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De-risking AI adoption and forging a vital support network for early-stage founders

Six years after the conception of our award-winning AI accelerator Machine Intelligence Garage the programme has come to a close. At Digital Catapult we are reflecting on its impact within the UK technology ecosystem and the wider economy, the startup growth journeys it enabled, and the vision that propels Digital Catapult into a new chapter of AI innovation.

The AI Landscape

In an era of unprecedented technological advancements, startups often find themselves at the forefront of innovation, driving change across industries. Recognising the immense potential of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) solutions, Digital Catapult, the UK authority on advanced digital technology, launched the Machine Intelligence Garage accelerator programme.

Addressing a Market Gap

In 2017, Digital Catapult identified a critical market gap that was hindering the growth of AI and ML startups—access to advanced computation power. Thus, Machine Intelligence Garage was born, with the primary goal of empowering early-stage companies with the resources and expertise necessary to drive innovation. This accelerator recognised the potential of startups in revolutionising industries through AI and aimed to provide them with the tools, support, and networks needed to thrive.

One of the immediate benefits was the access to the talent and resources the programme has in terms of the technical team. Another big benefit was the cloud computing credits, which we’ve made the most of to train our models in the cloud. Once we trained our models in the cloud, we wrapped them up, compressed them, and deployed them on Alice. So those cloud credits have come in really handy to allow us to train at scale. Vishal Kumar
Co-Founder and CEO, Alice Camera by Photogram

Building a Support Ecosystem

Machine Intelligence Garage was built on three pillars of support—business and investment, technical expertise, and applied AI ethics. The programme understood that fostering innovation required not only cutting-edge technology but also business acumen, ethical considerations, and investment readiness. Participating startups gained access to a myriad of benefits, including mentorship, computation resources, technical workshops, and engagement with industry giants.

Machine Intelligence Garage’s impact extended beyond the provision of technical resources—it cultivated a dynamic support ecosystem that encompassed industry titans, startup peers, and critical networks. This fostered an environment where startups could collaborate, share insights, and tackle challenges collectively. Partnering with industry leaders such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP), NVIDIA, Graphcore, STFC Hartree Centre, and more, the programme enabled startups to tap into these organisations’ expertise and resources. This access was instrumental in equipping startups with cutting-edge computation power, technical hardware, and deep learning services, which propelled their development and innovation.

The collaboration with industry heavyweights didn’t stop at resources—it created a fertile ground for relationship-building and knowledge exchange, opening doors to potential customers, investors, and partners.

Digital Catapult gave us the freedom to be able to experiment and figure things out. Being part of a network meant that we could collaborate and talk through shared problems with others. Raunaq Bose
Co-founder and CTO of Humanising Autonomy

As startups were able to learn from the experiences of others and gain invaluable insights into the business aspects of AI innovation, the programme also helps them to navigate the complexities of the AI landscape.

This peer network allowed founders to discuss challenges, share strategies, and seek advice from others who understood the unique journey of running and scaling an AI startup. The support system that extended beyond the confines of the programme allowed founders to build enduring relationships and networks that would continue to propel them forward long after the programme’s conclusion

Fueling Growth and Investment

Machine Intelligence Garage played a critical role in driving investment and growth for early-stage UK startups. Over the course of its operation, the programme supported more than 156 startups, unlocking an impressive £52 million in investment. These startups, representing diverse sectors, experienced significant growth—52% increased their turnover, and 67% expanded their employee base. The programme’s emphasis on diversity was evident, with nearly three-quarters of participating teams being ethnically diverse and 46% possessing a diverse socio-economic background.

Over the six years the Machine Intelligence Garage: 

  • Supported 17 different cohorts of startups on their AI journey.
  • Received 360 applications allowing us to work with startups from a range of sectors from the creative industries to manufacturing.

Machine Intelligence Garage Alumni continue to see high levels of private investment and growth:

