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Cyber experts hail success of £6m scheme as SMEs innovate with raft of digital projects

Roxana Lawton, who is the project lead for the Greater Manchester Cyber Foundry

A £6m scheme which helps innovative companies develop digital products and services in a cyber-secure way has been hailed a success, with new figures showing more than 130 businesses have so far benefited from it.

The Greater Manchester Cyber Foundry is spearheaded by four north west universities to help small and medium-sized companies innovate and grow while defending their data, systems and software from cyber attacks.

The initiative, which was launched in 2018, brings together experts from the Manchester Metropolitan University, the University of Manchester, the University of Salford and Lancaster University to share their expertise with businesses across a range of sectors, from energy, digital, IT and recruitment to manufacturing, healthcare, property management and marketing.

In partnership with the GM Cyber Foundry, companies undertake research and development projects which are fully funded by the European Regional Development Fund and other agencies.

To date, 134 businesses have attended workshops and knowledge sessions to explore ways of using cyber security techniques and technologies to protect their operations and systems and to develop products and services including secured apps and business management tools.

Of these, 45 have received further technical support from one of the universities to drive forward their plans. The support has included security audits, source code reviews, web app development, augmented reality and block chain research and development projects, data analytics and visualisation.

Working with the GM Cyber Foundry team has ultimately enabled companies to introduce 24 new products, systems or processes in their own businesses and bring 14 new products and services to market and improve efficiencies by automating manual processes or upgrading the user experience.

These include a new risk self-assessment tool for businesses, an app to support athletes in their training, and software and cloud services for a digital agency working with healthcare clients to reduce missed appointments.

The range of initiatives has also led to new jobs being created in a number of businesses, while companies have provided work experience for students and graduates from the four universities involved in the GM Cyber Foundry to help identify further opportunities.
The GM Cyber Foundry is now recruiting for its next cohort, which will start in March.
Roxana Lawton, an enterprise fellow at MMU, who is the project lead for the GM Cyber Foundry, said: “The shift to a digital world brings with it new challenges, from protecting data in the face of cyber attacks and security breaches to new regulatory requirements, as businesses seek to grow through innovation and improve their current systems and processes.

“The power of four north west universities working in partnership and collaborating with SMEs across Greater Manchester has been a key benefit to the GM Cyber Foundry model, resulting in the creation of products and services that have cyber security at the heart of the design, leading to new revenue streams and improved security of existing assets.
“I am really proud of what we have achieved through our engagement with SMEs. We have managed to ensure that cyber security forms part of a business’s basic literacy.
“As we are reaching the final stage of the GM Cyber Foundry project we have one more cohort to recruit, so I would urge SMEs across Greater Manchester to get in touch to secure a place.”

Among those to benefit from the GM Cyber Foundry is dBx Acoustics, a Manchester-based acoustics consultancy which works with clients including architects and concert halls on projects where sound could be an issue.

Director Susan Witterick said: “Working with the Greater Manchester Cyber Foundry was an eye-opening experience which helped us learn about ways in which we could improve our business with new software to make our report writing quicker and more efficient.
“We approached the GM Cyber Foundry with a vague idea, and came out with something that was usable in our everyday lives and provided us with the necessary support to develop it further in the future. I would definitely recommend the programme. The technical assistance delivered more than I was expecting.”