Praise for academic community’s spirit despite lockdown fears as the new 2020 converge cohort is announced

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  • Academic creativity and innovation relating to Covid-19 pandemic form part of this year’s cohort
  • Semi-finalists now chase a place in the Converge final in September where a total prize fund of £215,000 equity-free cash and in-kind support awaits the winners across the three Converge categories

As the fight against Covid-19 reaches a crucial tipping point, Scotland’s academic community has rallied to create a host of transformational business ideas for Converge, Scotland’s premier company creation programme for the Higher Education sector, which this year celebrates its tenth anniversary.

Despite the pandemic leading to the widespread closure of all Scotland’s universities and research institutes, a record number of applications were submitted to this year’s Converge programme, and whilst core project areas such technology, life sciences and renewable energy remain as strong as ever, innovation themed around Covid-19 is also represented.

These ideas sit amongst the 60 semi-final entries across the three ‘Challenge’ categories – Converge, Creative and Impact – which will move onto the next stage – intensive business and pitch training – later this month.

On the Covid-19 theme, a Converge Challenge submission, Loch Electronics, a business created by University of Strathclyde post-graduate student Franciso Carreno, has designed plans for a dishwasher that uses medical grade UV-C light to fully disinfect PPE facemasks in hospitals, which helps to address supply shortage issues.

(C) Photo provided, Claudia Cavalluzzo, Director, Converge

Elsewhere, the exceptionally high quality of all the Impact Challenge projects highlights the breadth and scope of innovation within a profound social or environmental context that sits within the Scottish Government’s Energy Strategy Target Framework to have 50% of the nation’s energy consumption supplied by renewable resources by its 2030 target.

It includes Power To Go Hydro from Robert Gordon University. It plans to develop an inflatable waterwheel to generate clean, accessible and affordable electricity. The waterwheel design means it does not require any supporting structure or water channel to be built and is therefore better for the environment than other micro hydro systems.

Amongst the 30 entries within the Converge Challenge is Vennle, a University of Edinburgh start-up, which aims to commercialise  an AI-powered Big Data analytics system to forecast and optimise transport networks – starting with bike-sharing to accelerate smart cities and infrastructure. Vennle has partnered with the UK’s largest bike-sharing operator to demonstrate its novel Machine Learning model for bicycle redistribution.

This year’s Creative Challenge, which highlights innovation that demonstrate originality and creativity, provides 15 projects with a focus on new ways of helping to future-proof the arts, music and tourism in Scotland.

The ‘We Make Music Work’ music business from Queen Margaret University will establish opportunities to empower musicians to generate income using immersive Virtual Reality tools, whilst Cinedoche Screen Collective, from the University of St Andrews, develops and produces short features and documentaries  for platforms such as Netflix, Amazon-Prime, and YouTube.

Dr Claudia Cavalluzzo, director of Converge comments;

“Six months ago, no one knew that we would be in the midst of a pandemic that would have such a profound impact on all our lives. With university campuses closed, engaging with normal university life, let alone preparing an entry to Converge 2020, was challenging.

In the context of such a massive and unparalleled backdrop, imagine our delight that entries this year are at record levels.”

“Staff, students and researchers across our Higher Education Institutions have again demonstrated that, even in the face of upheaval, they continue to strive to unlock their potential to transform lives and improve society.”

This year, Converge Challenge semi-finalists will take part in ‘Inside Innovation’ – a new, virtual pitching event taking place on Tuesday 30 June as Claudia reveals;

“Each semi-finalist will have just 60 seconds to capture the attention of our investor-led panel of judges with a Best Pitch and Audience Choice prize up for grabs.”

“Another highlight of the evening will be the interview with serial tech entrepreneur, Lesley Eccles, co-Founder of fantasy sports platform, FanDuel, who recently launched Relish which promises to be the world’s first relationship training app.”

“Despite the restrictions of not all being in the one venue, we are making the most of this new way of engaging with the world where everybody, despite social distancing, has gotten a little closer.”

Before then, semi-final entrants undergo intensive online training to develop their business and hone their pitching skills.

They will then be asked to submit a business case with the very best progressing to the Converge Awards final on Thursday 24th September.