Unlocking AI funding for UK businesses

The AI landscape is developing rapidly, and businesses are being warned of the risk of falling behind unless they embrace these technologies. However, as we’ve seen with companies such as Microsoft and Cisco, the cost of implementing AI can be high especially for those looking to develop bespoke solutions for their business.

Posted on: 17/04/2024

The Cost Barrier

Integrating AI within a business can be costly for various reasons. Many SME’s cite initial cost as a barrier to developing their own AI applications. In the pre-adoption stage, companies may need to collect a large volume of high-quality data sets for customised AI development. Furthermore, considerable investments are required for recruiting skilled personnel – a challenge for many businesses due to the high cost and relative shortage of specialist skills in the workforce – and building the necessary technological infrastructure for development and seamless integration into a business’ operations.

The significant computation demand of developing bespoke AI solutions often requires High Performance Computing (HPC) — the use of powerful computer systems and clusters to process data and perform calculations at high speeds. Large tech companies often have the infrastructure for HPC but start-ups, however, face high costs to access similar computing power through cloud services or APIs. This is problematic for SMEs that might not have the funds or the access to computational resources needed to develop bespoke AI solutions.

For those looking to procure existing AI solutions (AI as a Service – AIaaS), this introduces its own set of challenges, as high procurement and operations costs remain a lasting concern. Pre-built AI software exists as an easy solution for businesses as it can be customised with business data, however these solutions may not be completely suitable because they might not align well with specific operational needs or offer limited flexibility for experimentation.

With businesses lacking the skills to predict the overall impact of AI on their company, coupled with the evolving tech landscape and the difficulties in establishing clear metrics for growth, these factors can often prevent companies from identifying a clear return on investment (ROI). As a result, justifying the expenditure for such a significant transformation in a company’s business model can be a challenge.

Bespoke Solutions

The integration of AI within businesses is not uniform across industries, as it is dictated by various factors unique to each enterprise. For instance, established companies might employ AI to scale up operations, boost efficiency, and sharpen their analytics. On the other hand, start-ups may use AI to develop new capabilities, allowing them to challenge larger competitors in their market.

Innovate UK provides funding to de-risk business innovation for companies of all sizes, with a focus on bringing together its wide network of expertise to promote the development of tailored solutions.

Funding for Innovation

Launched in 2023, the Innovate UK BridgeAI programme was designed to support businesses in overcoming obstacles to harnessing AI responsibly and effectively – a large part of this is through targeted funding opportunities for companies looking to develop or implement AI solutions. There is a range of opportunities available including across our consortium of partners:

In addition to these opportunities, Innovate UK more broadly offers support to businesses looking to unlock innovation:

  • £25m in loans is being offered to highly innovative SMEs to fund late stage R&D projects with strong commercial potential to significantly improve the UK economy – registration closes 1 May 2024.
  • Innovate UK Smart grants are available for businesses with game-changing and disruptive ideas with a high potential for commercial success – applications assessed on a regular basis. Current competition closes 24 April 2024.
  • Innovate UK offers Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) to connect businesses that have an innovation idea with the academic expertise to help deliver it. A portion of this partnership is funded by Innovate UK grants – learn more here.
  • Bilateral Funding programmes are also offered for a range of countries to enhance UK collaborations and capabilities in emerging technology fields. Current competitions include Germany and Switzerland:

UK businesses have an enormous opportunity to change how they work in ways not possible before. Embracing AI is quickly becoming a necessity to remain competitive and innovative. With the funding support and expertise available through programmes like BridgeAI, companies have an opportunity to navigate the cost barrier and harness the power of AI for long-term success.

Learn more about how BridgeAI can help you adopt AI and register for updates to be the first to hear about upcoming funding and support opportunities.

Author: Sara El-Hanfy, Head of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning at Innovate UK

Follow Sara on LinkedIn.

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Empowering UK organisations to harness the power of AI through support and funding, bridging the AI divide for a more productive UK.


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