By Kristy Dorsey

The head of Scotland’s largest company creation programme for the university sector has highlighted its economic value as 28 academic entrepreneurs prepare for this year’s Converge Awards final on September 30.

Converge director Claudia Cavalluzzo said figures from the latest independent analysis, which are still to be audited, show that the programme has trained more than 500 entrepreneurs who have set up in excess of 250 companies since the programme was launched in 2011. Four-fifths of these firms, which have created more than 500 jobs, are still trading.

Overall investment during the past decade has exceeded £165 million as economic development agencies, venture capitalists and other investors have backed various ventures such as Aberdeen biopharmaceutical company Elasmogen, eco-friendly brick maker Kenoteq and Edinburgh-based medical technology specialist Current Health.

Ms Cavalluzzo said the figures do not include funds recently raised by EnteroBiotix, a spin-out from the University of Aberdeen that is using cultured gut bacteria to treat drug-resistant infections and gastrointestinal conditions.

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Earlier this month, the firm closed an oversubscribed $21.5m (£15.5m) Series A funding round backed by Scottish investment firm Thairm Bio, Kineticos Ventures of the US, and existing investors including Scottish Enterprise and SIS Ventures. The new money will be used to advance EnteroBiotix’s drug pipeline, and underpin its product development and manufacturing capabilities.

Ms Cavalluzzo said the pandemic led to a “small drop” in applications this year after laboratory-based research projects were hampered by lockdown restrictions throughout much of 2020 and early 2021. However, she added that innovation “doesn’t stop during a pandemic”, and in some cases has accelerated.

“If you had any doubts about the strength of university-led innovation in Scotland, particularly given the setbacks of the last 18 months, then this year’s Converge finalists quickly dispel those,” she said.

“Despite all the odds, the quality, creativity and sheer ingenuity of their business ideas is nothing short of exceptional and should give us great hope – not just for our economy but for people and the planet too.”

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With financial backing from the Scottish Funding Council, all 18 Scottish universities, Creative Scotland and various partners and sponsors, this year’s prize pot is worth £300,000 in cash and in-kind support. Awards will be shared by winners across eight categories, plus three special prizes: the RBS Rose Award for female entrepreneurs, the SSE Net Zero Award for those tackling the climate emergency, and the Cisco Future Tech Award.

For the first time this year, and regardless of whether they emerge as winners, all finalists will receive a cash prize to help their new venture. This includes £2,000 for each of those in the Converge, Creative and Impact categories, and £500 for each KickStart finalist.

“Turning problems into opportunities is what entrepreneurs do best – even seemingly insurmountable problems like climate change,” Ms Cavalluzzo said.

“With COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference, just around the corner, it’s great to see that Scotland’s university sector is rising to the challenge and creating a new generation of solutions that will one day turn the tide on the growing climate crisis.”