Converge Challenge proves its worth again

Life science successes enhance our tradition of bridging academic and business worlds. Picture: TSPL
Life science successes enhance our tradition of bridging academic and business worlds. Picture: TSPL
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LAST week, Saccade Diagnostics, a three-man company in the process of spinning out from the University of Aberdeen, won Scotland’s premier university-based entrepreneurial showcase event, Converge Challenge.

Led by CEO Madhu Nair, they convinced an esteemed panel of judges that Saccade’s move to fully commercialise their novel eye-movement test as an assistive point-of-care tool for the rapid diagnosis of some major psychiatric disorders was worthy of first place and the £60,000 package of cash and in-kind support to aid the development of the business.

Interestingly, in second place was a University of Edinburgh RSE Enterprise fellow, Kanika Bansal and MediCen Devise – a medical innovations company that creates a range of devices to reduce the burden on healthcare staff and ease patient pain. In third place, and also from the University of Edinburgh were Liita Naukushu and Helen Fisher. Their company, Beckdales, has devised a range of home and industrial cleaning products designed to reduce the spread of infections.

A further two of the six finalists are creating healthcare and life science businesses, underpinning that not only do we have a dynamic and robust company creation platform within our university sector, but many of these fledgling businesses are developed by academics with a strong foothold in the life sciences and medical healthcare sector – areas where Scotland has a long, illustrious and proud tradition.

‘Enviable resource’

Converge Challenge has once again proved that Scotland has an enviable resource in providing all the necessary ingredients across our business community and higher education sector to enable these companies to be effectively nurtured. The access to professional advice and the burgeoning commercial potential within universities makes us the envy of the world. Life sciences, in particular, is an area where Scotland has always punched well above its weight.

The Scottish Lifesciences Association (SLA) proudly proclaims that Scotland is one of the UK’s leading regions for new life sciences business creation. Since 1998, the sector has grown by 6 per cent a year, increasing its turnover from £1.8 billion to £3.1bn. Moreover, it supports the sector’s ambition, set out in the Scottish Life Sciences Strategy, to double the economic contribution made by Scotland’s life sciences industry to £6.2bn by 2020, and increasing its GVA to £3bn.


Converge Challenge, like the SLA, exists because the ultimate goal for many academics is to establish their own business once painstaking R&D achieves a breakthrough to product development or services.

And the good news is that the Scottish Government is very keen to support the Life Sciences sector. Scott Johnstone, CEO at the SLA, pointed out there are many initiatives used to support the life sciences industry in Scotland. In recent years, there has been a growth in funding opportunities and the development of shared facilities, such as BioCity, to support the industry.

In its four-year existence, Converge Challenge has received over 190 applications from students and staff from 14 universities (and there were 60 this year, a 20 per cent rise on 2012). Some have been consumer-focused product ideas with commercial potential, while others have had an engineering and technology focus. However, the strongest level of applications this year was amongst the life science and healthcare sectors.

In total, Converge Challenge has trained over 90 research entrepreneurs, supported 25 companies into commercial trading, while more than 1,500 academic staff and students have attended seminars, workshops and other business mentoring events.

There are opportunities for all in this ever-evolving Scottish flagship industry, and if Converge Challenge, Interface and other university-focused initiatives can continue to play a part in providing the opportunities required to create tomorrow’s life science entrepreneurs, then our catalytic role will be defined for many years to come.

• {Olga Kozlova is Director of Converge Challenge and enterprise creation {||Click here}

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