Claudia Cavalluzzo, Director, Converge

DiversityResearch consistently demonstrates the positive impact of diversity on companies’ boards, such as better return on investment, improved sales, improved sustainability and better risk management.

It is well known that diversity of thought increases innovation, and that innovation is critical to grow companies of scale. What is less well known is that gender diversity, in particular, powers radical innovation in organisations.

Across the world, companies are striving to improve their diversity in order to meet their Environmental, Societal and Governance (ESG) goals. Leading investment firm Goldman Sachs has recently introduced diversity on company boards as a mandatory criterion for investing in companies to scale.

Improving gender equality in our companies is not just a moral imperative, but an economic one, and where better to start than with companies starting up in our academic institutions, where innovation drives growth?

Within the university spinout and start-up community, there are often challenges in addressing diversity and inclusion issues, with a lack of diverse board members available to work with early stage companies. Strong diverse boards with the right balance of skills and experience, suitable to the different and distinct stages of a company’s growth, are essential for helping companies to evolve and attract sufficient capital to scale.

Women on Boards, the UK’s leading organisation for developing and growing the availability of skilled women on boards, Women’s Enterprise Scotland, a Community Interest Company that drives gender equality and inclusivity in Scotland, and Converge, Scotland’s largest company creation programme dedicated to the university network, have joined forces to address this gap.

A pilot programme has been designed and is currently being delivered to ensure universities and their spinouts and start-ups are equipped for their entrepreneurial journey. Three Research intensive universities, the University of Strathclyde, Heriot-Watt University and the University of Dundee are involved in this initial pilot, which, if proven successful, will be rolled out to all Scottish universities.

Being on the board of a spinout or start-up is more hands-on than a traditional listed company and many professional women, who have come forward to participate in this pilot, may require additional skillsets and mindsets to adapt their experience to working with smaller, more agile high-growth companies.

The training, designed by Women on Boards and Women’s Enterprise Scotland, is designed to provide the context, skills and mindset to its participants.

Emerging university companies have been selected by each participating university, with the majority being Converge Alumni. All participating businesses are underpinned by technology and innovation and their growth depends on the ability to adapt and respond to ever changing market needs. And that is what a board is there for – to help the executive team avoid pitfalls and seize new opportunities.

Amongst them are 2019 Converge Challenge winner In4Derm and 2018 Converge Challenge Runner-Up Myconourish. These companies are now at the right stage to start to form a board and have realised the importance of getting it right from the start.

By providing training, connecting networks and opportunities, this pilot programme aims to set the standard for future University spinouts and start-ups to give them a ‘leg up’ to inclusively lead the way to success. And you never know, Goldman Sachs might start investing in Scotland before we know it!

About the author

Claudia Cavalluzzo, Director, ConvergeClaudia Cavalluzzo is Director of Converge – the only programme of its kind that brings together academic entrepreneurs from every university in Scotland. Its mission is to empower people to take their future into their own hands. This is done  by providing intensive business training – tailored to academic entrepreneurs – a dynamic and supportive network and one to one guidance for staff, students and graduates. More details at

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