Converge Challenge, Scotland's premier company creation competition, has expanded its award categories for 2015, giving research staff and students from the University of Aberdeen an even greater opportunity to challenge for the £100,000 prize fund including a comprehensive support and training package.
As well as expanding its categories, Converge Challenge is, for the first time, broadening its reach to embrace all university staff, undergraduates, postgraduates, as well as recent graduates (qualified in the past 12 months).
Even if a fledgling business has been started and it has been trading for less than six months with sales of less than £50,000, then Converge Challenge is open to applications.
Like last year, the University’s aspirational entrepreneurs can participate in three main categories – Converge Challenge Award, KickStart Award and Social Enterprise Award. The organisers have this year added a fourth category - the Entrepreneurial Spirit Award - a special award given to an entrant who possesses all the attributes of traditional entrepreneurs, creates value and has the willingness to take risk.
Launched today (Thursday February 26) at the Royal Society of Edinburgh where Fergus Ewing MSP, The Business, Energy and Tourism Minister gave the keynote speech, the Converge Challenge seeks, therefore, to create entrepreneurs and develop the entrepreneurial mind-set.
Supporting the endeavours of the University of Aberdeen and Scotland’s other Higher Education Institutes involved in this year’s Converge Challenge, Mr Ewing remarked that Scotland has an education system with entrepreneurship and innovation at its core, based on ‘world leading strength from our universities’.
Business Minister Fergus Ewing said: “Our young people are our greatest asset and it is crucial, perhaps more now than ever, that we see their economic potential unleashed.
“The Converge Challenge is a focal point within the Scottish entrepreneurial ecosystem and makes clear our ambition with the vision of Scotland as a world-leading entrepreneurial and innovative nation.
“The Scotland CAN DO framework was developed with public, private and third sector partners to further sharpen our focus on creating sustainable economic growth. We are determined to see more young people starting their own businesses in Scotland.”
Since its inception in 2010, Converge Challenge has reached some significant milestones. Over the last four years, the programme has engaged with 120 projects from 14 universities, from which around 30% went on to create companies, employing 73 individuals. Four out of five of these businesses have secured follow-on funding which currently stands at £10 million. The competition has attracted 260 applications, amongst them, Madhu Nair, Philip Benson and David St Clair whose business SACCADE Diagnostics won the Converge Challenge in 2013.
On behalf of the team, Madhu said: "I would urge students or members of staff with a seed of an idea to come forward for the 2015 Converge Challenge. Our business, Saccade Diagnostics was founded on the back of our research work and getting involved in Converge at an early stage of the project allowed us to be trained and mentored in various aspects of business management – an invaluable experience that helped us bridge the academic and commercial worlds.”
Converge Challenge is now a focal point within the Scottish entrepreneurial ecosystem. It is sharply focused on developing the entrepreneurial skills of students and research staff through rigorous engagement over an 18 month period, during which participants receive training, coaching and one-to-one mentoring as well as substantial cash prizes for the three winners.
Veronica Ferguson, Enterprise Outreach Manager of Converge Challenge takes up the story: “Converge Challenge provides an excellent example of universities collaborating, sharing best practice in entrepreneurial education and advocacy on entrepreneurial activity for the good of the Scottish Higher Education landscape.
The process of establishing, developing and funding a new start-up company is one of the toughest challenges faced by budding entrepreneurs - however, anyone from the University of Aberdeen entering the Converge Challenge competition will find a world of exciting engagement, mentoring support and encouragement really opens up for them."
From the launch today, entrants to the Converge Challenge will have until May 1 to submit their initial form, followed by the Elevator Pitch process taking place on 2nd June with a closing deadline being set for August 7 for business plans.
If entries from the University of Aberdeen make it through to the national final, the judging panel, consisting of some of the most illustrious names in the Scottish business community, will put forward their final selections. The overall winners of each Converge Challenge category will be announced after a final pitch process at a gala event to be held at Barony Hall, University of Strathclyde in Glasgow on Thursday September 29.
Adding his voice, University of Aberdeen’s Vice-Principal for Research and Knowledge Exchange Professor Phil Hannaford urged as many staff and students to come forward for this year’s Converge showcase.
"The success of SACCADE Diagnostics, the Converge Challenge winner in 2013, underlines the emphasis the University of Aberdeen places on enterprise and innovation. I see Converge Challenge as an invaluable experience and opportunity for anyone interested in accruing a wealth of knowledge and understanding on what it is to be an innovator, very much like our academic founders Professor David St Clair and Dr Philip Benson, and Madhu Nair from SACCADE Diagnostics have done.
Veronica Ferguson added: “The University of Aberdeen has traditionally been seen as a hotbed of cutting edge expertise in areas such as medical and health sciences; energy and environmental science; food; rural and circumpolar research conservation. Our Converge Challenge categories offer a great opportunity especially for junior staff and students to gain experience of starting a company and of the skills required therein, so if, for example, you have an idea to create sustainable communities or develop a new medical device or new foodstuff, then Converge Challenge wants to hear from you.
"Ultimately, this may help retain highly qualified and talented people in Scotland by channelling the opportunity and by the nature and quality of support it provides. The skills developed through participation in the competition support both entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial behaviours, so even if the participant does not go on to start up a company, the economy of Scotland will unquestionably benefit.”
The Converge Challenge 2015 opens February 26. Full details and how to enter can be found at www.convergechallenge.com. Follow @ConvergeC using #ConvergeC