Project aims to turn AI research into start-up businesses

A new accelerator project has been launched to help researchers at the forefront of artificial intelligence discovery turn their work into start-up companies.

Teams of early career researchers (ECR) from the University of Leeds and three partner institutions can apply for places on the AI SuperConnector scheme, a six-month programme focused on developing the commercial potential of their innovations and addressing challenges inherent in this fast-moving area of science.

The project, led by Imperial College London, and in collaboration with the Universities of Leeds, York and Liverpool, will use their complementary research strengths across a wide range of AI sectors, from security to health, climate change, robotics and autonomous systems.

It aims to help all regions benefit from AI – not just the south of England – as well as striving to address the under-representation of women in this field.

Professor David Hogg, who leads the AI research theme in the School of Computing at Leeds, said: “The planned accelerator programme will build on our existing innovation activity and take this to a new level, bringing to Leeds the vibrant ecosystem that is growing rapidly in and around London.

“It will provide valuable opportunities for our PhD graduates and ECR staff to develop their knowledge and skills in translating research into projects with societal benefit.”

The University of Leeds has created more than 110 spin-out companies since 1995 – including businesses that have created virtually waterless washing machines and medical devices for front-line patient triage for chest pain.

There are also around 250 active commercialisation projects and more than 450 patents in its portfolio.

Many Leeds graduates have been successful in creating thriving businesses, such as Computer Science graduate Colin Needham, who founded the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) – the most popular entertainment website in the world.

Also, School of Computing lecturer Dr Derek Magee used his 20 years’ experience in digital image analysis and machine learning to launch HeteroGenius, which specialises in software solutions in areas including Digital Pathology and Medical Image Analysis.

Dr Martin Stow, pro vice-chancellor: business engagement and enterprise at Leeds, said: “We welcome the opportunity to collaborate with partner universities to help even more researchers turn their ideas into next generation AI start-ups.

“Through Nexus, our community for innovators and entrepreneurs, we are backing the growth of new and established AI businesses, providing knowledge and support that enables them to develop technologies to tackle real world challenges.”

Dr Simon Hepworth, director of Imperial Enterprise at Imperial College London, said: “The AI SuperConnector will transform today’s researchers at the forefront of AI discovery into tomorrow’s startup and scale-up leaders.

“These researchers will already be experts in state-of-the-art AI and its application to societal challenges, but thanks to the AI SuperConnector they will become conversant in commercialisation and comfortable in ecosystems that span multiple business sectors.”

The AI Superconnector project has secured nearly £1.5m from the Research England Development Fund, plus almost £300,000 from other sources.