Innovations to support people, purpose and planet unveiled

Annie DIamond

Annie DIamond

Global university company creation competition winners revealed

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 society’s 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. She 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 cleantech innovations. 

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