Scotland’s top academic innovators were last night celebrated 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 ConvergeAwards 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 theirA-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 our2022 cohort to move onto the next level of success – and our team and I will be eagerly following their progress.”
Furtherawards 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.
· MikeHuang founder of Rigpa from the University of Edinburgh won the Cisco Future
Tech Award for his next-generation AI chip company.
· HuaWang, 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.