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Back to News Sean Hutchinson, Senior Investment Manager at the British Business Bank

13th February 2023

Business Matters: The North is already a regional powerhouse for AI and digitalisation – let’s keep it that way


Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund

Sean Hutchinson, Senior Investment Manager at the British Business Bank, reflects on the North’s thriving artificial intelligence scene, and how companies across the region are utilising investment to bring forward new digital solutions.

Last month, the world got to enjoy first-hand the powers of artificial intelligence in the form of ChatGPT – the latest innovation in AI born out of Silicon Valley.

For those unfamiliar, ChatGPT is a free-to-use AI language model that is capable of performing a wide range of language-related tasks with remarkable accuracy and speed. It can be used to generate text-based content, such as creative writing tasks or summarise a large piece of research into a shortened article in a matter of seconds.

Reflecting on the ascendancy and ramifications of a powerful AI tool like ChatGPT, it’s easy to forget that the power of AI is not constricted solely to the world of language-driven industries. For years now, it has been used in medical settings to discover new drugs, the agricultural sector to better predict weather and crop management, and much more. Its potential lies in its ability to revolutionise almost any industry through automating processes, improving efficiency, and providing data driven insight.

AI in the North

What many don’t know is that the North of England has been a pioneer in the AI and digitalisation space long before the arrival of ChatGPT.

Companies like Mindtech Global, a Sheffield-based synthetic data platform provider, founded in 2017, uses AI and machine learning (ML) to create realistic, yet privacy-compliant, data for businesses, allowing them to train and develop their own AI systems without access to real customer data.

Following a $3.25m investment round led by NPIF – Mercia Equity Finance in July 2021, Mindtech secured a further $3.75m (£2.8m) in March 2022, and is providing a range of ‘real’ synthetic images and data to the market.

Other examples include Manchester-based Biorelate, which secured a £6.5m Series A investment in 2022, which included funding from NPIF – Maven Equity Finance. A deep tech AI enterprise, Biorelate uses its proprietary AI platform, Galactic AI™ to capture highly valuable biomedical data that pharmaceutical and life sciences organisations need to improve decision making in their drug discovery programs. Its capabilities include helping biopharmaceutical companies find entirely new hypotheses unforeseen by human experts.

With the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund (NPIF) investing significant amounts of capital into technology businesses, Mindtech and Biorelate demonstrate the thriving AI community in the North that is working hard to deliver transformational solutions to the industries they are part of.

Transformational technology

That said, AI driven solutions are a facet in a much wider theme, whereby businesses of all shapes and sizes that are tapping into digitalisation to improve existing models of internal operation. Companies traditionally unrelated to tech are utilising funding to maximise the opportunities that digitalisation can bring. Founded almost a century ago as a specialist industrial and commercial gearbox engineering company, Highfield Gears is a prime example of exactly that.

Keen to find ways to expand the company’s services into the oil, gas, and aerospace sectors, managing director, Jack Walker, recognised the importance of investing in technology to improve internal processes. Through a £100,000 loan from NPIF – BEF & FFE Microfinance in 2022, the Huddersfield-based company used the funding to help reduce production times through automating part of their CNC machining process.

Choosing to access finance to support internal digital transitions is a strategic decision to remain competitive in a fervent UK economy. After bouncing back from the pandemic, Ski-Lifts, an international airport transfer provider, used funding from NPIF – Maven Equity Finance to invest in its technological capabilities to improve internal efficiencies.

This included better automation for complicated pick-up and drop-off routes, where customers are staying at multiple hotels or golf courses over several days or weeks. This has supported its new golf service line and the addition of 10 new hires. It’s clear that NPIF is at the heart of transforming businesses and delivering funding that facilitates the journey of companies towards integrating digital tools.

Whilst new automation tools like ChatGPT have taken the headlines, one doesn’t have to look far to see, there are businesses pioneering new forms of AI and other breakthrough technologies on our doorstep. As demand for innovation grows, keeping UK businesses at the forefront is paramount. We need to make sure that businesses in the North have the means to create new digital tools, invest in R&D, and seize market opportunities built on these new innovations. The Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund is here to provide the capital to do just this.

It is important that companies like Mindtech Global, Biorelate and Highfield Gears are able to reach their full potential, as it’s through supporting them, that the North is able to lead the race towards creating a regional powerhouse for digital solutions.

The Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund project is supported financially by the European Union using funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020 and the European Investment Bank.

Editors Notes




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