DDI Beacon projects help Edinburgh and South East Scotland bounce back from pandemic

The Data-Driven Innovation (DDI) initiative has launched a number of Beacon projects this year to help the Edinburgh city region bounce back from the economic and societal impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Picture: Getty

The Data Driven-Entrepreneurship (DDE) programme set out to inspire a culture of student enterprise, while grants were given out in open call approaches to academics to secure further projects aimed at Covid-19 recovery.

Four hubs, the Usher Institute, Bayes Centre, Edinburgh Futures Institute and the Easter Bush campus near Roslin , also received funding for projects that would further the recovery from the pandemic.

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The funding was provided by the Scottish Funding Council with the aim of promoting job security, creation and retention within universities, and promoting wider economic and social recovery from the pandemic.

Ritchie Somerville, head of strategy for the DDI initiative, says: “In a time where there has been concern over the longer-term impact of the pandemic on the economy, we have been able to lean into that challenge and provide an opportunity for those who want to and give them the best foot forward.”

DDE

The DDE programme is playing its part in shaping the post-pandemic recovery in Edinburgh and beyond.

A collaboration between the university’s DDI Hubs and its commercialisation service, Edinburgh Innovations, the DDE programme is designed to help fledgling entrepreneurs build their skills and take their businesses to the next level.

“The DDE programme is the culmination of the university’s rich history of facilitating entrepreneurship,” Charlotte Waugh, the enterprise and innovation programme leadat Edinburgh Innovations, pictured below, explains.

“Given the challenges our society faces in bouncing back from the impact of Covid-19, it has never been more important to instil and foster an entrepreneurial mindset across the university.

“Society needs solutions and the university’s expertise in data, technology, and business development means we are perfectly positioned to help businesses make an immediate difference.”

With £1.8 million in funding from the Scottish Funding Council, the DDE programme supports budding entrepreneurs through12 individual programmes, designed to provide a more cohesive entrepreneurial journey.

These range from the Graduate Enterprise Grant, which gives graduates access to £5,000, to the Fast Track Executive Director initiative, which connects founders with industry experts who can speed up growth and bring specific industry-related business experience and connections.

The DDE Beacon Programme also includes funded placements of PhD students into businesses, funded subscriptions to online business training, and support for entrepreneurial recent graduates who have been affected by the economic impact of Covid-19.

The AI Accelerator programme, delivered by the Bayes Centre on behalf of the other DDI hubs, is tailored towards businesses looking to play an important role in society’s recovery from the pandemic.

Based at the Bayes Centre – the university’s innovation hub for data science and artificial intelligence (AI) – the initiative supports data-driven businesses which see AI as the way to bring about significant change in how operations are managed in their sector.

Companies on the programme have access to workshops and dedicated mentors, are given a stipend of £7,500, and have a direct line to the university’s leading academic expertise and student talent.

One business to have benefitted from the DDE programme is NextChain – an online ordering platform for professional kitchens and food suppliers.

Designed by two University of Edinburgh graduates in response to the impact of the pandemic on the hospitality industry, the app provides restaurants and suppliers with the necessary tools to allow them to work more closely together, reducing valuable time spent on tasks such as placing orders and processing invoices.

“The expertise of a chef is to cook great food, and the expertise of a premier producer is to supply great food to restaurants,” explains finance, technology and policy graduate Gauthier Collas, co-founder of NextChain. “The way many restaurants work has become dated, inefficient and wasteful. So, the goal for us is to provide the tools restaurants and suppliers need to easily manage everyday operations, meaning they can focus on what they’re good at – which is providing and cooking great food.”

OPEN CALL

Last year, the Open Call Beacon projects delivered a total of 21 different ventures across all of the DDI innovation hubs.

A funding pot of £500,000 was distributed to a number of small-scale academic-led projects, aimed at driving the economic and social recovery from the pandemic.

Dr Gemma Cassells, the DDI initiative’s lead strategist, says: “The projects in the open call were aimed at supporting the economic and social recovery from Covid-19.

“The funding was primarily directed at academics, however, every project had at least one external partner or stakeholder.

“The projects covered a broad range of topics and looked at the impact of Covid-19 on the performing arts, small businesses, outpatient health services and the impact that Covid was having on society.”

Eco-Eats is an open call-funded project created by Dr Kirsteen Shields at the Easter Bush campus, which created a concept for a new recipe box delivery scheme.

The project sought to address food inequalities and looked at how an application could be developed that would allow people to “pay it forward” and buy a meal for a person in need.

Grant Jarvie’s open call project presented a data-driven approach to Covid recovery and job retention in the Scottish football industry, and was based at the Bayes Centre and the University of Edinburgh’s Academy of Sport.

The project investigated ways Scottish football could recover from the pandemic, after the sport was estimated to have suffered a collective £70m loss, with this figure expected to have risen to £100m by the end of the 2020-21 season.

The proof of concept aimed to produce data sets that would help the Scottish football industry build back better by analysing football sentiment in the country and carrying out a demographic analysis of supporters.

HUB CALLS

Four DDI hubs, the Usher Institute, Bayes Centre, pictured above, Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI), and Easter Bush campus, took part in the hub-supported call.

A total of £2.4 million was split between the hubs with each receiving £600,000.

The Bayes Centre and EFI worked together on a set of joint projects and also looked at the potential of setting up a data and design lab.

The Future of the High Street project looked at how Gorgie, Dalkeith and Dalry had been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

It examined how changing work patterns, with more people working from home, would have an impact on the dynamics of these areas in and around Edinburgh.

The project also examined people’s perceptions of the high street and advanced conceptualisations of reimagined spaces without cars.

The 20 Minute Neighbourhood project worked with Edinburgh City Council and focused on the Wester Hailes area to the south-west of the city.

The concept of a 20-minute neighbourhood is when citizens are able to access the facilities and services they need within a 20-minute walk from their home.

The project aimed to provide a data toolkit for the council so that it could apply future developments of the model in other areas of the Capital.