Three student startups have been named winners at an annual celebration of innovation and enterprise in Edinburgh.

A grip-strengthening robotic glove, an app to better connect restaurants and food suppliers and a system to measure forest health using satellites have emerged victorious from the University of Edinburgh’s awards for student entrepreneurs.

The Inspire Launch Grow 2021 awards run by Edinburgh Innovations (EI), the university’s commercialisation service, went ahead virtually last week.

The winning businesses were selected by an expert judging panel from a shortlist of 14 finalists across three categories, with each champion awarded £5,000.

In the ’emerging enterprise’ category, sponsored by construction company Balfour Beatty, undergraduate student Armin Ghofrani and recent graduates Thomas Billam and Gauthier Collas came out on top with their business NextChain.

The team has developed an app to improve the food supply chain process for restaurants, promising chefs they can “say goodbye to phone calls, emails, paperwork and mistakes”.

Ghofrani said: “We are so grateful for the support and help we’ve received from EI – particularly the co-working space where we got to interact with so many inspiring people. We really wanted to help businesses adapt to the tough conditions they face and with this boost we hope to continue to grow our user base in Edinburgh.” 

Two recent engineering graduates, Rowan Armstrong and Ross O’Hanlon, took the ‘impact award’ for social enterprises focused on change for common good.

They are the founders of Bioliberty, developing a lightweight robotic glove which strengthens grip and a digital therapy platform which helps develop natural hand strength.

O’Hanlon said: “It has been a tough year, but we’ve managed to use that time really productively. We’re thrilled to be recognised. It’s obviously a team effort and I’d really like to thank everyone who’s supported us along the way.”

Thibault Sorret, a masters student in wildlife and ecosystems health, took the ‘innovation award’ for technology-based businesses.

His startup, Wildsense, monitors forest health using satellite imagery to help foresters better adapt to climate-change-related risks.

Sorret said: “I’m really grateful for the university and EI’s support helping me take my academic work and translating it into real world impact. Hopefully we can inspire even more students to take the plunge and develop even more amazing and positive ideas.”

Edinburgh University/Supplied

The 14 finalists were selected from a strong field of entries across the University of Edinburgh’s three colleges: Arts, Humanities & Social Science, Science & Engineering, and Medicine & Veterinary Medicine.

Lorna Baird, enterprise development manager at Edinburgh Innovations said: “It’s been an incredibly hard year for our student startups but throughout they have shown resilience, ambition and determination; showing us all that they can triumph even in a pandemic.  Our Inspire Launch Grow Awards is our way of celebrating their true grit!  Well done to all the finalists and winners.  We are incredibly proud of what you have achieved.”

Each finalist team made a 10-minute business pitch to an expert panel of judges ahead of an online awards ceremony where the winners were announced on Wednesday 7 July.

All 11 runners-up received £500, and all finalists received a photography package to help market their businesses.

The judging panel included previous winners, who are now successful entrepreneurs as well as enterprise experts. They included Aayush Goyal, co-founder of Social Stories Club, Lorenzo Conti, founder of Crover, and Steve Hamill, chief executive of Scottish EDGE.

Past winners of ‘Inspire Launch Grow’ include TouchLab and WaterWhelm in 2019.

TouchLab developed an electronic skin to give machines a human-like sense of touch while WaterWhelm aims to bring clean water to billions of people.

Both startups have also won other awards such as the Scottish EDGE awards and the Converge Kickstart Challenge.