DAVID LEE reports on the AI and Blockchain Accelerator Demo Day, recently held in Edinburgh
EDINBURGH’S AI and blockchain accelerator wants to make the city the go-to place for new artificial intelligence and blockchain businesses with high-growth potential.
So far, 20 young businesses have been through the Bayes Centre programme, which helps them scale through investment, mentoring, business development and access to market-leading partners. The accelerator itself is a partnership between the University of Edinburgh, Wayra (part of Telefonica), Cisco and Scottish Enterprise.
The latest cohort of nine businesses took part in a Demo Day in Edinburgh in December 2019, outlining their USP to investors and seeking further funding to take their innovative ideas forward. Charlotte Waugh, Programme Manager, said the businesses had “helped each other through the highs and lows that are an inevitable part of the entrepreneurial journey” – and now sought further investment to continue helping a buoyant sector find solutions, reduce costs and create jobs.
Supporting the AI and Blockchain Accelerator in 2020 is the University of Edinburgh’s Data-Driven Innovation (DDI) initiative – part of the wider City Region Deal – which is keen for the Accelerator to attract more talent to the region. Ritchie Somerville, DDI’s Head of Strategy, said: “Things only survive with the right ecosystem around them. We have talented individuals and want to grow really strong teams and ecosystems. The Regional Ecosystem has grown significantly over the past decade but it is still fragile and we must not rest on our laurels. We need to keep feeding it and partnerships like this, with Wayra, help us do that. What excites and interests me is showing how businesses can use AI to drive a better relationship with users.”
Somerville said the real opportunity was from events like the Demo Day was “entrepreneurs interacting with students, researchers and academics to offer a sense of what could be”. He added: “I spoke to a couple of students at the Demo Day who came along to see what it was about. They had a very early stage idea and wanted to see others who had walked that path and talk to them. Stimulating that desire in others is hugely important.”
The presenters outlined a very broad range of B2B and B2C propositions, from deep data compliance (Trace) to promise of “the best user experience of any travel company in the world” (Travamigos).
James Wormington, Founder/CEO, described Travamigos as “the modern-day answer to organised group travel – based on safety, shared experiences and reduced costs, using tech to deliver the human touch.” Calling for seed investors to support international growth, he said: “We are parking our tanks on the back lawn of 3600 travel providers.”
Also in the consumer space, Siewi Kang created PicoJar to help people order their “private day-to-day mental moments”. She said: “The productivity app market is growing fast due to information overload. I believe this can transform the way we use information.”
Kang said individuals ‘lose’ around 90 per cent of information they take in each month and asked: “How can we retain more (and order it) so we can find it?”
PicoJar leverages photo and screenshot technology, using an AI-powered workflow to reduce the cognitive effort required to turn external information into internal knowledge. Users store the information in ‘jars’, which requires a sorting process, but actions are suggested to help you.
Data tipping point
The Demo Day’s Keynote speaker, Dinis Guarda, author of 4IR, academic, entrepreneur and influencer, said universities had a crucial role to play as society reached a tipping-point in dealing with data: “The relationship between cities, universities, entrepreneurs and ideas is critical for the future of mankind. We have a big responsibility not to screw up. The relationship between blockchain, AI and data is going to create a lot of new paradigms in terms of how we behave in society. We need leadership like we have in Edinburgh, with a science base and with good storytelling. The new (r)evolution is becoming a tsunami; we can surf it or we can be drowned by it.”
Another start-up on the Accelerator, Oodls straddles the B2C and B2B markets by tapping into the wealth of strong, real-life images on Instagram to “allow businesses to find and use unique authentic content”.
CEO/Founder Sarah Stenhouse said: “I was seeing fake content and wanted to use images from Instagram where 80 million pictures are posted daily. The stock photography market is growing rapidly; we want to cut the time to find images and allow you to buy one within seconds.
“People who already post to Instagram are paid for being part of the Oodls community. It’s a passive way of making money, an ego-stroke activity; people are warm to it. Authentic images can drive higher conversion rates for business.” Oodls is seeking Series A investment and strategic partnerships, while aiming to raise its image library of 70,000 to one million by the end of 2020.
Also tapping into the zeitgeist is IntelliDigest, which has ambitious growth plans based around its ID Box, an automated bio-upcycler that converts food waste to biodegradable materials by adding specific enzymes.
Ifeyinwa Kanu, Founder & Director, said: “Wasting food has a huge negative impact on our economy, society and environment. But what if it’s a great opportunity and we use AI and advances in molecular biology to solve the problem?”
IntelliDigest has entered into a strategic manufacturing partnership with Bosch and is targeting UK hotels with 100-250 rooms, producing an average of 60kg of food waste per day. “We want to drive change, create value, disrupt the market and make the world a better place,” said Kanu. Pilot laboratory trials have been carried out with Marriott Hotels and Will Macpherson, of the Marriott Courtyard in Edinburgh, said: “We face the twin challenges of profitability and sustainability. Intellidigest has a solution which makes sense.”
Profitability is also at the root of Sagecity’s proposition. Decio Emanuel, Chief Marketing Officer, explained: “When you buy something online and hit the button, you imagine the money going straight to the seller, but it actually goes through payment networks and middlemen. $1 billion is spent annually by businesses on transaction fees, with small businesses disproportionately affected. We use software to take control of payment processes, remove middlemen and saving businesses money.”
CEO and co-founder Adam Greenberg said Sagecity had saved more than £10,000 for customers in its very early days and had great potential for growth as it was using very new technology and had largely relied on referrals to date.
Trade In Space has seen satellite specialist Robin Sampson combine expertise in software, AI and GIS to “develop powerful products which inform buyers and assist farmers to access direct trade markets and sell their product”. His initial focus is coffee farmers in Brazil, in partnership with multinational merchant Sucafina, but the business is already looking at other markets in South America and alternative products including sugar cane.
“For every £2.50 cup of coffee sold, a Brazilian coffee farmer will typically get 1p,” said Sampson. He is looking to “redress the balance and reduce costs for buyers at the same time”.
Business solutions focus
Three of the accelerator businesses occupy the deep B2B space. Net Energy (NetEN) has developed a patented, low-voltage IoT (Internet of Things) sensor which monitors different variables of the electricity load – and looks for anomalies and insights to alert electricity distributors to potential problems. Its solution combines hardware, software and connectivity.
Ocyan provides a cloud-managed solution to address the fact that peer-to-peer technologies are disrupting markets in all industries, while recognising that combining new technology with enterprise-grade systems is complex. Ocyan’s system delivers the infrastructure, automation, monitoring, integration and analytics needed to allow organisations to integrate and scale effectively across the cloud to any DLT or blockchain network – at speed and with depth.
Trace, meanwhile, is seeking to benefit from the “buoyant and growing” compliance market by helping businesses to protect, visualise and find personal data and streamline data protection regulatory compliance. Sorcha Lorimer, Founder/CEO, said 25 per cent of global data which needs protection is neglected and added: “The data is yours, but it might be being tracked, kept or stolen.”
Anthea Greco, Head of Partnerships and Investment at Wayra, commented: “I’m really proud of what the AI and blockchain accelerator has achieved. We have seen amazing success thanks to the collaboration of all partners.”
Seven of the nine accelerator businesses who presented at the Demo Day will stay, rent-free, for the next six months in the Bayes Centre, to develop their ideas and engage with the wider tech community – with the option to remain longer as a tenant.
The application deadline for the next AI and blockchain accelerator cohort is 15 January. The programme starts on 19 February. The new cohort will concentrate on five verticals within AI and blockchain: FinTech; Legal Tech; Health Tech; Energy & Climate Change; and AI for Good.