Glasgow-based Akari Solutions has been plucked by Microsoft to join an AI programme aimed at tackling societal challenges.
Microsoft's AI for Good initiative is run in association with charity the Social Tech Trust, and this is the second UK cohort it has selected to take part in the programme, which is aimed at helping start-ups that are developing solutions to better the planet, accessibility, humanitarianism and cultural heritage.
Akari joins 11 other start-ups in Microsoft's AI for Good UK cohort and CEO Margaret Totten told CRN that the selection process involved an application process and an interview, where the start-up had to show how its AI project would benefit others and how it would change the world for the better.
"Over the next four months, Microsoft and the Social Tech Trust will help us build a better product to reach new audiences and make sure that we're actually getting that message out there," Totten explained.
Akari was selected because of its AVA virtual assistant, which is built on Microsoft Teams, using AI to learn workflows to answer and prompt questions about daily tasks. Totten previously told CRN that it was developed as a way of improving accessibility for students with hidden disabilities such as autism, dyslexia and anxiety.
Being a partner of Microsoft is not part of the criteria to be selected, said Totten, adding that Akari might be the only partner in this year's collective.
The four-month scheme gives the companies access to its Microsoft for Startups office in Shoreditch and Totten said that Microsoft will provide ongoing support after that period ends.
"These four months are seen as an accelerator period," she explained.
"Over the next four months, we get the office space, which gives us a London base to work from, and we've already started planning how we can work better with customers there.
"We also get engineering expertise, so we get access to the latest and greatest people within Microsoft and new resources to help make sure that we are building these AI solutions to the best of our ability. Along with those, we get social impact and commercial expertise."
The initiative formally launched last week for this year's group of start-ups and Totten has clear ambitions to bring its virtual assistant into healthcare.
"Although we have a commercial offering with AVA - and we will be trying to reach large commercial customers - it is one thing we will be focusing on over the next four months because we found that AVA for health and social care is a very big win for organisations," she stated.
"AVA's core practice is about communication and collaboration. We started looking at organisations like the NHS and social care where so many of the processes are very paper-based.
"We looked at the amount of money that is spent every year within the NHS and we're consistently looking at ways to make sure we can maximise what the NHS should invest in."
"We still believe that the education market is key to what we're trying to do. But as we were building AVA for education, we realised the implications for health and social care and nonprofits - anything that's paper-based - is massive. So that will be a core focus for us."
Of the 12 start-ups, a third are founded by women, including Akari, and Totten said this is an encouraging move by Microsoft and is an example of how the industry is changing in terms of diversity.
"I'm on the board of Women in Technology and the board of Scottish Women in Technology, so it's a massive thing for me to make sure that we are consistently helping more women into tech and Microsoft has said the same for a long time and it has put its money where its mouth is around things like this," she stated.
"Having a third of the organisation founded by women showcases how different the market is to five or 10 years ago. And it's not that there weren't women out there with great ideas, I think it's just that there's so much more open market now."
The 12 companies selected to be part of Microsoft's second AI for Good UK cohort are:
Akari - helps companies use technology to support employees as individuals
Baobab - provides legal tools that track cases, manage teams and ensure privacy and security
BeneTalk - a digital coach and tracker for fluency therapy
Chatterbox - online language learning for professionals and organisations, powered by refugee talent
Good Boost - transforms public swimming pools into therapy spaces for the rehabilitation of musculoskeletal conditions
EcoSync - a cloud-based platform helping commercial buildings to stop heating empty rooms
miiCARE - specialises in the application of AI in the area of geriatrics
MyCognition - tracks, treats and prevents poor mental health through a cognitive assessment and training platform
OrxaGrid - provides accurate and secure analytics that provide efficiency improvements for energy networks
Hello Lamp Post - lets people have playful conversations with street objects such as statues, benches, and post boxes via text messages or popular conversation app to give local authorities, developers, and construction firms feedback on issues in the community
Signly - has created a browser extension that offers sign language translations for web pages. On sites that have enabled Signly, deaf people will be able to request a page be signed. The service uses Microsoft Azure cloud to host translations
Recycleye - aims to revolutionise recycling, by using cameras to identify recyclable objects and have them automatically sorted at waste plants.
AdEPT plans to raise up to £4m
Insight’s lead architect for AWS guides CRN through the process of winning the coveted status and the competitive advantage it brings
Emma de Sousa will replace Wolfgang Ebermann as EMEA president on 1 January 2021
Head of reseller’s new software development arm opens up on how its products will complement its business solutions
Customers don't understand the difference between certified refurbished and grey market products - distie
Distie’s head of refurbishment division on the importance of circular IT in battling counterfeit goods and why distribution needs to do more around sustainability
Akari Solutions joins 11 other start-ups that will receive guidance and support from vendor's philanthropic programme
Distributor says it's 'business as usual'
The job market now is highly candidate-driven and is likely to remain so in 2020. Recruitment guru Marc Sumner picks out five key trends that hiring bosses should be aware of in the coming year