Dave Hughes
Dave Hughes

Converge Challenge winners announced

Academic innovation continues to soar with revolutionary sensors, a cooling back-rest cushion for wheelchair users, a blood test to detect brain tumours, algorithms for wind turbines, a birthing mirror for midwifes, an online platform for physiotherapy and sensory gardens for dementia sufferers – amongst the winning ideas from Scotland’s leading company creation competition and entrepreneurial development programme for Scottish universities.

The winners were announced at the Converge Challenge awards ceremony last night – Thursday, 28th September 2017, where an increased prize fund of £170,000 of cash and in kind prizes were awarded to Scotland’s best and brightest ideas.

Scotland’s First Minister presented the winner of Converge Challenge 2017 to Dave Hughes of University of the West of Scotland for his project novosound – technology that will allow expectant parents to see their unborn child with the image quality of MRI. The revolutionary sensors, systems and software allow for low cost, high resolution imaging and will disrupt the medical, dental, industrial and veterinary markets. The first place prize, valued at £78,000, includes £50,000 in cash and £28,000 worth of business support that includes mentoring from Royal Bank of Scotland, automatic entry to pitch on-stage at EIE18 and an opportunity to match a Scottish Enterprise SMART Feasibility Award. All main Converge Challenge category winners also gain automatic entry to the semi-final of Scottish EDGE.

Dr Olga Kozlova, Director of Converge Challenge, said:
“Congratulations to all the team at novosound from University of the West of Scotland – a deserving winner and certainly a company with a lot of potential to grow and succeed. We look forward to seeing where they go next!”

The Converge Challenge second place prize was awarded to Dr Holly Butler of University of Strathclyde with ClinSpec Dx, a simple blood test that can detect brain tumours allowing rapid diagnosis. Brain tumours result in the early death of more patients than any other cancer. Currently, brain tumours are identified using expensive brain scans and can only be truly diagnosed following high risk brain surgery and further testing. They take home a total prize fund of £42,000, including £25,000 in cash and £17,000 in business support.

Now in its second year, the Converge Challenge Design and Creativity prize was awarded to Corien Staels of Staels Design from the University of Glasgow, a company that aims to meet the unmet needs in rehabilitation product design.

Their first product ‘WheelAir’ is a battery powered airflow back-rest cushion designed to be more supportive, increasing comfort while keeping you cool and fits all active lightweight wheelchairs. The prize champions ideas in digital media, textiles, architecture and design and is valued at £31,500 including £15,000 in cash and £16,500 in business support.

The Converge Challenge KickStart Award category recognises promising early stage projects that are still in their infancy and the total prize fund has doubled since 2016 to £10,000 in cash. Winning £6,000 the KickStart Award winner is Juan Pablo Echenique from the University of Edinburgh with Power Enable Solutions, an algorithm that enables the maximisation of end to end performance for wind turbines and has the potential to be a disruptive technology in the energy sector. Winning £4,000, the KickStart runner up is Liam McMorrow from the University of Aberdeen with Adelie Health, which aims to make life easier for people self-managing chronic diseases – in particular for those with diabetes.

The KickStart Digital Entrepreneur Award recognises internet entrepreneurialism and online marketing skills and was awarded to Fiona Denison from University of Edinburgh for her concept, Birth Mirror. A mirror that is easily adjustable, submersible and illuminated to assist midwives and all new mums to view the birthing process. The winner was chosen in an online vote that was open to the public in the weeks leading up to the awards.

The Converge Challenge Social Enterprise Award category, staged in collaboration with Firstport, focuses on ideas that will have a positive impact on social and environmental issues. The first place prize of £5,000 as well as in-kind business support from Spreng Thomson and Morton Ward was awarded to Lorna Paul from Glasgow Caledonian University for Web-Based Physiotherapy, an online platform for the remote delivery and monitoring of personalised physiotherapy exercise programmes. Winning £3,500, the Social Enterprise runner up is Callum MacKinnon, also from Glasgow Caledonian University, with Forth Valley Rebound Therapy Service CIC, a project that delivers physical therapy sessions for children and young people with additional support needs.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit Award, sponsored by Entrepreneurial Scotland, recognises the participant that has demonstrated entrepreneurial drive, focus and determination. The cash prize of £1,000, along with membership of Entrepreneurial Scotland, was awarded to Garry Boyle of Heriot-Watt University with HeadSpace Design, a project that plans to make life better for adults with dementia who are living in residential care, through the provision of unique sensory gardens. The judges commented on his great enthusiasm, passion and how collaborative and supportive he was. The project is underpinned by research into the psychology of dementia and has a distinctive approach to garden design which will promote wellbeing amongst patients.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, said: “Well done to all of the winners and finalists of this year’s Converge Challenge. Awards like Converge are a fantastic way of developing the talents of Scotland’s many young entrepreneurs and innovators. But they’re also an opportunity to showcase one of Scotland’s great traditional strengths – generating new ideas, products and technologies, supported by our world-class educational institutions. I want to see a ‘can do’ culture define us as a country on every level, and the talent and determination of these finalists shows that we are well on the way to fulfilling that vision.”

Dr Olga Kozlova, Director of Converge Challenge, said: “Congratulations to all this year’s winners and finalists, the projects have been by far the strongest to date, demonstrating a real step change in ambition and participation. The mix of innovations, sectors and routes to success highlights the thriving entrepreneurial spirit within our universities. Listening to the pitches earlier today proved that there was a strong aspiration from our finalists to build truly global companies and it is exciting to be part of their journeys. Each and every one of them has the opportunity to succeed through hard work, entrepreneurial support and a CAN DO attitude.

In 2017, Scotland’s leading academic initiative received 212 applicants from 17 of Scotland’s universities and research institutes. Applicants were then shortlisted and invited to take part in a 2-3 day intensive residential training programme at the Royal Bank of Scotland, Gogarburn, in May. They spent the following months working with the Converge Challenge team and valued partners developing their final business plans that were submitted in August. The Top 6 Converge Challenge finalists delivered their investor presentations earlier today to the panel of expert judges, made up of industry experts, leading entrepreneurs and investors from across the business community.

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 the strong collaborative enterprise agenda in Scotland. It has trained 180 company founders and 120 early stage and social enterprise founders who have created 78 companies with a 43% incorporation rate. 77% of those companies have received follow-on funding totalling £60 million and have a 78% survival rate after three years.