The government’s £52 million Digital Catapult Centre in London has helped 1,500 tech firms within two weeks of opening, according to the institution’s CEO, Neil Crockett.
"We've already had 1,500 companies come through our doors," said the Cisco-veteran at a media open day. “We’ve run at least two events a day and we had 400 companies attend the launch, so that was a good start."
The events – attended by startups, enterprises, universities and government officials – have covered topics such as wearables, the internet of things, cybersecurity and 5G.
“A lot of companies have actually met people they didn’t know before who are working on the same issues as they are," said Crockett. "We’ve had some really good thought leaders come in and go into depth to help startups understand some of the areas we’re looking at.
"We’ve had people coming in from as far as Australia and the US. They come in and learn best practice and get specialist help.”
The Catapult has been set up to help companies cross “chasms” in four main areas that broadly fall under the umbrella of "data". These areas are: copyright; creating trust in the use of personal data; opening up organisation's data sets; and the internet of things.
Bruce Hellman, CEO of self-improvement app uMotif, told Techworld that he plans to visit the Catapult on a semi-regular basis in order to get advice on data privacy.
“Support and advice will plug a knowledge gap for us,” he said. “The Catapult has done a lot more thinking about privacy and security and the way to properly word all of that to make it clear to the individual user.”
Crockett said that startups and entrepreneurs will also be able to draw on the Digital Catapult’s army of software developers and engineers.
"I'm looking forward to exploring how this could be of benefit for us, as the challenge is always integrating various sources of code," said Hellman.
While the Catapult's offering appeals to Hellman, he was still surprised to learn how much taxpayer money is going towards it.
"With the level of investment being made in to the Catapult I'm looking forward to seeing how much impact it's going to generate," he added.
Meanwhile, Matt Celuszak, CEO of CrowdEmotion, a camera-based emotion recognition platform that is used by BBC Worldwide, told Techworld that he has already benefited from visiting the Digital Catapult.
"A week after the opening day, we were already using it," he said. "The UK market is very much a networked market. The Digital Catapult bridges that gap for people who don’t have the network but have a really good idea. I won’t go as far as to say it’s an old boys club but like any industry it has the eltite and those people are the people that you need to be doing business with if you’re ever actually going to make it."
Celuszak added: "I’m really keen on how we control and open up data. CrowdEmotion falls very much in line with the data value chain. We’re in data creation, we’re in data transport, we’re in data knowledge. So for us I can see it being super useful."
The Digital Catapult is being expanded across the UK, with new hubs opening in Brighton, Sunderland and Bradford next March.
It is hoped that 10,000 small companies will “engage” with the centre over the next five years, delivering £360 million of linked economic value to the UK.