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DIGIT Digest | Scottish Tech News Roundup

From healthcare projects tackling gender bias and new economic reports showing a mixed picture for the Scottish economy, to spinout funding stories and new gender gap data, last week was a busy week for Scottish tech.

To get you up to speed with these major stories, here’s our round-up.

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Scottish Tech News | W/C 4 March


Equity Investment in Smaller Scots Businesses Remain Resilient

Equity investment in Scotland’s smaller businesses nearly halved last year but was still ahead of the UK average and on track to record the third highest annual figure in the last decade, according to new research from the British Business Bank.

The Bank’s Small Business Finance Markets 2023/24 report found that by the end of the third quarter of 2023, the total value of equity investment in smaller firms in Scotland had reached £295 million. While this was down on £562 million during 2022 and 2021’s £417 million, it was well ahead of the ten-year average of £236 million.

During the first nine months of 2023 there were 118 equity deals, below the ten-year average of 134. However, the average deal size was the second highest of the previous decade at £2.5 million, behind only 2022’s £3.6 million.


Strathclyde Uni Creating Low-cost Sensors to Improve Kenyan Crop Yields

A low-cost sensor system to detect nutrients in soil for improved fertility is being developed by researchers to help tackle food insecurity in Kenya.

The project is taking inspiration from ancient art and design-based printing processes such as wood blocking, combined with local natural materials such as chimney soot, egg, newspaper and enzymes from local plants and bacteria to make extremely low-cost soil sensors.

Woodblock printing allows lots of copies to the same pattern to be created and has been around for about 2,000 years. The printing inks were also made from natural materials. Instead of using these to print artwork, they will be used to make very biodegradable single use sensors.

The collaboration, led by the University of Strathclyde, will develop the novel sensor for farmers to regularly test for the two most depleted soil macro-nutrients in Kenya, nitrate and phosphate.


New Glasgow Uni Project Aims to Tackle Gender Bias in Healthcare AI

A team from the University of Glasgow’s James Watt School of Engineering has won new funding for a project to help examine gender bias in healthcare AI and find ways to ensure AI-supported treatment remains equitable.

Currently, scientists around the globe are looking at how cutting-edge sensors that track vital signs can be combined with artificial intelligence.

As Dr Nour Ghadban, a research fellow at the University of Glasgow and the project’s principal investigator, further explained: “New sensors linked with artificial intelligence could offer potentially transformational opportunities to improve the way that we monitor patient wellbeing.

“However, we can only reap those benefits if we can be sure that the AI systems we use to achieve them are up to the task. We know that all kinds of human bias across race, class, gender, and more can be unwittingly incorporated into AI decision-making tools if the proper care isn’t taken when they are being trained on real-world data.”


Latest Figures Paint Stark Picture for Scots Economic Inactivity

Scotland is pulling ahead of the rest of the UK – in terms of its economic inactivity.

Scotland’s economic inactivity between October 2022 and September 2023 is at 31.7%, the highest of all UK nations.

CBI’s and Fraser of Allander’s Scottish Productivity Index revealed a stark picture for Scotland’s economic performance, finding that Scotland also fell behind in 10 out of 13 productivity indicators available in the rest of the UK.

In terms of business, Scottish GDP contracted by 0.3% in 2022 to 9.5%, whereas the rest of the UK increased to 9.8%, another case of Scotland lagging.

As far as exports, as a share of Scottish GDP they increased from 20.4% to 22.1% in 2022, whereas the UK rose to 33.4% as a whole.


STAC Launches Fourth Cohort and Appoints New Chair

The Smart Things Accelerator Centre (STAC) has launched its fourth cohort, with 20 companies joining Scotland’s first smart things and IoT accelerator, and also appointed a new chair.

The new companies joining STAC are: Zephyrus Labs, Orchyio, BennuAI, Hycean, FocaliseAI, Konpanion, Deep Sym, Audio Mitto, Lu Innovations, Mix Innovations, MyFarm, Dr Little, Kyobit, Ufarms, RfIoT, Vuabl, Atypical, Lowtek Games, Curious Chip, and Thistle Rocketry.

Paul Wilson, CEO and co-founder of STAC, said: “STAC had evolved rapidly into what we describe as a full wrap-around accelerator, around four main pillars – scaling mentorship, space, investment and talent acquisition.”

“What’s also notable”, continued Wilson, “is that with over 50 companies now at STAC, sector clusters are emerging, for example in sustainability, robotics, drones, health and wellbeing, and creative tech.”


