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– Leading the Throttle Program: Imperial’s Initiative to Drive AI Research into Innovative Ventures

The AI SuperConnector brings together complementary AI innovation expertise at Imperial, York, Leed…

The AI SuperConnector leverages the collective AI expertise of Imperial, York, Leeds, and Liverpool institutions.

Imperial spearheads a novel accelerator project aimed at empowering emerging AI researchers to transform their concepts into viable start-ups. Set to commence in January 2024, the AI SuperConnector will provide a comprehensive training program in innovation and entrepreneurship tailored to the unique challenges within this rapidly evolving scientific domain.

The collaborative partners, including Imperial College London, along with the Universities of York, Leeds, and Liverpool, boast similar strengths across various AI domains such as health, conservation, climate change, robotics, autonomous systems, defense, and security.

Dr. Simon Hepworth, Director of Imperial Enterprise, envisions the AI SuperConnector as a platform that will elevate today’s AI researchers into future industry leaders and scale-up pioneers. While these experts already possess expertise in cutting-edge AI applications and their societal implications, the AI SuperConnector aims to equip them with the skills needed for commercialization and acclimatization to diverse business environments.

Funded by the Research England Connecting Capability Fund with nearly £1.5 million, this initiative invites early-career researchers from all participating institutions to apply for a six-month program focused on enhancing the commercial potential of their innovations.

Empowering Academia for Entrepreneurship

Building on the success of managing the MedTech SuperConnector, an innovative health technology accelerator established in 2018, Imperial lays the groundwork for the AI SuperConnector. Drawing from the experience of nurturing 14 startups and guiding over 85 early-career researchers in its initial three years, the program has facilitated these ventures in securing over £17 million in grants and venture capital.

Dr. Hepworth emphasizes the goal of tailoring the AI SuperConnector to address the specific challenges inherent to AI while upholding the core values of audacious research, knowledge sharing, and personalized support for founders.

The initiative is poised to tackle AI-specific hurdles such as rapid technological advancements, regulatory frameworks, societal implications, as well as bridging funding and infrastructure gaps for nascent startups.

Participants in the six-month accelerator will be tasked with understanding both the market demand for their innovations and the underlying technology. Dr. Hepworth underscores the integration of entrepreneurial elements like business planning, financing, marketing, and management with a deep understanding of AI applications. Case studies of successful AI ventures from partner universities will illuminate the practical application of AI in a business context.

Through the AI SuperConnector process, members will engage with seasoned entrepreneurs, investors, and AI specialists, gaining access to shared resources like AI-specific tools to streamline early-stage company development.

Fostering a Professional Community

The AI SuperConnector strategically aligns each institution’s expertise with the specific focus areas reflecting their strengths. This approach, as highlighted by Dr. Hepworth, ensures that the training and support provided resonate with the unique challenges and opportunities in commercializing AI products or services within different sectors and regions.

A pivotal aspect of the project involves addressing regional disparities. Dr. Hepworth underscores the need to broaden the reach of AI commercialization beyond traditional hubs like London to ensure widespread adoption and benefits across diverse markets, industries, and geographies.

The AI SuperConnector will welcome two cohorts of potential entrepreneurs from the partner institutions, with a deliberate emphasis on early-career professionals. In a bid to address the gender gap in AI entrepreneurship, the program is committed to supporting a diverse cohort of founders.

Prospective participants are encouraged to express interest in joining the program, which also seeks additional business owners and AI experts willing to mentor the cohorts.

AI Innovation at Imperial

Imperial has been a breeding ground for several successful AI ventures over the past decade. Notable examples include Tractable and Unusual, which swiftly achieved unicorn status. The White City Campus at Imperial now hosts a burgeoning community of AI startups and spinoffs, positioning it as a focal point for the AI SuperConnector’s activities.

From brand-building ventures like Instrumental to educational platforms such as QuenchAI and Hive Learning, as well as AI safety specialists like Safe Intelligence, the innovation hub at Imperial accommodates a diverse array of modern AI startups. Additionally, a cluster of companies leveraging AI in biology, including Eden Bio, PentaBind, Solena Elements, and PhycoWorks, have found a home within this ecosystem.

The recently launched corporate AI program, I-X, at the White City Campus capitalizes on Imperial’s longstanding expertise in AI, machine learning, data sciences, and their cross-disciplinary applications in business, science, engineering, and medicine.

Through partnerships with entities like the Royal Air Force and collaborations with emerging IoT players like Fetch.AI, I-X is poised to leverage Imperial’s connections with industry giants like Microsoft and Google DeepMind.

The Artificial Intelligence Network at Imperial consolidates the institution’s diverse capabilities to offer a holistic approach to leveraging AI for addressing global challenges effectively.

Collaborative Endeavors

The partnership with the AI SuperConnector extends the collaborative advantages offered by the partner institutions. The University of Leeds, with strong industry ties including AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, and IBM, is committed to nurturing AI startups and fostering technological solutions to global challenges through initiatives like Nexus.

The University of Liverpool’s expertise spans diverse domains such as health data, transport modeling, and material discovery. The institution hosts Centers for Doctoral Training focusing on Distributed Algorithms, Data Analytics, and Data-Intensive Science Innovation.

Professor Anthony Hollander, pro-vice-chancellor for research and impact, underscores the opportunity presented by the AI SuperConnector to establish a UK-wide network supporting AI startups and fostering innovation in Artificial Intelligence. The University of Liverpool’s participation enriches the regional AI innovation ecosystem and facilitates collaborative endeavors across academia, industry, and investors.

The University of York’s involvement in the AI SuperConnector builds on its strengths in robotics, autonomous systems, and regulatory frameworks through initiatives like the Assuring Autonomy Programme. The collaboration aims to leverage York’s AI expertise while tapping into London’s established capabilities, with a focus on enhancing support for emerging AI ventures in the North of England.

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Last modified: December 1, 2023
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