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Investing in innovation 

Data Driven Entrepreneurship programme supports post-Covid recovery

Despite the many unknowns of the Covid pandemic, one thing has always been obvious – the economic damage caused by the crisis is eye-watering. Given this backdrop there has never been a more important time to encourage and support emerging businesses and the entrepreneurs behind them.

In response, the University of Edinburgh’s Data Driven Entrepreneurship (DDE) programme, funded by the Scottish Funding Council, has swung into action.

The university’s innovation ecosystem is perfectly positioned to support this interdisciplinary series of activities all intended to engage, guide and encourage entrepreneurship. Indeed, DDE runs as part of the Data Driven Innovation programme delivered through the innovation hubs; the Bayes Centre, Easter Bush, Usher Institute and Edinburgh Futures Institute supported by Edinburgh Innovations (EI), the commercialisation service at the University of Edinburgh.

The programme opened in December 2020 and runs until July. It has already launched Digitech work placements, a venture builder incubator, a fast-track executive director programme and a Post-Covid AI Accelerator.

The six-month AI Accelerator programme characterises the DDE programme in many ways. It aims to help pioneering AI start-ups with high growth potential to scale globally so they can go on to become world-leading companies. There is obviously huge benefit to the companies themselves, but this growth also brings jobs and economic benefit to Edinburgh and the region. Indeed, the enthusiasm for the programme speaks volumes – al-most 100 young businesses from across the world applied and the 15 startups who were selected are addressing a wide range of pressing global, business and health issues.

The Scottish Government Finance Secretary, Kate Forbes, said: “A key enabler of Scotland’s recovery from Covid-19 is digital and technology, so it’s great to see the University of Edinburgh’s Post-Covid AI Accelerator support companies exploring how AI can be developed and used in many areas, such as health, and helping to tackle the climate emergency.”

Another advocate of the pro-gramme is Mark Logan, former COO of Skyscanner and author of the Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review, who said: “This is an excellent opportunity to enrich Scotland’s tech ecosystem with an infusion of international businesses, creating high value jobs in Scotland and addressing some of the social and economic issues arising from Covid-19.”

The young companies involved are truly awe-inspiring in ambition. For example, BioLiberty has designed an AI-powered robotic glove that strengthens the user’s grip. Grip strength declines as we age and BioLiberty’s glove has the potential to restore independence for millions of people in the UK and globally. It is particularly relevant now when people are living longer, are more isolated and can’t easily get support from friends, family and carers.

And Net AI, founded by Dr Paul Patras, associate professor in the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh, is revolutionising cloud-based virtual network management via real time AI analytics. Its cloud-native Microscope solution helps telecom companies reduce costs.

For the AI Accelerator, the university is partnering with Scale Space, a new community for scale-ups, and Nile, the strategic design company. As well as benefiting from workshops and coaching on a range of topics, the AI Accelerator participants will have access to Scale Space chair-man, Mark Sanders, who will be the Entrepreneur in Residence for the programme, as well as a number of other mentors. They will also benefit from peer learning and conferences to help their businesses grow.

This is how the DDE pro-grammes are directly supporting young entrepreneurs, widening the innovation and technology funnel so that more businesses grow sustainably.

Just one of the many ways the University of Edinburgh’s innovation ecosystem is responding to the challenge of the Covid crisis and supporting our economy now and in the future.

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