Strathclyde Uni Developing System to Balance UK Electricity Network

Energy experts at the University teamed up with the Electricity System Operator (ESO) to design an optimisation tool which paves the way for net-zero electricity system operation in Great Britain. It enables the control room to make better use of the most economic service providers, including fast-response batteries.

To maintain a balance between electricity generation and demand, the ESO operates an hour-ahead market known as the Balancing Mechanism (BM). The first phase of the Open Balancing Platform (OBP), developed as part of the ESO’s existing programme of operational improvement, is supporting transformation of system balancing by allowing control room engineers to send instructions to hundreds of balancing units in each battery and small BM unit (BMU) zone across Britain at the touch of a single button.

In the past, balancing electricity generation and demand involved sending dispatch instructions to several large generators. Greater numbers of smaller generators including fast-response batteries are participating increasingly in the BM market. The addition of these assets brings about potential cost savings, but also an increased number of dispatch instructions and greater system operation complexity.


Edinburgh Startup Uses IoT Devices to Improve Fish Farming Sustainability

Aquanzo, in collaboration with CENSIS, Scotland’s premier innovation centre for sensing, imaging, and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, is pioneering the cultivation of artemia, a species of brine shrimp hailed as an optimal protein source for feeding fish and crustaceans.

Aquanzo’s modular recirculating aquaculture system (RAS), developed in partnership with Heriot-Watt University, allows artemia to be grown wherever they are required using the co-product of agricultural processes, such as malt production for the whisky industry.

By repurposing the mineral-rich water used in malt processing, Aquanzo can cultivate artemia without impacting marine ecosystems.

CENSIS engineers will help Aquanzo with the development of an IoT-enabled array of sensors and a ‘data lake’ (a centralised repository for data) to help the team collect, store, and process data.


NZTC Launches Electrolyser Tech Funding Competition

A competition to find and fund innovative solutions to improve electrolyser efficiency has been launched by the Net Zero Technology Centre (NZTC) today, Thursday 7 March.

Electrolysers help with the sustainable production of hydrogen, separating the hydrogen and oxygen molecules found in water using electricity without emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Improving the efficiency of hydrogen production is crucial to the success of strategically-located Energy Hubs that will integrate various energy vectors to meet national power demands and facilitate energy export, NZTC said.

Technology developers can apply for funding to accelerate the development of their electrolyser technology towards pilot or prototype level.

Up to £500,000 of funding is available, and will be split between three to five technologies, with the deadline for applications being 23:59 on Sunday 14 April 2024.


Edinburgh Uni Spinout Wobble Genomics Secures £8.5M in Funding

Wobble Genomics, a spinout from the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute with a novel approach to RNA sequencing, has raised £8.5m to help commercialise its technology.

The funding round was led by Mercia Ventures and BGF, and was backed by IQ Capital, EOS Advisors, and Old College Capital (OCC), the University of Edinburgh’s in-house venture investment team. It brings the total amount raised by Wobble to over £10.5m.

The spinout has found a way to detect previously invisible ‘full-length’ RNA. The technology could have wide-ranging applications, from drug development and research to agriculture and ecology.


AccelerateHER Research Shows Mixed Picture for Female Founders

New research from AccelerateHER, the female founders network, released on International Women’s Day, shows a strong appetite for growth among UK female company founders — but also that numerous challenges and concerns remain.

The survey, which involved 316 female founders from all four nations of the UK, showed that 92% believed their business proposition had growth potential.

Further, more than half (52.1%) of those polled are currently focused on scaling their businesses with nearly two in five (38.8%) keen to achieve growth on an international scale. 41% of respondents said they were actively seeking investment to grow their companies.

However, some of the core concerns raised within the qualitative research included constraints over resources and finances; cashflow issues, especially with late payments from large companies; and the struggle in managing work-life balance with the many female founders juggling childcare and other responsibilities while managing their business.


Could This Scots-German Device Help Push Healthcare Further Forward?

An academic paper published on it indicates that such light sources will enable minimally invasive means of treating and better understanding diseases which currently require the implementation of bulky devices.

The new approach presented by Scottish and German scientists is based on the integration of organic light-emitting diodes—or OLEDs, which are usually found in smartphones and high-end screens—on “acoustic antennas.” They consist of thin layers of organic materials which can be deposited on almost any surface.

“We have exploited this property to deposit OLEDs directly on the acoustic antenna, thus merging the unique properties of both platforms into a single, extremely compact device,” explained Professor Malte Gather, from St Andrews’ School of Physics and Astronomy.


That’s it for this week. Be sure to subscribe to the DIGIT newsletter to always stay up-to-date on the latest Scottish tech news!