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Converge targets north-east entrepreneurs after putting ‘boots on the ground’

Claudia Cavalluzzo, executive director of Converge
Claudia Cavalluzzo, executive director of Converge

Scotland’s largest company creation programme for staff, students and recent university and research institute graduates is on a mission to grow its influence in the north-east, its executive director told The Press and Journal.

Claudia Cavalluzzo, of Converge, said its recent appointment of an enterprise executive for the region, Richard Cormack Corrigan, was aimed at making the organisation “truly pan-Scotland”.

l-r Brian McEwan and Richard Cormack Corrigan, Converge’s regional enterprise executives.

There is also a new regional enterprise executive for the west of Scotland, Brian McEwan.

Our new regional hubs will, hopefully, be transformational.”

Claudia Cavalluzzo, executive director, Converge.

Converge is committed to growing the number of women-led businesses across the country and Ms Cavalluzzo said the north-east has some “incredible” role models – such as Caroline Barelle, chief executive of Aberdeen-based life sciences firm Elasmogen.

Another is Lucy Fisher, the Robert Gordon University (RGU) graduate behind Granite City business Knit It, which offers digital knitting patterns, tools and tutorials.

Aberdeen University spin-out Elasmogen was runner-up in the Converge Awards in 2015, while Ms Fisher’s business won the creative category in last year’s competition.

Lucy Fisher with the award she won last year.

The awards are the climax of the annual Converge Challenge, which springboards start-ups through intensive business training, networking, one-to-one support, equity-free cash prizes and expert advice from industry partners.

The deadline for applications for this year’s programme is on Tuesday (April 5), with the biggest prize pot in the competitions 11-year history up for grabs.

University entrepreneurs with ground-breaking business ideas can apply to gain access to a funding pot worth more than £300,000.

There are more places available on the scheme this year – up from 90 to 100 spots.

Categories include net-zero and “create change” challenges.

Ken Morrow’s company, Hydrowheel, won the net-zero award last year. l-r are Saurabh Nerlekar, Greig Coull and Mr Morrow.

Two special awards – “future of tech” and the Rose Award – are aimed at ambitious women entrepreneurs.

The bigger prize pot and enhanced training have been made possible through support from Scottish Funding Council, Creative Scotland, all 18 of Scotland’s universities, and a network of 10 partners.

“We are hoping to see many good proposals,” Ms Cavalluzzo said, adding: “We have already accepted more projects than ever before.”

Converge’s role is to help turn them into successfully trading businesses, she said.

“We have seen a step change in the number of applications in the past three years.”

“The north-east has a good track record of businesses entering and last year we had one of them getting the prize for creative, while another (RGU alumni Ken Morrow) won the net-zero award.”

Caroline Barelle, chief executive of 2015 Converge Awards runner-up Elasmogen.

On ramping up Converge’s activities throughout Scotland, Ms Cavalluzzo said the organisation had needed “boots on the ground”.

She added: “We were not really working as closely or collaboratively as we were hoping.

“Our new regional hubs will, hopefully, be transformational.

“Things are looking very promising in the north-east in particular. Previously, we were not really understanding some of the dynamics there.”

Local ecosystem experts

The new enterprise executive in the north-east and his west of Scotland counterpart know their local business “ecosystem” well and can help boost collaboration, she said.

Mr Cormack Corrigan previously worked for the Young Enterprise Scotland-Elevator UK programme, promoting entrepreneurship in education.

He is based at Aberdeen University of Aberdeen, supporting enterprise development teams across the region.

Converge says it has trained around 500 aspiring entrepreneurs, with an 85% business survival rate, since its formation in 2011.

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