female data scientist, woman leading team

From Canada to Cameroon - Women who shape technology innovation shape the world around us

female data scientist, woman leading team

Article by Claudia Cavalluzzo, Director, Converge

The past few years has seen a spike in the emergence of women in technology and leadership who are fronting a new paradigm where innovation addresses many of the world’s chief concerns.

They are driving the agenda to a new generation of disruption and technology.

I witness this all the time as Director of Converge, Scotland’s national company creation programme for our university network, when last year our three main Converge award categories saw triumphs for women founders.

It came as no surprise there was a female ‘clean sweep’. Up to that point, every year we had witnessed an increase in women applying to the Converge programme, coming forward with some truly inspiring ideas and in fairness, this surge of applicants from a strong female academic cohort was hardly unique. Around the world we witness daily how female entrepreneurship and innovation has surged and making a profound difference in so many different walks of life.

The drive, ambition, and focus are the qualities that have kept innovation rolling at a seemingly invincible pace and are managing to now quell any criticism of an industry that had a perceived lack of diversity that was once synonymous and pervasive.

Today, some of the global technology industry’s most influential roles are held by women across the tech spectrum – entrepreneurs, corporate executives, investors, and policy makers.

However,the pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on women in business, as highlighted by many reports, the latest of which is attributed to Professor Norin Arshed, Chair of Entrepreneurship and Associate Dean of Research in the School of Business at the University of Dundee.

This report, focused on Scotland’s female business owners, found that the challenges women entrepreneurs faced were amplified during the pandemic. These focussed around the historically reported barriers for women entrepreneurs (access to finance, lack of specific support, lion share of childcare and elderly care) which were exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis.

Despite quick advances in tech platforms, networking is still done best face to face and this is an aspect where women tend to excel. Therefore, the lack of social interactions we all experienced in the last 20 months has been more strongly felt by women.

From a Converge point of view, this was reflected in a slowdown in female applications for our 2021 programme with several who participated having to juggle multiple priorities. We adapted our offering to online and on demand training sessions and spent an incredible amount of time brokering relationships between our participants and the entrepreneurial support community.

We won’t stop here. Converge will continue to tap into the global richness and exceptional skills of female-led and inspired innovation that sits within Scotland’s world-class Universities. We will get back on track for gender balance and equality in business.

Female entrepreneurs who apply to join the Converge programme come to Scotland to study from every corner of the globe. Their innovations and ingenuity have created businesses that are tackling head-on, some of the world’s greatest challenges – particularly around areas such as the climate emergency. All of them work towards a common goal of having the potential to transform people’s lives and the planet around us.

Claudia Cavalluzzo, Director, ConvergeAbout the author

Claudia 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 www.convergechallenge.com


Companies need to strike the right balance with diversity and gender equality issues

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 www.convergechallenge.com


WeAreTechWomen covers the latest female centric news stories from around the world, focusing on women in technology, careers and current affairs. You can find all the latest gender news here.  

Don’t forget, you can also follow us via our social media channels for the latest up-to-date gender news. Click to follow us on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube


group of young multiethnic diverse people gesture hand high five, laughing and smiling together in brainstorm meeting at office, company culture

'Choose To Challenge'

group of young multiethnic diverse people gesture hand high five, laughing and smiling together in brainstorm meeting at office, company culture

Article by Claudia Cavalluzzo, Director, Converge

Whilst our minds are busy with concepts like furlough and home schooling, it’s still important that we take a moment to celebrate women around the world, their achievements, raise awareness about gender equality, and challenge the status quo. 

At Converge, challenging is all we do. In fact, many still call us ‘Converge Challenge’, our original name when we launched back in 2011. We’ve tried to migrate to our new name, Converge, but with limited success.

Back then, we set to challenge Scottish Universities and their rate of research and idea commercialisation. In the last 10 years, the sector has massively improved its commercial outputs and can now count on a much more entrepreneurial mind-set amongst its staff and students. Scotland now rates fairly high in the University Spin-out ranking, as reported in the latest Beurhust’s Spotlight on Spin-outs.

It is not yet time to rest on our laurels though. Albeit many Universities have now become engines of innovation and company creation, making huge contributions to the economy, the process is far from perfect.

Too few female founders still come to the fore, in fact according to that very same report, in the UK only 20% of University spin-outs count at least one female founder and only 13% of total equity raised by spin-outs is secured by female founded spin-outs.

Too many talented women are put off or knocked down by the culture that surrounds investment, business growth and the idea that if you want to be an entrepreneur then you cannot be anything else and you should dedicate every waking moment to it. We know the reality is rather different, however. You can choose to be an entrepreneur, and also a mother, a father, a caring son or daughter and even have another job to sustain your family whilst your business takes off. There isn’t just one way to be entrepreneurial and we need to challenge this stereotype.

Over the last 10 years, we have substantially increased the number of female participants into our company creation programme, reaching 50:50 balance in 2019.

Last year, all top prizes were awarded to female-led or co-led businesses. This was achieved in tandem with announcing a special prize for the most promising female entrepreneur, the Rose Award (sponsored by The Royal Bank of Scotland and supported by their CEO, Alison Rose). And we are not the only ones, far from it.

