New funding schemes will help Scottish SMEs embrace data and AI

Two new funding schemes are set to help smaller Scottish businesses invest in data and artificial intelligence (AI).

Gillian Docherty, CEO of The Data Lab, which has hubs in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness.
Gillian Docherty, CEO of The Data Lab, which has hubs in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness.

The Data Lab, Scotland’s innovation centre for data and AI, has unveiled the Data Skills for Work and SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) data internship grant thanks to a financial boost from the Scottish Government.

Data Skills for Work is designed to “diversify the workforce” by helping adults to upskill and reskill in data to progress in their careers.

The scheme was launched in Edinburgh and south-east Scotland through the City Region Deal, and the new funding means that up to £100,000 in additional data skills credits can now be rolled out across the country to support the SME workforce to upskill and reskill.

The programme prioritises support for workers in jobs that are being changed by automation, women returning to the workplace, people with disabilities, and BAME communities. It has already supported 70 people in the city region since the first round of funding was announced in December.

The additional Data Skills funding is open to employers and training providers. In addition to providing leadership training, it will offer ongoing support from The Data Lab, helping companies to adopt data-driven innovation and embrace a more data-literate workforce.

Up to £300,000 in funding will also be allocated through a small grants scheme to SMEs and start-ups to “progress in their data journeys” by providing them with the opportunity to host a master’s student who can undertake a short data science project to benefit the business.

The students, who are currently studying master’s level data science, AI and data engineering through The Data Lab’s MSc programme, will bring the latest industry knowledge and cutting-edge skills to organisations, while benefitting from “invaluable, hands-on experience” during the pandemic.

The placement programme is open to any Scottish organisation looking to inject the latest data science technologies, creativity and enthusiasm into their work, with students available for eight to 12-week placements from June.

Funds will be allocated to the first 60 SMEs that confirm a student/project match and the deadline for students to be paired with a project is March 31.

Gillian Docherty, chief executive of The Data Lab, said: “As we support a Covid-19 recovery across the economy, the additional funding from the Scottish Government is being put to good use through our new schemes.

“The grants are designed to support data literacy amongst companies in Scotland, which can hopefully pave the way for a greater understanding of how data and AI can support businesses, in addition to helping those who are eager to upskill or reskill for career diversification and progression.

“The value of data for business is huge, though it is still a largely untapped potential for many companies – particularly SMEs and start-ups which often need external support at the earlier stages. As such, funding designed to support these organisations via access to our creative, inspiring student cohort, is the perfect way to benefit both businesses and those getting ready to enter the workforce.”

The Data Lab operates via hubs in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness.

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In full: The Scotsman's 2020 data magazine

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