Sainsbury’s backs £100k programme for tech startups

Sainsbury’s is among several major UK firms to back the Made Smarter Technology Accelerator programme, with grants of up to £100,000 being made available to innovative startups.

The grocery retailer is a partner of the Digital Catapult innovation centre, which is itself backing the match-funded Made Smarter initiative, aimed at fast-forwarding the adoption of new technologies directly into industry.

Sainsbury’s, alongside six other Digital Catapult partners including BAE Systems and Babcock International Group, have each set sector-specific challenges and are calling on technology startups and scaleups to respond to the call for new ideas.

The challenges range from increasing shelf life and sell through of products while reducing waste (Sainsbury’s) to scalable artificial intelligence for visual inspection (BAE Systems).

Successful applicants will be provided with up to £20,000 funding as they develop prototypes to address these challenges, and later in the programme a further £100,000 will be made available for the development of minimum viable products.

In return for both match-funded financial and in-kind contributions, Digital Catapult partners will gain direct access to the outputs and learnings of the Made Smarter Technology programme as well as having proof of concepts developed for challenges they set.

The seven Digital Catapult partners joining the Made Smarter programme are Sainsbury’s, Babcock International Group, BAE Systems, GAF, Northumbrian Water Group (NWG), O’Neills Irish International Sports Company Limited and Safran Landing Systems.

The announcement comes as research commissioned by Digital Catapult and the Made Smarter Technology Accelerator revealed that COVID-19 could prove a turning point in the implementation of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, the Internet of Things (IoT) or 5G, with 77 per cent of manufacturers saying that the pandemic has made their business more open to change and innovation.

Yet, despite recognising that such technologies would benefit their manufacturing operations (71 per cent), design and engineering processes (60 per cent) and procurement and supply chain performance (49 per cent), nearly a third (32 per cent) of senior manufacturers have admitted that the UK is behind its international competitors when it comes to adopting advanced technologies.

The research revealed that the key barriers for accessing these benefits include lack of budget – particularly pertinent in light of the economic impacts of the pandemic – with 40 per cent of respondents saying it is stopping them investing in new technologies.

This was closely followed by cyber security concerns (32 per cent) and a lack of skills within the company (30 per cent).

Juergen Maier, chair of digital catapult and co-chair of Made Smarter added: “Our newly announced partners have set ambitious challenges, and the UK’s vibrant and diverse digital technology innovation community is incredibly well-placed to respond.

"By creating bonds between technology startups and scaleups and the manufacturing industry we have the opportunity for the UK to lead the way in the fourth industrial revolution – as advanced technology radically alters, and improves, the way we approach manufacturing.”

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