Companies around the world have made public statements about their gender policies, disclosed gender pay gaps and adapted their investment processes to guarantee a fare share of the funding is distributed to female-founded businesses.

The current pandemic unfortunately might take us back more than 10 years.

Women have been hit the hardest by the Covid-19 crisis, having had to go back to be the main children’s or elderlies’ carers. Economic sectors led by women have been decimated by the economic crisis. All the progress we were making risks being wiped off in just 12 months.

We cannot allow this to happen.

So, this year, I choose to challenge our behaviour, our perception, our ability to accept that women’s equality is a fair price to pay in this crisis.

I choose to challenge myself and my own conscious and unconscious bias, and to challenge others’ judgment criteria.

I choose to be the one who always brings up the question of Diversity & Inclusion, even at the risk of sounding like a broken record.

Converge is lucky to be part of the journey of so many inspirational female founders from different walks of life: from bench scientists to creative talents, our environment is a constant source of inspiration and marvel.

As we continue our efforts in the commercialisation arena and work together to contribute to the economic recovery, we should not forget our guiding principles of equality, fairness and inclusion.

About the author

Claudia Cavalluzzo, Director, ConvergeClaudia Cavalluzzo is Director of Converge, Scotland’s largest academic company creation and pioneering entrepreneurship development and enterprise programme for staff, students and recent graduates from Scotland’s Higher Education Institutions


WeAreTechWomen covers the latest female centric news stories from around the world, focusing on women in technology, careers and current affairs. You can find all the latest gender news here.  

Don’t forget, you can also follow us via our social media channels for the latest up-to-date gender news. Click to follow us on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube


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Women, Technology and Relationships - Three Key Ingredients For Success

Claudia Cavalluzzo, Director, Converge

desk-with-laptopI recently had the pleasure of hosting Lesley Eccles at ‘Inside Innovation’, our new virtual event that showcased some of the most ambitious new and future emerging technologies from Scotland’s Universities.

Many may know Lesley as one of the co-founders of FanDuel, a Scottish born multi billion company (Scotland’s first ‘unicorn’ I believe) operating in the fantasy sport market in the United States. Its story is well known, and it has now been collated by the author Albert Chen in a book called ‘The billion-dollar fantasy’. Lesley, in her interview on the virtual Converge couch, admitted that the journey with FanDuel has not been an easy one but if there is one thing she has learned during the trials and tribulations that led Fanduel’s success, is that relationships are key. In fact, she has recently launched Relish, the world’s first personal trainer app for relationships.

Relationships, in their purest nature, are based on trust. They can make or break a company. Attitude over skills, emotional intelligence over technical abilities. But let’s not forget the relationships that make you function as a human being, like the ones with your partner or friends. Relationships shape who we are and how we behave. They provide that sanity check we need when we can’t think about anything else but our business.

Life is busy, even more so if you are an entrepreneur.  The health of your relationship with your life partner can easily get pushed down the ‘to do’ list or even be left running in the background, like a programme that automatically launches when you switch on your laptop.

The life of a start-up can be so fast-paced and intense, it can absorb people completely. I have seen many entrepreneurs over the years being so entangled with their new business at the expense of their personal life and relationships.

I have the privilege of working with some of the most exciting innovative business that emerge from Scotland’s Universities. A prime example is Elasmogen, a biopharmaceutical spin-out company developing the next-generation of products for the sight-saving treatment of inflammatory diseases of the eye and inflammatory conditions of the gut.  Elasmogen’s founder and CEO, Caroline Barelle, began her entrepreneurial journey after being made redundant from a large pharmaceutical company.

In 2015, she secured the runner-up prize in the Converge Challenge and hasn’t looked back. Under her stewardship, Elasmogen has grown leaps and bounds and was named by Labioutech.eu as one of the top ten biotechs in Scotland. Caroline has also received numerous accolades including the Royal Society of Edinburgh Enterprise Fellowship. A fine example of an exceptional female technology innovator and entrepreneur.

Caroline understands the importance of valuing the team and believes that the right work culture is instrumental to the growth and expansion of her company.

It just goes to show that Women, Technology and relationship are a recipe for success.

Of the hundreds of new technologies, we see every year, many of them are led by aspiring female entrepreneurs. Last year, the Converge programme achieved gender balance, both in terms of cohort composition and prize winners. This year we have seen a drop in these figures, probably due to the unfair impact of the pandemic on women, as highlighted by Women’s Enterprise Scotland, which is the rational behind their newly launched Women’s Business Centre.

The key message is not that lack of female entrepreneurs is unfair (which it is) but it’s that it’s bad for the economy and society.

With more ‘Carolines and Lesleys’, the world is a richer place, both in terms of profit and culture.

Once again, Lesley Eccles is paving the way.  She has seized the opportunity and grabbed it with both hands. Lesley, Caroline and the many female entrepreneurs I see come through Converge every year are all making their marks in the sand, they inspire me every day and give us all a glimpse of hope for a fairer and more prosperous future.

Claudia Cavalluzzo, Director, ConvergeAbout the author

Claudia 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 www.convergechallenge.com