Heriot-Watt entrepreneurs are winners in Scotland’s Converge Challenge awards

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Rosie Bristow
Rosie Bristow of Fantasy Fibre Mill. Photo - Lloyd Smith

Three Heriot-Watt projects have won funding in the 13th annual Converge Awards, Scotland’s largest company creation programme for the university sector.

The initiative supports university spinouts and startups with the skills, guidance, funding, and network they need to turn their ideas into commercial reality.

At an awards ceremony in Glasgow, Converge awarded 16 prizes in total to Scottish universities across its four different categories of Converge, Create Change, KickStart, and Net Zero, with the total prize fund totalling £320,000. The category winners were united by the common goal of “tackling some of society’s most pressing problems, including planet-threatening gas leakages, polluting fast fashion and the long and difficult process of drug discovery,” Converge said.

Heriot-Watt’s winners include Fantasy Fibre Mill, a project that connects regenerative agriculture to ethical fashion by producing natural fibre yarn which is grown, processed and spun in the UK.  The company was founded by Rosie Bristow, a recent graduate from Heriot-Watt’s MSc in Fashion and Textile management degree, and fashion designer and software engineer Nick Evans. Fantasy Fibre Mill won the Create Change prize and will receive £30,000 in cash and £9,750 of in-kind business support.

The winner of the Net Zero award went to Dr Oleg Ishkov, a Research Fellow in Heriot-Watt’s School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society. The technology of his future spinout, Rockit, prevents leaks of greenhouse gases from legacy drill sites in the North Sea escaping into the atmosphere.

Runner-up in the Net Zero Challenge was Heriot-Watt machine learning researcher Darius Roman, who has founded yaiLab, a platform powered by artificial intelligence to predict when batteries connected to the power grid need maintenance. Darius won £10,000 cash and £9,000 of in-kind business support.

Richard Lochhead, Innovation Minister, said: “With a focus on tackling environmental and societal challenges, this year’s winners have demonstrated outstanding talent and creativity and I congratulate all those that took part in this year’s awards for their efforts.”

Dr Claudia Cavalluzzo, executive director at Converge, said: “Scotland’s universities are truly world-class and this is evident in the achievements and ambition demonstrated by the talented pioneers we’ve recognised at this year’s awards. These founders represent the magic that Scotland needs to realise its ambitions and fulfil its potential as one of the world’s greatest nations of innovators.”

David Richardson, Chief Entrepreneurial Executive for Enterprise at Heriot-Watt University, added: "I am delighted with the performance of this year’s Heriot-Watt cohort within Converge.  There was stiff competition from other Scottish Universities and securing both the ‘Create Change’ and ’Net Zero’ was a real achievement.  The applicants worked closely with the Business & Enterprise Team ahead of the Final and a lot of hard work has paid off."

Since its launch in 2011, the Converge Challenge programme has trained over 700 aspiring founders and contributed to the creation of more than 330 companies which have raised in excess of £320 million in follow-on funding.

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Victoria Masterson