Staff Services Student Enterprise

Edinburgh’s pitch-perfect young entrepreneurs

10 Sep 2021

A robotic waste-sorter, a digital chemistry lab for school children and a mechanised planter to restore seagrass beds on the ocean floor have been named the stand-out business ideas following the University of Edinburgh’s 12-week Startup Summer Accelerator.

Twelve teams of Scotland’s brightest young entrepreneurs pitched their plans to expert judges and an audience of more than 60 at the online Demo Day, hosted by Edinburgh Innovations.

After a three-minute pitch, each team faced a four-minute grilling from the judges, who assessed the businesses against the question “would I invest?”.

The overall winner, receiving £4,000, was announced as Danu Robotics, founded by Xiaoyan Ma, an MSc student in High Performance Computing with Data Science. She and her team are developing a revolutionary robotic system for the waste management industry to significantly increase recycling efficiency.

Danu Robotics’ solution aims to reduce recycling contamination rates from the current 10% to below 1%, while saving on costs significantly.

Xiaoyan said:

I just cannot believe it! This will help Danu greatly – the funding will help us to develop our prototype and the award will help us attract talent and further support, both financial and non-financial.

"The Accelerator has been such a big help in teaching me to become a successful entrepreneur.

"I learnt a lot from the rest of the cohort, and as a committed environmentalist, I am extremely happy that there are so many startups that will help us to create a greener and cleaner future.

Digital science lab

The runner-up, receiving £3,000, was Whimsycraft, founded by PhD Physics student Joseph French. Whimsycraft is developing a digital simulation of a chemical laboratory, for teaching science.

Third prize, receiving £2,000, went to Robocean, founded by Mechanical Engineering undergraduates Joseph Ralphs, Niall McGrath and Hiro Onishi. Robocean aims to restore diminishing beds of seagrass on the ocean floor using a low-cost efficient robotic planter. Seagrass has the potential to absorb vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Robocean Co-Founder Niall McGrath said:

The best part of the Start-up Summer Accelerator has been the freedom it has given my co-founders and me to develop our prototype. We’ve arrived at the end of the programme with a full prototype design and plans to kick off its manufacturing.

Career support in Africa

Finally, the judges made a “special mention” award of £1,000 to Sasha Network, a virtual early career accelerator to boost opportunities for young people across Africa, founded by Farai Munjoma, who is studying MSc Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

The Startup Summer Accelerator is run by Edinburgh Innovations for students and recent graduates providing grant funding, workshops and links to industry over three months of the summer.

Lorna Baird, Student Enterprise Manager at Edinburgh Innovations, said:

Seeing the progress these entrepreneurs have made over the summer is truly inspiring. I’m sure many are destined to lead long-lasting businesses that tackle unmet needs and employ growing numbers of people.

“Congratulations to all the Startup Summer Accelerator participants, and of course especially today’s winners.

Sought-after programme

More than 80 students and recent graduates applied for 12 spaces on the programme, where entrepreneurs learn how to communicate their vision and prepare to meet with investors, partners and other key stakeholders who can help build their future.

They also benefited from insights from guest speakers, including Henry Blanchard, founder of the Uganda Marathon, which has become the biggest international race in East Africa, and the brand strategy and storytelling coach Lesley Stonier.

The Accelerator is sponsored by Santander Universities and the Mastercard Foundation. The programme offers £3,000 to each company, weekly workshops and weekly peer learning sessions.

Photograph: A winner from last year’s Demo Day, Yaldi Games founder Elena Höge, speaking at Demo Day 2021.

Full list of finalists

Business name




Digital simulation of a chemical laboratory, for teaching science.

Joseph French, PhD Physics.


Software applications mapped to the national curriculum, to save teachers time and assist in delivering more personalised education.

Jack Walker, PhD Personalising Education

Arthur Iban, BEng Mechanical Engineering

Aryan Shah, BSc Computer Science.


Wildsense uses satellite imagery to monitor and improve forest health.

Thibault Sorret,

MSc Biodiversity, Wildlife and

Ecosystem Health.

Empowering Local Energy Group

Three women engineers committed to ensuring that everyone has access to the renewable energy revolution, with no communities left behind.

Katherine Frangos,

MSc Sustainable Energy


Ndeye Maty Tall,

MSc Sustainable Energy


Michelle Stevens,

MSc Sustainable Energy



Software as a service, to enhance the reliability and efficiency of medical services in Rwanda’s hospitals and healthcare centres.

Pacifique Nsengiyumva,

BEng Electronics and Electrical


Developing the world’s smartest bin, which sorts waste automatically.

Jonathan Feldstein,

PhD Informatics.

Alec Diallo,

PhD Informatics.


A platform where any student, from any country can easily find resources to support their learning.

Janek Kolaczyk

BSc Computer Science

and Physics.

Danu Robotics

Developing advanced technological solutions in waste recycling, for the benefit of the environment.

Xiaoyan Ma,

MSc High Performance

Computing with Data Science.

Nathan Western (Chief Technology Officer),

PhD Robotics.

Sasha Network

A virtual early career accelerator to bridge the career aspiration gap for young people across Africa.

Farai Munjoma,

MSc Entrepreneurship

and Innovation.


Internet for rural areas using TV white space (unused transmission frequencies).

Mohamed Kassem,

PhD Informatics.

Clara Funke,

MSc Environmental



A subsea robotics startup mechanising seagrass restoration.

Joseph Ralphs,

MEng Mechanical Engineering.

Niall McGrath,

MEng Mechanical Engineering

with Renewable Energy.

Hiro Onishi,

MEng Mechanical Engineering.


Automation system to monitor microbial cultures remotely, increasing lab efficiency and capability.

Asma Al-Murtadha,

Professro Ahmed Al-Dubai,

Dr Abdelfateh Kerrouche,

Hayder Al Mshelesh,

Ahmed Al-Murtadha.

Related links

Danu Robotics

EI services for students