Recognising the importance of artificial intelligence as well as the innovative capacity of start-ups, to support the development of innovative products and ideas, the Government of Serbia deployed a national supercomputing AI platform and offered its resources and trainings free of charge to innovative companies and startups through a public call for proposals.
The development of artificial intelligence products is based on computationally demanding processes of training multilayer neural networks using large datasets. The computational infrastructure required for these activities is often very expensive and not easily accessible. With the aim of developing and applying artificial intelligence technology in public administration, scientific research organizations, universities, as well as small and medium-sized enterprises and startups that are unable to provide compute-intensive infrastructure themselves, Serbian Government provided the National Platform for Artificial Intelligence, as defined by objectives of the Strategy for the Development of AI in the Republic of Serbia 2020-2025.
AI platform provides users with an easier and faster way to solve AI tasks, the ability to solve large and complex problems, create better and more complex models with incomparable performance that allow more iterations and thus represent a serious resource to help strengthen the entire AI community in Serbia. AI platform has been deployed in 2021. It is located in the Government Data Center in the City of Kragujevac and managed by the Office for IT and eGovernment.
The AI platform is a universal system for AI computing tasks, from analytics via training to inference. This unrivalled power provides the fastest time to solutions for training, inference and analytics allowing users to cope with challenges that were not previously possible or practical to perform. The Office for Information Technology and еGovernment, as the government body in charge of AI platform and which manages AI platform daily, signed agreements on the use of AI platform with faculties, universities, institutes and science and technology parks in the cities of Belgrade, Novi Sad, Cacak, and Nis. In collaboration with these science and technology parks, ITE Office issued a Public call for start-ups to utilize the National Platform for the Development of AI. All start-up companies had the right to participate in the public call.
Some of the information that start-ups needed to provide was related to the specific project they would work on, whether they received any funding before, at what stage of development is their product and how much time they need to develop the final product. Over 20 start-ups responded to the public call, 13 of them met the criteria and were evaluated positively. Two more start-up companies have been given the opportunity to work on the AI platform through the agreement between the Office for IT and eGovernment and the Innovation Fund, which selected 2 start-ups, beneficiaries of their incentive funds, through an internal call.
These 15 companies have been provided with all the necessary support to access the AI platform and start working on their projects. Administrators of AI platform have created 62 user accounts for them. They were provided with free training (theoretical and hands on) for the use of the AI platform and software for Data science. Also, consultations and assistance in the implementation of their projects is ensured.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The main objective of our project was to stimulate innovative start-ups and support them in the development of innovative ideas and the delivery of innovative products. The project will enable the development of start-up companies, their products, researchers and scientists, the public sector (through the use of software based on AI to improve services for citizens), and industry, as well as strengthen and expand the entire AI community in Serbia. Aside from that, the approach itself is innovative in our context, in terms of both infrastructure provided, and the way it was provided (a public call).
What is the current status of your innovation?
Start-ups have been provided with theoretical and hands-on trainings, and started to develop their products in summer 2022. Most of them need to work on their projects for about six months, so we expect to have first results Q4 2022 / Q1 2023.
Collaborations & Partnerships
The Government of Serbia and its Office for IT and eGovernment have provided AI platform, its resources, data science platform, trainings, expertise and assistance. Small and start-up companies have been invited to innovate, propose their innovative projects and ideas and develop them using national resources and governmental assistance.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Thanks to our project, start-up companies have the opportunity to use powerful supercomputing resources free of charge and develop their innovative ideas into innovative products, which will certainly raise their capacities and contribute to the development and utilisation of AI in Serbia. AI-driven solutions improve service provision in all sectors, from medicine to weather forecasting, thus unlocking and leveraging the potential of AI to contribute to the entire society.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
Over 20 start-ups responded to the public call, 13 of them met the criteria and were evaluated positively. Two more start-ups have been given the opportunity to work on the AI platform through the internal call of the Innovation Fund, which selected 2 start-ups, beneficiaries of their incentive funds. These 15 start-ups have been provided with all the necessary support to access AI platform and start working on their projects. 62 user accounts have been created for them. These new users were provided with free training (theoretical and hands-on) for the use of the AI platform and data science software. Also, consultations and assistance in the implementation of their projects are provided daily. We expect to have the first tangible results this winter, yet even now we are safe to say that our project contributed to the promotion, development and utilisation of AI in Serbia, and strengthened the capacities of some of the drivers of innovation in our country.
Challenges and Failures
The only challenge encountered was with regard to the procurement and the delivery of AI platform itself and its components due to the pandemic, yet the AI platform has been deployed within the set deadline.
Conditions for Success
Adequate infrastructure and expertise are necessary, as well as governmental awareness of the importance of AI and emerging technologies and effort to ensure the required infrastructure and tools. Yet without talent and ideas, as the societal and business drivers of innovation, infrastructure and financial investments cannot do much - that is why it is of utmost importance to support the development of capacities of start-up companies, academia and science and research entities that have great ideas but cannot ensure expensive resources themselves.
AI-based products and services are on the rise all over the world, so the need for resources of this kind, which enable scientists and companies to grow and develop, will increase over time. This project can be implemented in any country, and similar projects to support innovative drivers of the society and economy developing innovative solutions in the field of emerging technologies can be implemented in a similar manner.
This type of support that is provided to start-up companies is very much needed. As we witnessed throughout the selection procedure, there are many great ideas, talent and enthusiasm that require support to be developed and can contribute to society as a whole.