‘Leeds can be the AI capital of the north’

The launch of the two-month AI Accelerator programme at Leeds City Hilton yesterday evening marks a turning point.

At least, that’s the intention of futurist Sherin Mathew, founder of the think-tank AI Tech UK, which has created the accelerator with funding from Leeds City Council and Innovate UK.

“The big problem is that 80% of businesses are struggling, even failing at some point, to implement AI as a technology,” Mathew said in his opening address at the launch event.

“I am an ex-Microsoft partner, an ex-IBM AI lead. I saw how big companies were able to deploy AI capability day in and out, with budget, with precision, and they were able to make ridiculous amounts of ROI with this amazing tech.”

The idea behind the accelerator events is to raise awareness of AI’s potential and upskill anyone who wants to get involved. Its broad backing was demonstrated by the significant number of West Yorkshire’s techerrati on stage and in the audience, including but not limited to Richelle Schuster, Leeds City Council’s head of innovation; AI expert Dr Kulvinder Panesar of Bradford University; futurist Adam Roney of Calls9; and Innovate UK’s Dr Richard Cooper.

Schuster, in her speech, said Leeds had three strengths to foster innovation: funding pathways, new capabilities, and clusters in its ecosystem. “This is not elitist,” she said of the programme. “This is not for just people who are born in a certain area, to be destined, or have parents in the industry, this is for everybody. You all have the opportunity to make your mark.”

The programme of free events includes technical, ethical and empowerment workshops over the next three weeks – you can see the events list and book tickets on Eventbrite – with a Hackathon on April 20, culminating in a showcase event with pitches and assessment on April 28.

Later, Mathew said adoption of AI technology should be an urgent priority for businesses and individuals.
“AI is probably the most phenomenal, the most empowering innovation that’s out there right now. It’s at the pinnacle of any digital or innovative transformation that’s happening out there. And if you don’t adopt it now, you will be too late.

“That’s why it’s important. You must get on that bandwagon ASAP.”

Leeds, he said, still had a divide between traditional digital businesses and AI-powered businesses.
“The thing is, it’s a race. It’s a race against other cities – Silicon Valley, London, and so on and so forth. Leeds is at a very good place because of all the infrastructure, the young skills and talent, the universities around here.

“It’s just that we need to step up our game and get AI in our list of capabilities. And if businesses start doing that, and if professionals start doing that, Leeds can become the AI capital of the north.”