Tech in the East of England: An acquisition by Google, £1.75m in AgriTech funding and more

Tech in East

Tim Robinson, COO of TechEast, picks the biggest tech developments from the start of the year.

Welcome to the February roundup of tech news from East Anglia. We may only be a month in, but 2018 has already seen some major developments for the region’s tech sector.

Google doubles down in the East

Global tech giants are diving deeper into East Anglia’s burgeoning tech scene. This month, Google and parent company Alphabet formed two significant partnerships with tech firms from the East of England.

Norwich-based creative AI firm, ubisend, has partnered with Archant Media and the Google Digital News Initiative to digitise Archant’s 150 year-old archive.

The project – known as LocalRecall – will benefit from just under €1m from Google over the next two years. Archant Media is also headquartered in Norwich, and has published over 130 titles since 1870.

ubisend will create a digital archive platform with voice-activated search function. When complete, the content will be available in chatbot, voice bot, home assistant and a mobile-first website.

Alex Debecker, chief growth officer at ubisend, said: “The ubisend team is hugely proud to be part of this project. We have the opportunity to build something truly unique, something no one has ever done before.”

The news of Google’s second move in the east of England followed swiftly on the heels of the ubisend deal as its parent company Alphabet acquired Cambridge startup Redux.

Redux’s tech turns smartphone screens into speakers using haptic technology, freeing up space within the device for other features. With innovation arguably plateauing in the global smartphone market, the Cambridge deal potentially heralds a new phase of handset design and Android capabilities.

Tech City UK Upscale Programme

Norwich-based Rainbird, and Cambridge-based Prowler join the 2018 cohort of Tech City UK’s flagship Upscale Programme.

The six-month programme provides up-and-coming tech firms with advice and mentorship from some of the UK’s most successful tech entrepreneurs and investors. Rainbird and Prowler join 35 other early-stage businesses on the Upscale programme.

Founded in 2013, Rainbird is an AI-powered decision-making platform that allows businesses to replicate and scale employee knowledge to streamline processes.

Co-founders of the TechStars alumnus firm, Ben Taylor and James Duez, said: “With such strong alumni, being selected for the Upscale 3.0 programme is a huge privilege. We are delighted that Rainbird has again been recognised as one of the most compelling scale-ups in the UK. A great start to what will be an amazing 2018, for us and our clients.”

Prowler is an AI decision-making platform that makes it possible to perceive and affect the ways the likes of vehicles, drones, robots, characters in games and even people interact in complex environments.

Prowler raised £10m in series A funding in September 2017.

£1.75m for KisanHub

KisanHub, a Cambridge-based AgriTech startup, raised £1.75m in pre-Series A funding.

The round was led by venture capital firms Notion Capital and IQ Capital. Calibrate Management and other angel investors also participated in the round.

KisanHub is a crop intelligence platform designed to give farmers greater decision-making insight. The platform has a user base of over 3,000. KisanHub will use the funding to accelerate the development of their technology and hire machine learning specialists.

KisanHub’s CEO, Dr Sachin Shende, said: “KisanHub is on an ambitious mission to create a field level data infrastructure of the future and integrate that data with our Crop Intelligence Platform to deliver actionable insights to enterprises and their growers. With the new investment, we will kick start the hardware deployment in the UK, attract new talent into sales and customer success functions and expand our engineering capabilities to deliver end-to-end supply chain solutions.”

The KisanHub deal is significant because it represents convergence between the East of England’s digital and agri sectors. East Anglia has its own agri-tech cluster and is proud home to a number of farm-tech and agri-tech firms. Unsurprising, considering East Anglia is one of the UK’s most fertile regions, and much of the country’s agriculture is concentrated here. According to Agri-Tech East, an organisation that supports the sector, the region “is home to many progressive farmers, ground-breaking technologists, innovative companies and centres of world leading research.

Norwich VR firm partners with university

Norwich-based virtual reality startup, Immersive VR, has partnered with Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) to prepare graduates for the world of work.

Immersive VR has created a virtual reality game to sharpen their skills and get a taste for working in the creative sector. The VR experience will place students in scenes like a fashion shoot or film set, and will ask them to complete tasks as if they are working there.

The project is funded by £95,000 from NUA and £165,000 from the Higher Education Funding Council for England. Matthew Martin, managing director of Immersive VR, said: “VR is really helping to transform the education and training sector right now – giving people the chance to experience situations they otherwise wouldn’t be able to”.

Immersive VR was founded in 2015. Their work for West Ham United was nominated for ‘Most Innovative Use of Technology’ at the Football Business Awards 2016, and they were finalists in the 2017 Drum DADI Awards.