Thirteen global innovation challenge winners have been announced by Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt university – in sectors spanning agri-tech to e-commerce.

More than 500 entrepreneurs across four continents took part in the competition, with winners sharing £30,000 in prize money.

Canada-based agri-tech startup Pathoscan won Best Overall winner for its crop disease platform aiming to revolutionise agriculture with portable, rapid testing devices for farmers.

Edinburgh-based Thrift UP scooped the Proof-of-Concept award for its virtual fitting room fusing Augmented Reality and AI to enable sustainable online shopping.

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.”