Electric alternative to jet engine among Converge semi-finalists

An electric alternative to the jet engine and a novel vaccine production platform tackling Streptococcus are among the revolutionary ideas that have made it to the semi-finals of the prestigious Converge company-creation programme for the university sector.

About 90 academic entrepreneurs from all 18 of Scotland’s universities are in the running, split across four challenge categories – Converge, Creative, Impact and KickStart. Organisers said that in a reflection of the current Covid crisis and the ongoing climate-change emergency, the three dominant themes among this year’s semi-finalists are life sciences, wellbeing and net zero.

A number of participating projects aim to help democratise the availability of life-saving medicines by significantly reducing their production costs. Among them is Helge Dorfmueller, a University of Dundee lecturer who has created RhaPSeda, a novel vaccine production platform that could prove decisive in the battle against StrepA, which kills 500,000 people annually, mainly from low-income countries. There is still currently no vaccine, with the pathogen showing increasing signs of antibiotic resistance.

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Converge director Dr Claudia Cavalluzzo says moments of crisis can serve as 'a powerful impetus for innovation'. Picture: Lloyd Smith.

In the wellbeing space is Yvonne Wryoslawska, a graduate from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, who is looking to harness the power of music to address postnatal depression, which affects up to 15 per cent of new mums in the UK.

Meanwhile, Mako Aerospace, founded by University of Strathclyde graduate Kieran Duncan, aims to create the engine technologies required for sustainable flight with its first product, an electric alternative to the jet engine, which it says reduces aircraft fuel costs by up to 60 per cent.

This year’s cohort also includes early-stage projects on the very first steps of the commercialisation journey. A clear trend this year is for projects with an environmental mission at their heart including renewable biomass briquettes, an advanced robotic system that sifts out contaminants at recycling centres, and natural plant-based yarns that are homegrown and spun in the UK.

Converge director Dr Claudia Cavalluzzo said: “I’m always amazed at the inventiveness and creativity of the projects coming through Converge, and, despite the difficult times we’re experiencing, this year is no exception.

Impetus

“Starting a business right now might seem counterintuitive. However, as the history books show, difficult business environments can offer rich opportunities with moments of crisis serving as a powerful impetus for innovation. We can’t wait to get started and would like to congratulate all our semi-finalists on getting through to this stage”

This year’s cohort will now attend intensive business training followed by a series of masterclasses from Converge’s network of professional advisors.

Joining the Converge partner network this year is accountancy firm Chiene + Tait, which under a three-year agreement led by partner Neil Norman from the firm’s entrepreneurial tax team will support both emerging and more established entrepreneurs on key tax and finance issues as well as wider business matters.

Mr Norman said: “This is an exciting partnership with Converge, an initiative which continues to get bigger and better. We’re delighted to have this opportunity to work alongside the group’s other highly regarded corporate partners to further support their extensive network of entrepreneurs behind innovative university spin-out businesses.”

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