scotland Can Do agenda. Starting and encouraging exciting businesses and ideas based on cutting edge innovations and developing these within Scottish higher education institutions is at the core of Scotland entrepreneurial growth. Demonstrating innovation on the world stage that begins with our Universities and Research Institutes.

Dr Olga Kozlova, Director of Converge Challenge, said:

“Congratulations to all this year’s winners and finalists. It is impressive how much they have progressed in just a few short months and we are looking forward to supporting them during the coming year and seeing their businesses thrive. This year has been particularly exciting for me due to our record female participation with 35% of entrants, 60% of our finalists and 70% of winners this year being women led or co-founded businesses. This has been a personal cause of mine to see many more women entrepreneurs coming forward.

Final congratulations to all the team from the University of Edinburgh – a deserving winner and certainly one to watch!”

The well renowned entrepreneur Chris Van Der Kuyl hosted a panel discussion with Converge Challenge alumni discussing their successes but also the challenges that they faced on their journey to success. They all commented on Scotland and the well-developed entrepreneurial support ecosystem that thrives here and acknowledge that there is still much work to be done when it comes to securing talent and funding to scale.

Converge Challenge is Scotland’s leading company creation competition and entrepreneurial development programme for staff, students and recent graduates of Scottish Universities and Research Institutes. Converge Challenge represents all of Scotland’s Universities and Research Institutes, demonstrating a strong collaborative enterprise agenda in Scotland. The programme has trained 210 company founders and 150 early stage and social entrepreneurs. Collectively, Converge Alumni have created 121 companies and have jointly raised over £79 million.

88% of these companies survive beyond 3 years.