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Manchester startups help GCHQ tap into new source of ingenuity

The first group of startups to emerge from a Manchester-based accelerator programme has contributed new ways of thinking to UK’s GCHQ intelligence agency

Four startups have completed an intensive three-month accelerator programme aimed at enabling growth of their businesses.

The GCHQ Engineering Accelerator Manchester programme is a joint initiative by UK intelligence, cyber and security agency GCHQ and Telefónica’s innovation arm, Wayra UK.

At an undisclosed location, PlaceDashboard, Jobseekrs, Locometric and Y?Not gained access to the technological and security expertise of GCHQ as well as Cisco and Manchester Science Partnerships (MSP) to expand capability, improve ideas and devise cutting-edge products in areas including data engineering, machine learning and automation.

The inaugural cohort shared its successes in front of 100 attendees at an exclusive Demo day in Manchester.

During the course of the programme, PlaceDashboard closed a six-figure deal and increased revenues to help consolidate and strengthen its position as a big data disruptor. PlaceDashboard is designed to help town centres, retail managers, property funds and investors to maximise their tenant mix, optimise retail site regeneration and manage store closure risk.

Locometric expanded its reach into the US market by securing a major partnership and building a closer relationship with technology giant Apple. The company provides a 3D home model to enable household control all home automation gadgets.

Jobseekrs was able to bring onboard 10 new strategic partners, while Y?Not used the opportunity to validate their concept ready for a launch soon. The company is described as the world’s first video interactive job-site that uses psychometric culture-fit and takes unconscious bias out of matching great candidates to suitable roles.

Y?Not, a platform designed to combat loneliness and social isolation, was introduced to a number of strategic partners. “We are building relationships, some of which may lead to long-term collaborations that will benefit the Y?Not business and our future customers,” said the company’s director Richard Tate.

GCHQ also used the opportunity of working alongside those startups operating on the frontiers of innovation. 

“This accelerator has brought new thinking to our engineering team, new minds into our national security community, and it has shown that we can deliver more for our mission if we work this way,” said a GCHQ representative.

The startups have helped GCHQ to create partnerships within the cohort, within the Tech Hub in Manchester and the North West, with Manchester Science Partnership, with the universities, and the city council.

“They have helped us tap into a new seam of ingenuity. There is a thriving ecosystem around us here and it is great to be a growing part of it.  We will see more of that in action as GCHQ starts to expand here this year,” the GCHQ representative said, adding that Manchester has helped the agency in its work to pioneer “a new kind of security”.

The mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said the early-stage businesses represent the calibre of talent that exits in the North West, as well as its rich engineering heritage.

“I want to thank Wayra and GCHQ for their continued investment in the city-region and wish all of those who pitched the best of luck with their journeys. There are around 105,000 companies in our area, but we always want more.

“We are making it easier to set up new enterprises, and are helping existing businesses develop and grow, working alongside the Manchester Growth Company to bring trade, investment and growth to Greater Manchester.”

Paul Sanders, technical director at PlaceDashboard, said the sessions with Wayra experts have helped the startup take a new look in detail at all aspects of the business.

“This sparked an immediate change in the interest shown in the platform. Working with GCHQ experts has enabled us to transform the relationships we have with our clients and has unlocked endless possibilities in how we can apply new technologies, including AI [artificial intelligence] and machine learning, which will lead to the roll-out of a new product range in the next 12 months.”

Gary Stewart, director of Wayra UK, said the shared vision with GCHQ in utilising the local expertise of regional hubs to scale ambitious technology startups will make all the difference in maintaining the UK’s position as a global innovation leader.

“It’s the responsibility of organisations such as ours to offer our resources in order for emerging businesses to grow wherever they’re positioned in the UK. We now have a solid foundation from which to build in Manchester and the wider North West region,” he said.

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