2016 Converge Challenge Awards

Converge Challenge 2016

Rising to the challenge

Students, graduates and staff from Scotland’s universities and other higher education institutions are busy preparing their entries for Converge Challenge, the business creation competition.

More than £150,000 of funding is up for grabs in the 2017 Converge Challenge, the business creation competition that’s open to staff, students and recent graduates from Scotland’s universities and research institutions. As well as cash, the winners will receive a selection of in-kind business support, including financial advice, mentoring and help with branding and marketing.

Between 2011 and 2015, the initiative – for which BQ is the media partner – has trained 240 emerging entrepreneurs who have formed a total of 62 companies, 80% of which were still running after three years. Those companies have created 175 jobs, with four out of five of the businesses securing follow-on funding, which now totals more than £39m.

Highlights of this year’s support package for the winners includes: automatic eligibility to pitch in May 2018 at Engage Invest Exploit (EIE18), the annual investment event run by technology accelerator programme Informatics Ventures; a ‘money can’t buy’ package from Royal Bank of Scotland that includes a place on its innovation gateway programme, access to its open innovation centre in Edinburgh, a range of free cloud-computing services and access to its global technology partner network; and support for social entrepreneurs from Firstport, a charity that’s been helping social enterprises to grow since 2007.

Olga Kozlova, director of Converge Challenge, is setting a very specific challenge for participants. “This year every Scottish university is tasked with uncovering the next big idea and, as a female entrepreneur, I would like to personally encourage more women to apply in 2017,” she says. “Following an increase in applicants for both the KickStart and Social Enterprise award categories, both prize funds have been increased to £10,000 encouraging entrepreneurship at every stage.

“Converge Challenge remains committed to developing ambitious entrepreneurs and helping them build a valuable network of contacts that helps them to grow their business on a global stage. We are delighted to have the continued support of our entrepreneurial partners including Entrepreneurial Scotland, which is providing broader networking opportunities for our winners.”

Converge Challenge alumni launched the 2017 programme at the University of St Andrews to mark the Year of History, Heritage & Archaeology. St Andrews is Scotland’s first university and the third-oldest in the UK, tracing its foundation to 1413.
One of the companies that has progressed up through the stages of the competition is Glasgow-based MindMate, an online platform for people with early-stage memory loss to promote and help with healthy and independent ageing. Last year, Susanne Mitschke – Mindmate’s chief executive and a graduate from the University of Glasgow – was named as the joint winner of the Converge Challenge, alongside Professor Marc Desmulliez, founder of Microsense Technologies and head of sensors, signals and systems at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.

“In 2015, Patrick, Roger and I had an idea and we entered the Converge Challenge KickStart category,” explains Mitschke. “We were young, optimistic and thought that starting a business would be easy.

“We quickly learned there was a lot to consider and you can easily get distracted from what is really important and what makes a difference. The Converge training helped us to focus on what matters to our business.

“When we entered Converge in 2016 for the second time, we had come a long way, with funding from Ignite in the UK and Techstars NYC in the United States. Our Converge prize has made a meaningful difference; not only from a cash-perspective, but from the in-kind business services we’ve received.

“We are now getting expert branding advice from the awesome agency Morton Ward, as well as legal advice and intellectual property services. Whether you are a start-up or you just have an idea Converge can support you.”

Desmulliez, whose company developed FoodSense, a sensor system aimed at reducing waste and improving monitoring on processing lines in the food and drink industries, adds: “The Converge Challenge has allowed MicroSense Technologies to benefit from a vast range of experts in entrepreneurship and commercialisation. The advice and training we received throughout the programme was of the highest quality and we have further made use of the in-kind business services offered, especially in legal and marketing matters.”

Second prize in last year’s Converge Challenge went to Chris Hughes of the University of Strathclyde for Estendio, which is developing technology for help people with dyslexia, while the Design & Creativity Award was scooped by Alexander Enoch of the University of Edinburgh for Robotical, a company that creates robots to inspire and engage the next generation of engineers and scientists.

The KickStart prize for early stage ideas was awarded to David Harris-Birtill of the University of St Andrews for Beyond Medics, which has developed an automated remote pulse oximetry, a camera-based system that remotely measures patients’ vital signs. Second prize in the KickStart competition went to Yuri Belotti of the University of Dundee for an automated time-resolved cell stretcher.

An additional prize for the KickStart finalists was the KickStart Digital Entrepreneur Award, which recognised internet entrepreneurialism and the online marketing talent of the finalists’ early-stage ideas, with the winner chosen by an online vote that was open to the public in the weeks leading up to the final. The prize went to Richard McAdam from Edinburgh Napier University for Regenerative Shock Absorber, an innovative shock absorber that generates electricity and reduces fuel consumption and harmful emissions, which also marked Napier’s first victory in the contest.

The Social Enterprise category focused on ideas that will have a positive impact on social and environmental issues. First prize was awarded to Erika Grant of the University of Aberdeen for Project TurnKey, a social enterprise that empowers people to see a life beyond prostitution. Christopher Murray of the University of Dundee took the second prize for The Comics Studio.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit Award was designed to recognise a participant who demonstrated drive, focus and determination. The prize was awarded to Anna Renouf of the University of the Highlands & Islands for Orrin Equestrian, a company that is developing a saddle produced from composite materials.

The deadline for entering the 2017 Converge Challenge is 5pm on Monday 10 April. Find out more details or enter at www.convergechallenge.com

This year’s categories

Converge Challenge
For those with an established idea. The winner will receive a cash prize of £43,000, along with more than £28,000 of in-kind support, while a second prize of £15,000 in cash and £17,000 of in-kind support will also be awarded.

Design & Creativity Award
Consists of £10,000 and at least £16,000 of in-kind support.

For early stage ideas. The winner will take home £6,000, with £4,000 for second place.

KickStart Digital Entrepreneur
An iPad Air will be presented to the winner.

Social Enterprise
For ideas that will have a positive impact on social and environmental issues. The first prize is £5,000, while the second prize is £3,500. In-kind branding and public relations support worth an estimated £3,000 is also up for grabs.

Entrepreneurial Spirit
The winner will receive £1,000 in cash and a support package from membership body Entrepreneurial Scotland.