Ulster University is one of three UK universities to have been awarded an equal share of £4.5 million to fund small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) engagement hubs, as part of the Hartree National Centre for Digital Innovation (HNCDI) programme.
Alongside Cardiff University and Newcastle University, Ulster University's Derry~Londonderry campus will become a regional hub for the programme, and provide targeted and accessible support for SMEs across Northern Ireland to improve their competitiveness and growth through the adoption of digital technologies and methods.
This support will assist regional SMEs in taking full advantage of the digital adoption expertise available from the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Hartree Centre including areas such as:
- data analytics
- visual computing
- artificial intelligence (AI)
Enhancing productivity, engagement and growth
The universities will also use their own in-house expertise and industry engagement experience to enable the transfer and exchange of knowledge into UK businesses to enhance their productivity, innovation and growth.
Through this initiative, the Hartree Centre aims to establish an SME engagement support network across the UK, which connects its advanced digital technologies and expertise to other established regional networks of industry-led research and innovation.
Professor Liam Maguire, Pro Vice-Chancellor Research at Ulster University, said:
"Ulster University is delighted to have been selected to lead an SME engagement hub as part of the Hartree National Centre for Digital Innovation (HNCDI) programme. The creation of this hub with its dedicated space and expert personnel will allow us to build upon this partnership to deliver upskilling and digital innovation to all sectors of the Northern Ireland economy. With its very high proportion of SMEs, Northern Ireland has a marked lower performance than the UK average in terms of digitalisation generally and AI adoption specifically so there is a clear and present need for this hub.
“We have previously partnered with Hartree through a series of workshops and seminars to support Northern Ireland companies with their digital technology adoption. Hartree and Ulster are currently working together with others on the Innovate UK funded Smart Manufacturing Data Hub project supporting manufacturing SMEs across the UK. "
Minister of State at the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology, George Freeman, said:
“The UK has always been at the cutting edge of some of the most important technologies of tomorrow, but too often, we’ve failed to translate that unrivalled expertise into practical tools and resources which can benefit our wider business communities.
“That’s why, in 2021, we committed to bringing our brightest minds together in fields including AI and Quantum, through a £172 million investment to establish the Hartree National Centre for Digital Innovation.
“The funding announced today will go even further to turn great science and technology into great business, providing an unrivalled network of support for those SMEs who are adopting emerging technologies. These new hubs will allow us to target support at a local level, while laying the foundations for a larger support ecosystem connecting companies right across the UK.”
Professor Kate Royse, Director of the STFC Hartree Centre, said:
“It’s important to us that support for digital technology adoption reaches as many companies across the UK as possible, and the Hartree Centre SME hubs will enhance that regional access.
“The partner organisations we’ve selected have a wealth of data science and AI expertise that builds on our own, and will be key to the Hartree National Centre for Digital Innovation growing our SME networks and supporting more organisations to upskill and carry out digital transformation.
"The SME hubs will help the Hartree Centre support the UK to put digital innovation at the heart of our future economic sustainability.”
Professor Alun Preece, Director of the Hartree Centre SME Hub at Cardiff University, said:
"We are looking forward to working closely with the Hartree Centre to grow capacity and capability in our regional digital transformation ecosystem, to enable inclusive and responsible innovation across the SME community."
Professor Barry Hodgson, Director of Strategy, National Innovation Centre for Data @ Newcastle University, said:
"The National Innovation Centre for Data and Sunderland Software City are thrilled to be involved in the HNCDI programme and host a Hartree SME engagement hub in the North East. Our team of expert data scientists will work with companies across the region to transform their businesses through digital technology adoption and the innovative use of data.
“We look forward to collaborating with Hartree Centre and the other hubs to deliver this exciting programme."