Scotland's academic innovation rebounds following 'number of challenging years'

Converge, the company creation programme for Scotland’s higher education sector, has welcomed a recovery in academic innovation following a “number of challenging years”.

After closing its 2022 application process, the enterprise programme said academic entrepreneurialism was showing signs of a rebound. It has seen an increase in submissions, with more than 200 applications received from all of Scotland’s universities - up 7 per cent from last year.

The programme will now see applicants attend in-depth training and judging sessions over the coming months, culminating in an awards ceremony in November where successful academic entrepreneurs will gain access to a funding pot in excess of £300,000 to advance their business ideas.

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The diversity of applications is said to have been the highest in Converge’s 11-year history, with “significant” increases in submissions from women, the BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) community and people with a disability.

Claudia Cavalluzzo, executive director at Converge, and Converge Challenge winners from 2021 and 2020 respectively (Mallik Chityala of Fitabeo Therapeutics and Genevieve Patenaude of Earth Blox).

Female applicants now account for more than a third (38 per cent) of all applications, up sharply on last year’s tally, while entries from the BAME community doubled year on year.

Converge’s enhanced KickStart Challenge, which is open to innovative early-stage ideas, makes up more than half of applications, contributing to the creation of a “much-needed pipeline of high-growth businesses”.

Converge is open to new and prospective businesses spun out of all Scotland’s universities and which will be operational in the 12 months following the awards ceremony on November 3.

The company creation programme has supported some 500 entrepreneurs and the creation of more than 300 companies since it launched in 2011.

Claudia Cavalluzzo, executive director at Converge, said: “Seeing the academic community buzzing with brilliant business ideas with potential for commercial success is what drives me and the team. I am particularly encouraged to see more diversity in our applicants.

“This year, we have put a huge amount of effort into making our outreach activities as inclusive as possible, a strategy that has borne fruit as applications from female innovators have risen on last year.

“While we’re not quite there in terms of gender parity, hopefully this indicates that we’re on the right track.”

For the first time, Converge Challenge finalists will see their final investor pitches take place at Scotland House in London, in October. This will also include a networking event for investors based in London and the wider UK investment community.

Cavalluzzo added: “Over the last decade, we have seen many of our alumni go on to generate international commercial interest, such as Current Health and Cyacomb. Success transcends borders and engaging with a broader investment community will contribute to extending the reach of Scotland’s academic innovation network.”

Funded by the Scottish Funding Council, Creative Scotland, all 18 of Scotland’s universities, and a network of ten professional partners, the Converge programme is designed to springboard new businesses through intensive training, networking, one-to-one support, “generous” equity-free cash prizes and expert advice from a roster of industry partners.

Converge’s mission is to “help the next generation of innovators, creators and ground breakers turn their ideas into commercially viable businesses to improve lives, safeguard our planet and help Scotland’s economy thrive.”

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