Innovations to support people, purpose and planet unveiled at global university company creation competition



GIC winner

More than 500 innovators from across four continents have unveiled solutions to tackle a range of global challenges including crop disease management, sustainable shopping and healthcare. The international university competition, organised by Heriot-Watt University, trains and inspires new student and academic-led companies across sectors with 13 winners receiving a share of £30,000 to progress their businesses and prototype development.

Following a competitive pitch event, Heriot-Watt Online student Annie Mamvura, founder of GreenGraceWear in Nairobi, Kenya, won the Health & Care-led Business Award.  Providing reusable incontinence wear for women and girls facing urinary incontinence due to disability, aging or the menopause, Annie’s business is focused on dignity and comfort while contributing to sustainability goals by minimising waste from disposable products.

Receiving the Audience Award, five engineering graduates behind Dubai-based company SMEFA (Shopping Mode Effortless For All) have developed a smart scan supermarket trolley designed to simplify and support shopping for those with disabilities and allergies such as automated basket lifting, secure payments and managing allergen checks.

Receiving a runner up award, robotic engineers Aswath Ganesan Indra and Adip Ranjan Das from the Edinburgh campus aim to address the significant cost disparity between healthy and ultra-processed food by introducing an innovative semi-autonomous catering service. Powered by their proprietary autonomous technology, GI Healthcare minimises energy, reduces food waste, and increases accessibility to affordable, freshly prepared and healthy food.

The annual competition, which is bolstered by a 10-week workshop series, is open to all Heriot-Watt students, staff and alumni across the university’s five global campuses and Heriot-Watt Online, a worldwide education initiative increasing accessibility to world-class skills development. This year has seen participation grow by 140% compared to 2022.

The Global Innovation Challenge is supported by Santander and match-funded by the Robert M. Buchan Early Stage Business Fund. Igniting passion for entrepreneurship through sessions with internal and industry experts, this year’s guest speakers included Censis, Barclays, Johnston Carmichael, Too Gallus, Converge, Morningside Music School and Steer Energy.

Danielle Moran is Enterprise Manager at Heriot-Watt University. She said:

"Heriot-Watt has a long track-record of supporting entrepreneurs along a growth pathway. Previous participants of The Global Innovation Challenge have gone on to win key industry awards such as Rosie Bristow of Fantasy Fibre Mill, a winner at this year’s Converge. By connecting creative minds across the globe, we are transforming our international reach into an engine for innovation, tackling some of societies biggest challenges and effecting positive change across multiple sectors.

“This year’s winners include Tayab Smooro, founder of Pathoscan which won the Best Overall Award. The company, based in Canada, aims to revolutionise crop disease management with portable, rapid and accurate in-field testing devices, reducing farmers’ dependency on traditional, lab-based diagnostics. We set up the competition to support those developing creative solutions to worldwide challenges. Tayab has the potential to transform crop disease management and we’re proud to be facilitating the growth of his and many other businesses through access to pitch training, funding pathways, ideas generation, business models and customer engagement.”

Aspen Philips, co-founder and chief development officer of Thrift UP won the award for Proof-Of-Concept Development. He said: “

“My co-founders and I created the idea for Thrift UP during our Strategic Innovation Management course at Heriot-Watt University. Our group wanted to focus on an idea that was sustainable, innovative and tech driven. Thrift Up is a virtual fitting room that allows the user to shop sustainably from the comfort of their own home. We hope this service will reshape the online shopping experience by fusing Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence. Our service aims to reduce the number of returns when shopping online, contributing to a more sustainable consumer experience.

“As Chief Development Officer, my role includes implementation of our development and marketing strategy. The Global Innovation Challenge was the perfect first step in gaining recognition within the entrepreneurial and investment community. I feel grateful for the incredible experience, and we are looking forward to the resources and mentorship offered moving forward.” 

Professor Gillian Murray is deputy principal for business and enterprise. She said:

"The Global Innovation Challenge is a fantastic demonstration of the power of partnerships and collaboration in driving impactful innovation. As this year’s COP28 climate summit in Dubai continues, this workshop series highlights how our global campuses and networks can unite to address worldwide challenges, addressing challenges across sectors and disciplines.

“By fostering an international innovation ecosystem, we can make meaningful progress on some of the world’s biggest issues, including sustainability and waste reduction.”

During the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, Heriot-Watt’s Dubai campus on Dubai Knowledge Park has transformed its 5th and 6th floors into a fringe venue for COP28 and is hosting a programme of events including panel discussions on climate change and an exhibition of clean tech innovations.

Other GIC winners for the 2023 event included:

Conceptualisation and Ideation

Founder: Baudouin Belpaire. Passionate about 3D printing, Baudouin has launched Reshape to revolutionise the printing industry by removing the plastic production required for 3D filaments.

Location: Edinburgh

Entrepreneurial Spirit

Founder: Wojciech Salski is developing a simple-to-use system called 'KTI' - (Key Training Innovators) which helps fitness centres maintain and empower their new clients. KTI helps people to overcome the challenges of consistent training and achieve better results.

Location: Edinburgh

Purpose led business idea

Founder: Through the Global Innovation Challenge, David Thorpe has developed his PhD research in a business called Adjustment Reform to better manage workplace adjustment. His goal to improve workplaces for those that are currently being neglected through existing practices. 

Location: Edinburgh

Best use of creative industries

Founders Name: Wuraola Shote has established 7th Studios, a podcasting studio and content creation space.

Location: Edinburgh

Best use of Edinburgh Business School Incubator

Founder: Leo Fakhral. Mamba Sounds is more than an independent music label; it's a testament to the power of connectivity and the art of skilful positioning in the pulsating world of Afrobeats.

Location: Edinburgh

Prototype/Operational Award

Founder: Dr Hendrik Nahler, founder of Respiratone, is creating a device that can detect metabolic imbalances by measuring the levels of acetone in our breath.

Location: Edinburgh

Entrepreneurial spirit

Founder: Theodor Blomberg and his team have created a 3D-printed prototype of a bladeless hydro generator called The Swirl.

Location: Edinburgh

Sustainability Award

Founder: Winster Phang's company the Frugal Hub is an online food supply marketplace that is aimed at reducing food waste and earning businesses revenue. Frugal Hub's solution caters to the consumer market as well.

Location: Malaysia


Scott Holmes