Scottish university AI innovators among 100-strong Converge cohort

Artificial intelligence is at the fore after Scotland’s springboard for university innovators unveiled the 100 start-ups and spinouts that will receive support to turn their ideas into reality.

The Converge 2023 programme encompasses ventures from all 19 Scottish higher education institutions, with a growing number of companies using AI to help tackle challenges including climate change, health conditions and childhood literacy. As conversations gather pace around how AI should be regulated and applied in various industries and sectors, this year’s cohort is said to demonstrate the “power and potential of AI for good”.

Examples include Books2Life, created by Aisha Kasim from Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, which uses AI to create illustrations based on the text of any book, bringing stories to life for children with dyslexia. Scott Black, from Claymore Surgical at the University of Strathclyde, is using AI to speed up the diagnosis of paediatric obstructive sleep apnoea, one of the most common respiratory disorders in children.

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Claudia Cavalluzzo, executive director at Converge, said: “This year’s cohort proves that ideas and innovations are thriving in Scotland’s universities, with AI at the heart of many of these new companies. Turning ideas into impact is at the core of Converge’s mission to unlock the potential of innovators, creatives, and aspiring business founders across Scotland’s universities.”

Data released last week showed that Edinburgh is the top start-up hub outside London, with 12.3 per cent of companies working in AI, digital security and financial technology, or fintech.

Cavalluzzo added: “We are proud to be supporting ambitious people from right across Scotland who demonstrate that university students, staff, and graduates are rising to the challenge of delivering sustainable and inclusive economic growth in every region. At Converge, we continue to become more diverse and inclusive, with a 28 per cent increase in applicants from ethnically diverse backgrounds, and an 8 per cent rise in applications from women. Broadening diversity and inclusion is part of our aim to change the narrative around the word ‘entrepreneur’, which has negative connotations for lots of people, particularly women and impact-driven individuals.”

Funded by the Scottish Funding Council, Creative Scotland, Scotland’s universities and a network of ten corporate partners, the Converge programme is designed to springboard new businesses through intensive training, networking, one-to-one support, equity-free cash prizes and expert advice from a roster of business and investment experts. Since launching in 2011, the programme has trained more than 600 academic entrepreneurs and supported the creation of 330-plus companies that enjoy a relatively high survival rate of 69 per cent.

A University of Edinburgh initiative that aims to help emerging AI ventures maximise their full commercial potential recently began accepting applications for its 2023 programme. Open to both Scottish and international companies, the AI Accelerator is targeting “innovative scale-ups” to be part of its sixth cohort. Since its launch in 2018, the programme has supported a wide range of AI-focused firms including Edinburgh-based cancer research business Carcinotech, climate monitoring specialist Space Intelligence, and Zumo, which has grown to become one of the top crypto wallet and payment platforms.

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