  • AI waste analytics platform Greyaparrot, which sorts and manages waste at scale raised £8.9 million in Series A funding in 2022, bringing us closer to a circular economy. 
  • Climate tech startup Carbon Re has raised £4.2 million in seed funding for its AI platform that spots inefficiencies in energy-intensive industries to reduce carbon emissions.
  • ToffeeAM raised £5 million in Series A funding helping to optimise engineering component designs and simulating their thermo-fluid and structural performance.
  • Climate X raised £1.1 million in pre-seed and then went on to raise a further £4.1 million in seed, quantifying how different climate change pathways could result in extreme weather events. 
  • raise £3.75 million in Series A funding for its artificial intelligence-driven solution for finding experts. 
  • Audiostack’s (previously Aflorithmic) fully-automated production process has raised a  £1 million seed round, helping everybody to create beautiful sounding audio in seconds. 
  • Bitfount, whose collaboration tool allowed data providers, data scientists and governance teams to work together without compromising on privacy or quality, raised £4 million in seed round.
  • Foresight Data Machine raised a £2.5 million in seed round for optimising industrial process control in real time using a combination of traditional physics and AI.
  • LuffyAI’s neural network technology raised a £2 million seed round, offering significantly higher “capability per watt” than current AI frameworks.
  • Humanising Autonomy has rasied $5.3 million seed round in 2019 and also $11m Series A in 2021 for its models that capture the complexity of human behaviour in urban locations around the world, allowing mobility solutions of the future to predict and react to the way people behave in different cultural and physical environments.
The investment support was superb. For us, it came just at the right time, because we started fundraising last October, which was halfway through the programme. Timo Kunz
Co-Founder and CEO of AudioStack (formerly Alforithimic)

Ethical AI: A Cornerstone of Innovation and Responsibility

Machine Intelligence Garage’s focus on ethical AI adoption set the programme apart from other accelerators. The programme recognised that ethical AI wasn’t just a theoretical concept—it needed to be ingrained into the development process. 

In a rapidly evolving technological landscape, where AI has the potential to reshape industries and societies, responsible development is paramount. Recognising this, the programme prioritised ethical considerations, ensuring that the startups embedded ethical practices and the responsible application of AI in the creation of their powerful solutions.

The Ethics Framework, a robust tool designed to guide startups through responsible AI development, featured tailored questions addressing seven key ethical considerations. This framework prompted thoughtful discussions, ensuring that startups delved deep into their implications and potential consequences.

Participating startups didn’t simply adhere to guidelines—they actively engaged with ethical AI through a range of initiatives. The AI roadmap served as a guide to navigate the complex Ethics landscape of AI development. Additional support was provided to ensure that ethics recommendations and milestones were not just theoretical ideals but actionable elements that found their way into the startups’ products and operations.

By intertwining ethical considerations with technical innovation, Machine Intelligence Garage carved a unique path in the realm of AI accelerator programmes. It wasn’t just about advancing technology; it was about advancing technology responsibly. 

Machine Intelligence Garage has opened doors and helped us focus on key aspects of the responsible use of AI and company development, enabling us to provide better value for clients, expand our business, and seek investment. Áine Uí Ghiollagáin
Co-Founder and CTO of DeepMiner

Evolution and Forward Momentum

With the knowledge, experience, and achievements accumulated over six impactful years, Digital Catapult has embarked on a new journey. Machine Intelligence Garage paved the way for FutureScope and Innovate UK’s BridgeAI—programmes tailored to address the evolving needs of founders in the technology ecosystem. 

Machine Intelligence Garage’s legacy is one of responsible innovation and growth. It provided startups with the tools to generate investment, and ethically deploy AI technologies. As the programme concludes after its 17th cohort, Digital Catapult’s commitment to AI innovation remains.The transformation from Machine Intelligence Garage into FutureScope and as a partner on Innovate UK’s BridgeAI programme, is a progression of Digital Catapult’s mission to de-risk the adoption and deployment of advanced digital technologies. 

FutureScope, is Digital Catapult’s acceleration support for deep tech companies in the UK, enabling them to grow and connect with industry partners and investors. Participants of FutureScope programme’s are able to experiment with new and converging technologies, validate their solution alongside an industry partner, or improve their investment readiness through mentorship and masterclasses. 

The recently launched BridgeAI programme focuses specifically on stimulating AI and ML adoption in sectors with high growth potential – agriculture, creative industries, construction and transport – ensuring that all corners of the UK economy benefit from AI advancements. This programme fosters engagement between AI developers and adopters, ensuring the development of AI solutions to tackle sector-specific challenges. By providing expertise in ethical AI development, digital transformation, and technical skills, BridgeAI propels the transition to an AI-enabled economy, securing the UK’s place on the global technology stage.

As Digital Catapult evolves its new accelerator offering into these programmes, it does so with a sense of purpose—a purpose that’s built on the foundation of Machine Intelligence Garage’s success story. The journey from innovation to impact continues, with each programme representing a pivotal step towards a future where AI unlocks potential for the UK economy and thrives and the UK remains a leader in responsible AI development and innovation.