Award win is kick-start for SAMS spin-out company

A new spin-out company from SAMS that uses marine worms to clean up waste from fish farms, has won a prestigious national business competition.

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Dr Georgina Robinson, SAMS researcher and CEO of N-ovatio-N, with the Converge Challenge award.

N-ovatio-N™ CEO Dr Georgina Robinson, a Research Associate at SAMS, a partner of UHI, received the Converge Challenge prize at the Converge Awards ceremony in Glasgow yesterday [Wednesday]. The Converge Challenge prize was the premier award presented on the night and is given to the company that shows the greatest growth and innovation potential.

N-ovatio-N™ offers an environmentally friendly solution to the issue of organic waste in the aquaculture industry. The scalable biotechnological approach can convert waste into high value, sustainable feed ingredients in the form of marine worms, rich in protein, lipid and omega-3 fatty acids. The technology can be co-located at aquaculture production facilities to deliver circular aquaculture.

This innovative approach enables N-ovatio-N™ to grow high quality polychaete worms year-round for UK and global export markets. In doing so, the technology creates a circular economy, reducing waste disposal costs and impacts, and creates low-carbon alternate feed ingredients.

Dr Robinson said: “I was thrilled to be a finalist and win the Converge Challenge award. We participated in Converge 2023 for the entrepreneurial training to support our spin-out journey and I want to thank Converge for its incredible support.

“I am driving the spin-out of N-ovatio-N™ to deliver impact and help meet Scotland’s Net Zero targets through a circular economy solution that upcycles waste into high value feed ingredients in the form of marine worms. Our solution centres around net zero solutions for the Scottish salmon farming sector and global aquaculture industry.

“We will use this cash prize to leverage non-dilutive grant funding to further build our IP portfolio.”

Since launching the SAMS spin-out company, Dr Robinson has secured placements on a range of accelerator programmes, as well as £75,000 from Scottish Enterprise High Growth Spin-Out Support Programme.

This was the 13th year of the Converge Awards, seen as a springboard for university spin-outs and start-ups that seek to transform society, people and planet for the better. The Converge Challenge category, which recognises novel business ideas with solid IP foundations, high commercial potential and scalability, awarded N-ovatio-N™ £50,000 in cash and £20,000 in in-kind business support to drive the company forward in its next phase. 

Converge Challenge applications are judged on their growth and innovation potential. Successful applicants must demonstrate their prospective business’s competitive advantage, market potential, and expected team and resources.

SAMS Director Prof Nicholas Owens said: “We are absolutely thrilled that N-ovatio-N™ and Georgina’s efforts have been recognised in this way.

“Our emerging blue economy needs innovative and creative thinkers, but the marine science knowledge behind these ideas is crucial. Georgina is an excellent example of that.

“I look forward to seeing the evolution of N-ovatio-N™ and the impact it will make on aquaculture. This award, thanks to the backing Converge, is a fantastic start.”

Professor Neil Simco, UHI’s Deputy Principal Academic and Research, said: “It’s fantastic to see Geogina’s innovative and important work recognised in the 2023 Converge Awards. UHI’s 2030 strategic plan sets out our commitment to driving sustainability and net zero initiatives so I’m delighted that our researchers are being recognised for their valuable contributions in this area. Georgina is a credit to SAMS and the UHI partnership. We look forward to supporting Georgina as she continues to develop her groundbreaking enterprise.”

Funded by the Scottish Funding Council, South of Scotland Enterprise, Creative Scotland and a network of eleven corporate partners, Converge works in partnership with all of Scotland’s universities. Since its launch in 2011, the programme has trained over 700 aspiring founders, contributed to the creation of more than 330 companies which have raised in excess of £320 million in follow-on funding.

Open to students, graduates, and staff from across Scotland’s universities, Converge supports new businesses through intensive business training, networking, 1-2-1 support, generous equity free cash prizes and expert, professional advice from its roster of industry partners. 

Scotland’s national innovation strategy, which was published in June 2023, outlined four innovation themes in which the nation has a competitive advantage, spanning the energy transition, health and life sciences, data and digital technologies, and advanced manufacturing.

Richard Lochhead MSP, Innovation Minister, said: “Entrepreneurship and innovation are at the heart of our National Strategy for Economic Transformation, and academia-industry collaboration helps fulfil Scotland’s potential to nurture many more inventive new start-up companies. 

“We recently published our National Innovation Strategy which sets out our vision for Scotland to become one of the most innovative small nations in the world over the next decade. The strategy includes how we can support the creation and growth of more university spinouts and innovative businesses and products. 

“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.”