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101 Greater Manchester SMEs benefit from AI initiative

A cutting-edge collaboration between four universities to deliver Artificial Intelligence expertise to Greater Manchester SMEs has celebrated a year of supporting businesses.

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The £6 million Greater Manchester AI Foundry was launched in 2020 to help SMEs develop new products and services across four themes: advanced materials and manufacturing; clean growth; digital and creative; and health innovation.

The initiative - led by Manchester Metropolitan University, the University of Manchester, the University of Salford and Lancaster University - has so far supported 101 SMEs with insight into the latest AI technologies, market opportunities and ideas for product development.

Many of these businesses are set to progress onto phase two of the programme, where they will receive technical support to develop proof-of-concepts for new products and services.

One of the companies benefitting, Wildfire Ecommerce, is using AI to automate supplier management and product categorisation. Stephen Bergin, CEO, explained:

“I applied to the AI Foundry as we had an issue in that we have multiple suppliers of equipment, who all structure their stock list in a different way. Our challenge currently is that the only way to organise all of these products from multiple suppliers is to sort these products manually.

“Phase one of AI Foundry workshops has allowed me to see that there is the potential to create an AI-powered product sorting tool to automate the problems I have been having with product categorisation. Now, going into phase two, I am able to work with AI Foundry’s teams to develop a proof of concept - I will then have an automated way of sorting this equipment.”

In a speech marking the Foundry’s one-year anniversary, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said:

“Initiatives such as the AI Foundry are a great example of how our universities and combined authority can work together to help deliver prosperity for our people. Multi-university collaboration of this kind is a vital platform for innovation. However, all involved must continue to work together to address the skills gap in AI and improve public understanding, to ensure digital, and the opportunities it can bring, is for all.”

Greater Manchester has already been identified as a leading digital region within Europe, with the application of AI and data into business in the region predicted to have a huge impact on every sector of the economy.

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