AI innovators win share of £1m as Manchester Prize names first finalists 

After a nationwide search and entries from all corners of the UK, 10 teams of advanced AI innovators have been granted a share of £1 million.

10 teams of advanced AI innovators have been granted a share of £1 million at the first edition of Manchester Prize.

The Manchester Prize is a multi-million-pound challenge prize from the UK’s Department for Science, Innovation and Technology that rewards UK-led breakthroughs in artificial intelligence for public good.  

Announced by chancellor Jeremy Hunt last spring and launched in November 2023, the prize calls on innovators, academics, entrepreneurs and disruptors to submit their ideas, particularly related to energy, environment and infrastructure.   

It received almost 300 entries from UK-led teams, with ideas ranging from renewable energy solutions to advanced materials manufacturing, agritech innovations to transport management tools.  

Farming initiatives rewarded

Agriculture sector finalists include CRE.AI.TIVE by Phytoform Labs and Sapphire by HR Wallingford.

With the impacts of climate change threatening global food security, Phytoform Labs uses its proprietary CRE.AI.TIVE platform to discover drought-tolerant, disease-resistant, and yield-boosting traits for a diverse variety of crops.

CRE.AI.TIVE is a ‘foundational genomics model’, that learns about the genome of plants and accelerates the search for useful mutations to increase the resilience of crops.

Sapphire, however, aims at improving river and bathing water quality. Increasing urbanisation and changes to rainfall patterns due to climate change are putting greater pressure on the UK’s wastewater network, impacting water quality in our rivers.

It will be an AI tool that helps reduce water pollution from storm overflows, agriculture, and urban spaces.

Sapphire will integrate observed data and computer model outputs into an AI platform, incorporating more sources of pollution, and producing faster results than traditional methods.

The tool aims to enable water companies to better understand the impact of storm overflows and manage flows more effectively, ultimately resulting in better water quality across the nation.

All 10 finalists will each receive prizes of £100,000 to develop their solutions in the next eight months, as well as a package of support including up to £90,000 for compute, investor readiness, support scaling up, and access to a supporter network to advance their ideas to working prototypes capable of winning the £1 million grand prize in spring 2025.

Supporting AI talent  

Viscount Camrose

Viscount Camrose, minister for AI and intellectual property, said: “This prize puts brilliant British AI innovation at the heart of addressing some of our biggest shared challenges.

“A decade-long commitment by the government, we are supporting our peerless AI talent with an annual £1 million grand prize to bring through the next wave of game-changing technological solutions.

“I look forward to seeing our finalists develop their solutions further over the coming months, as we look to harness the incredible potential of AI to bring about transformative change in the fields of energy, the environment, and infrastructure.”

Dr Hayaatun Sillem CBE

Dr Hayaatun Sillem CBE, CEO of the Royal Academy of Engineering and Manchester Prize judge, added that British innovators have been “pivotal” to the advancement of computer and information technology that has transformed the world we live in.

“AI has the potential to support productivity, improve delivery of public services, make our national infrastructure work better, and accelerate the transition to a net zero economy.

“Choosing only 10 finalists from such a diverse field of applications was tough; picking a winner will be even harder. I’m looking forward to seeing how the ideas develop in the next few months,” she concluded.

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