By Lisa-Marie Smith, Director, ForrestBrown

We love the digital scene in Manchester and the other Northern cities. There are so many fantastic businesses developing innovative technologies. Quite a few of whom ForrestBrown work with directly, securing them valuable funding.

I travel up here regularly and see that organisations like Manchester Digital are doing great work in creating a culture of support and collaboration. And I’m sure this will grow ever stronger over time as more hubs, resources, events and incubators are developed.

A few weeks ago, I sat on a panel organised by Manchester Digital called Start Up Stories. The experience of one of the other panel members was most striking. A tech business, he wanted to really go for it – all out growth, turbo-charged by investment.

But he couldn’t get that support in Manchester, he had to take that well-trodden path to London to get what he needed – including an appearance on Dragons’ Den. I want to see that change, or at least become less inevitable. And the Big Chips Awards are an important piece of the jigsaw in doing that.

As a Northern-only awards ceremony, they celebrate and showcase the innovation that goes on outside of London, and help give Manchester and the North a stronger centre of gravity of their own.

ForrestBrown sponsoring the Big Chip Transformation Award

ForrestBrown are delighted to be supporting Manchester Digital and the Northern tech community by sponsoring the Big Chip Transformation Award. Having won a string of awards since we started-up, we know exactly the kind of impact that winning such a prestigious award can have.

Winners at Big Chip 2017 can look forward to positive press coverage, lots of marketing opportunities (it really helps to say that you are award-winning), as well as it being a superb recruitment and talent retaining tool.

A look back at the last year and ahead to the next 12 months

As R&D tax credit specialists we help companies innovating using science and technology (including digital) to secure vital funding to further their work through the government’s R&D tax credit system. To SME’s the average financial benefit is more than £50,000, and to many it will be much more.

Doing this, we are privileged to see the amazing work of companies that take a risk by innovating. The big technology themes of the last 12 months, which are sure to continue over the following 12 months and beyond, are exciting.

Virtual reality

Virtual reality (VR) is one such technology. Going back a little more than 12 months we have finally seen headsets coming to market, and at different price-points too: Oculus Rift at the high end for example, with the Samsung Gear somewhere in the middle and Google Cardboard being almost given away. Now they are out there we will see companies picking up on exactly what can be achieved with VR and innovating in ambitious ways.

Immersive 360-degree film is one direction this will go in. One North-West company developing this already is Uniform. They created a 360-degree virtual world to visualise an exciting property development. The richness of the texturing to bring the world to life required some clever innovation.

Hardware will continue to improve too. There will be work towards 6, 7, 8K screens with refresh rates of up to 240. Once these are achieved, you will not be able to tell you are looking at a screen.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is another huge theme relevant to the last 12 months and the future. AI is now well and truly here. If a company has a great idea that needs AI, they don’t need to develop their own system. Solutions like IBM Watson can be hired as required to deliver the AI, leaving the company to focus on adding value with their innovative concepts.

Uniform again have done interesting work in this field. They have developed an emotional radio that uses AI and facial recognition technology to select songs from Spotify based upon how it perceives listeners’ moods.

Chatbots

There is so much technology to choose from, but the final one I will highlight here is chatbots: artificial voices that simulate human conversation using AI, natural language processing and connectivity. Particularly as a user interface with technology, these are going to be big.

In the last 12 months, we have seen the Amazon Echo hit the mainstream – a bot interface for the smart home. But they will go far beyond this, delivering customer service, personal assistance, information and even friendship.

The awards

So, there are plenty of innovative fields to be keeping Northern digital and tech companies busy. In the meantime, it will be great to see some familiar faces at the awards ceremony on 15th June, as well as meeting plenty of new people.

Among other clients, we are hosting Farm and Everything Different on our table. They are two further examples of innovative digital agencies from the North of England that we work with.

If you would like to find out more about R&D tax credits for digital innovation, or would like to discuss reviewing a recent R&D tax credit claim to ensure it captured all your R&D, then get in touch. You can come and say “hi” at the awards ceremony or just drop me a line at hello@forrestbrown.co.uk.