Today's announcement (20 September) follows its success during its first phase of activity, in which it established Scotland as an international data science hub.
Since its launch in 2014, The Data Lab has used its existing funding from the Scottish Funding Council to attract and develop data talent in Scotland. It has created and run educational programmes and events, and provided backing to Scottish innovation projects.
The new funding was confirmed by Minister for Further Education, Higher Education & Science, Richard Lochhead. Speaking ahead of today’s announcement during the DataFest19 launch event in Edinburgh, Mr Lochhead said:
“This investment builds on the £100 million already invested in Scotland’s eight innovation centres, including The Data Lab, which are having a transformational effect on our economy.
“Scottish universities excel in data science. Together with the country’s rich data resources and advanced infrastructure, this provides the ideal environment for the Data Lab to thrive, benefiting industry, the third sector and public services.
“I am pleased to confirm that the Scottish Government, through the Scottish Funding Council and our Enterprise agencies, is able to invest up to £13.5 million to support the Data Lab in its next phase, which will contribute to exploiting the estimated £20 billion data opportunity for Scotland’s economy by 2020.”
The new funding for Phase 2 will officially begin in April 2019 and run for five years. The funding package exists of up to £9.5 million from the Scottish Funding Council, £2.5 million from Scottish Enterprise, £1 million from the Scottish Government’s Digital Directorate and £500,000 from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE). This new funding will allow The Data Lab to improve data innovation’s economic impact on Scotland, generate more jobs and build on its growing global reputation.
Theresa Swayne, senior digital economy manager at HIE said: “We are working with our national partners to deliver phase 2 of The Data Lab Innovation Centre which will support the creation of a TDL² hub, co-located with HIE’s Innovation and Technology team in Inverness and will focus on data driven innovation across Scotland’s rural digital economy. The hub will be the fourth Data Lab location in Scotland along with Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
"Our support will bring a TDL² member of staff to the north of Scotland, to focus on data science skills and talent, events and new ambitious collaborative projects. In addition, local businesses will have access to exciting new national and international contacts and opportunities. The hub will have a specific focus on developing data talent in collaboration with Scottish universities and industry. Building on the successes of DataFest18, HIE and TDL² will host DataFest Fringe events again in March 2019.”
To date, The Data Lab has provided approximately £2.4m to 66 projects, with the projects’ total value reaching £6.3m. The new funding will ensure The Data Lab continues supporting businesses across Scotland, with an expected investment of £18.9m towards over 100 new data driven innovation projects.
In March this year, Scotland hosted DataFest18, a week-long festival of data innovation, bringing to life the collaboration overseen by The Data Lab and its engagement with the data community. The festival reached over 3,000 individuals across 50 events in Scotland.
DataFest19, which aims to further enhance Scotland’s burgeoning data reputation worldwide and was also launched today at the event, with SAS being named as its main sponsor. The event has been extended to run over a two-week period next March and will include the already successful Data Summit and Data Talent Scotland, and introduce a new technical event, DataTech. The longer festival will also allow for larger engagement from local organisations looking to run their own Fringe events across Scotland as part of DataFest19. Calls for the submission of technical talk proposals for DataTech and to run Fringe events are now open at www.datafest.global.
Gillian Docherty, CEO of The Data Lab, said: “We’re proud of the impact The Data Lab has had on Scottish business and innovation communities over the last four years and are pleased to receive further backing from the Scottish Government. The continuation of our work will help develop a strong data science community and accelerate Scotland’s economic growth.
“The Data Lab has built a vibrant, supportive and effective data community across Scotland. The success we’ve had means we’re in a great position to continue to collaborate with the Scottish and international community on Data Science and Artificial Intelligence innovation during Phase 2.”
Projects supported by The Data Lab during Phase 1 covered a wide range of sectors reflecting the breadth of value data innovation can deliver to Scotland. Sectors include healthcare, oil, gas and renewable energy, finance, professional services, creative industries, telecoms, food and drink, tourism, construction, and public and third sectors.
The projects include supporting The Albyn Housing Society and Carbon Dynamics in the FIT Home initiative, which aims to develop housing solutions to enable people to live independently for longer and allow residents to be treated at home instead of a hospital. The Data Lab provided funding to involve Robert Gordon University in the project, which used its expertise in Artificial Intelligence (AI) to create mechanisms that used data to monitor residents’ activity and any concerning changes in movement patterns.
Aggreko, the Scottish-based leading global provider of modular, mobile power, and heating and cooling solutions, wanted to monitor and be able to predict and react to any potential generator maintenance issues. The Data Lab, partnering with University of Strathclyde, used its academic insight and data science expertise to support Aggreko’s analytical capabilities and latest machine-learning techniques to enhance the Aggreko Remote Monitoring system (ARM).
The Data Lab has also recently backed Emotech, a company that specialises in AI technology, to develop ‘Olly’, the world’s first robot with personality. The Data Lab funding allowed them to collaborate with Heriot-Watt University to equip the robot with natural language processing abilities and undertake the required research and develop the test models.
Lucy Fraser, head of innovation at Albyn Housing Society: “The Data Lab’s support for our FIT Home project has been invaluable, both in terms of the funding it provided but also connecting us with the likes of The Robert Gordon University. FIT Home aims to develop housing solutions to enable people to live independently for longer and the data retrieved with The Data Lab’s help forms a crucial component of the project. We’re now able to grow the project and have recently taken on a PhD student to help take us to the next level and reach our long-term goals.”
During Phase 1, The Data Lab also established an internationally recognised MSc Data Science programme, having supported 260 MSc studentships through 17 courses delivered across 11 universities in its first three years. The programme is expected to grow throughout Phase 2, supporting 665 new data science MScs, ensuring a pipeline of talent into Scottish businesses.
L_R - Gillian Docherty, CEO of The Data Lab; Richard Lochhead MSP; Mark Hunter, Chairman of The Data Lab