Research Councils UK, Rewired State and Nesta organised a two-day hackathon, which brought 20 developers together with small and medium enterprises (SME) and open data specialists to explore what could be built from the new Gateway to Research data to deliver new value to SMEs.
Our guest blogger, Bhagiyash Shah, was one of four judges at the event.
Opening up data to SMEs
SMEs want access to insight about their areas of specialism and research specialists want to share insight about their areas of work. The movement towards opening data from the research community provides a new opportunity to help SMEs to gain new knowledge and networks to innovate.
Economic prosperity and employment depends on helping SMEs, especially those in the tech sector, access and exploit the ideas, innovation and resources that have been the result of public funding. The UK’s technology sector represents 12 per cent of GDP and this is a high growth sector. However, SMEs face a number of challenges in balancing their limited time and resources.
Meanwhile, public services and research institutions alike are opening up data about their areas of activity, in the hope that they can gain greater visibility and that the data can be used to generate further value.
The value of open data from the research community
My hunch was that open data from the research community - on its own or when combined with other resources – might have value in the following ways to SMEs:
- Providing easy access to relevant information and insight about research and innovation
- Knowing who else is interested in a particular subject and who might wish to collaborate
- Knowing trends and new developments in relation to a subject area since it is difficult to keep abreast of core and adjacent developments in fast moving fields
- Assessing the viability of new ideas: by looking at reusing existing resources and investment to quickly develop an idea into a viable proposition and marketable product
- Accessing essential facilities, technology and equipment in their locality
- Recruitment and accessing new skills
- Accessing insight about matching supply and demand through a resource which can highlight market potential to help to assess and evaluate potential innovations
Bridging gaps at the GtR hackathon
Gateway to Research allows users to access information about research sourced from a variety of Research Councils and outcome providers. The room of developers at our hackathon had access to insights about the challenges faced by SMEs, and access to the data on the Gateway to Research portal. All got to grips quickly with the challenge we set, and all produced an idea which met one or more of the challenges. Five teams eventually pitched ideas to the judging panel over the weekend.
The first prize award went to a team of two developers – both aged 18 – who created a user-friendly interface which provided insight across many of the areas of SME interest. Project Reality, created by Harry Rickards and Vesko Vankov, allows the user to enquire about where to find experts in key subject areas (which could be refined to provide a fine grain of detail). Users could also see where in the UK the key ‘hotspots’ for specific subject areas are, enabling SMEs, for instance, to see whether there is someone local who is researching something connected to their business. It also provides the facility to search for current patents in specific fields.
There are a host of programmes around to explore how best to bridge the information gap between the research community and industry. This experience impressed on me just how much can be achieved by two talented young developers and a relevant set of data in just 24 hours.
I’m hopeful that initiatives like GtR and the Hack Hack, bridging research, tech and SME communities will continue to produce really useful tools to help SMEs to grow.