The North East of Scotland is placing itself firmly at the forefront of digital and technology developments.
From app developers changing the way we eat and artificial intelligence improving patient outcomes in healthcare to solutions for food supply chains and important manufacturing sectors, exciting projects are progressing at a pace.
Opportunity North East (ONE) supports ambitious businesses to accelerate technology innovation and adoption with resources and co-funding, advice and access to expert networks.
“Our shared experience in life and work over the past year has been shaped by technology. It has helped us to keep close to family and friends, allowed patients to continue to access healthcare, and completely altered how we work and do business. Technology will now be the defining feature of the post-Covid economy. It will help to deliver sustainability and create green jobs for the future,” said Jennifer Craw, CEO of ONE.
“ONE works with businesses to develop new solutions and across the key sectors of the economy to increase productivity and profitability through investment in digital, technology and Industry 4.0 in the context of recovery and growth.”
A clear regional vision of success underpins this action and investment. The private-sector economic development leadership provided by ONE has been instrumental in securing significant government investment in transformational projects. These include BioHub, SeedPod and in recent weeks, the Energy Transition Zone, which received over £27 million in funding as part of the UK Budget on 3 March and is one of the projects backed by the Scottish Government’s Energy Transition Fund, announced in June last year.
“The goal in energy is to lead the transition, decarbonising our regional economy and providing net-zero solutions nationally and internationally. That will anchor an all-energy supply chain and high-value jobs here for decades to come,” said Ms Craw.
“In food, drink and agriculture, digital will underpin our food supply chains, making them more efficient and sustainable. Automation and advanced manufacturing will make our manufacturers and processors more competitive, profitable and add value to our world-class primary produce from land and sea.
“And in life sciences, we are helping transfer innovation into treatments, medtech and digital solutions that deliver value for patients and the health and wellbeing economy.”
Connecting high-value visitors with the region’s natural assets and outstanding experiences will support tourism recovery. And building a strong, vibrant cluster of new-start and scaling digital companies through ONE Tech Hub is a clear focus toward completing the picture of success.
“Green economic recovery and build back better share common goals of a broader, stronger and fairer economy. An economy that provides higher-value training and work opportunities across sustainable and growing industry sectors, from energy and digital to food and drink and life sciences. Technology innovation and adoption are critical to achieving this vision, as a region and as a country,” said Ms Craw.
“Businesses have used technology, automated manufacturing and digital working to adapt to the immediate challenges of the past year. Transformational technology is now going to drive recovery and shape our response to the climate emergency and global health challenges,” said Ms Craw.
Aberdeen-based LiberEat is a digital technology provider targeting the substantial and growing market catering for special dietary requirements. LiberEat’s technology helps large food businesses significantly reduce the risk of errors in allergen communication, while LiberEat’s app makes it easier for people with food restrictions to eat out at restaurants, cook at home and shop at the supermarket. Reasons for people avoiding certain ingredients include allergies, food intolerances and lifestyle or ethical concerns.
Co-founder and managing director Barry Leaper said: “What’s great about our relationship with ONE is the range of sector expertise and support we can access. We participated in a ONE Life Sciences accelerator programme and received funding from the ONE Enterprise Fund that supported a key product development project and enabled a comprehensive user acquisition project.
“ONE Tech Hub and the activity around it is putting Aberdeen on the radar and was an obvious choice for us for a city centre base. It provides ready access to the funding ecosystem and is driving investors to businesses in the region. As a tech business based in Aberdeen it gives you a lot of confidence that it’s right place to grow the business.”
Digital health is one of the fastest-growing areas in life sciences and is transforming delivery of healthcare. It includes artificial intelligence being used to help all medical professionals assess and prioritise cases and treatment in hospitals.
Industry and clinicians have been developing new AI solutions in Aberdeen to support fracture diagnosis in a landmark £240,000 project co-funded by ONE and the Scottish Government. Two tech companies, working with NHS Grampian, the University of Aberdeen, and Canon Medical Research Europe, have developed new machine learning algorithms for the market. They interpret data from wrist and ankle radiographs to diagnose fractures in accident and emergency departments. The project, now nearing completion, will help clinicians make quicker patient diagnoses and treatment decisions and enhance patient care. It will also free up radiologists to focus on the most complex and urgent cases.
The region’s £2.2 billion food, drink and agriculture sector employs more than 22,000 people and is also primed for further growth through improved technology.
The region produces more than 25% of Scotland's beef cattle output. Herd Advance develops innovative on-farm tech and systems to drive improvements in beef cattle herd management through greater efficiency, reducing carbon footprint and increasing profitability. Its Stockman herd solution enables users to monitor livestock in real-time and sort them automatically, effectively digitising their herd to drive growth performance, improve health, increase labour efficiency and worker health and safety.
It has now secured co-funding from ONE's agrifood tech programme to add a thermal imaging camera to the Stockman system to monitor animals' core body temperature. The system's addition to the existing weight and water recordings creates a powerful combination of individualised animal data to support disease identification and aid cattle management.
Jilly Grant, co-founder and managing director of Herd Advance, said: “The support via the ONE Enterprise Fund and agrifood tech programme, along with the advice and encouragement from the ONE team, have been instrumental in our start-up process. Sharing our vision, providing advice and connections, combined with financial assistance, have aided us with the rapid commercialisation of our Stockman technology. Without ONE, it would have been a much harder journey.”
Seafood processing is a £700 million sector in the region, employing more than 4,000 people. Over the past year, ONE has worked with industry and stakeholders on a comprehensive action and investment plan to grow the sector. The Seafood Transformation Project – developed with Seafood Scotland, Scottish Seafood Association, Aberdeenshire Council, Scottish Enterprise and Scottish Government – targets a 35% increase in business turnover and up to 2,000 new jobs with a focus on delivering new processing capacity, more value-adding activity in the region, and international market development. Investment in new factories and advanced manufacturing processes and technology, including automation and robotics, are vital to the plan and will deliver long-lasting productivity and environmental gains and increase the value of jobs provided in coastal communities.
The £78 million project's compelling business case is based on co-investment by the public and private sectors with a core of processing businesses ready to invest. ONE is now leading engagement on funding with the Scottish and UK Governments.
There is much work still to be done but the north east is successfully embracing cutting edge technological and digital developments to increase growth across its industries and, in doing so, is securing a vibrant and prosperous future for the people who live and work here.
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