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Dutch MIT grant shows how SMEs (MKB) can be helped to advance AI in our society

The Netherlands has emerged as one of the fastest growing technology hubs in Europe. Amsterdam, the capital city in particular, has become the most prominent startup hub in the European Union. According to Dealroom, Amsterdam registered the highest funding in the first half of 2022. While fintech continues to dominate, there is growth in transportation, security, e-commerce, and other industries.

The country is also now home to some promising AI startups. In the Netherlands, it has now become common for the government to see AI startups as a differentiator of its social fabric. While these startups continue to raise venture funding, the government is not staying behind when it comes to supporting small and medium enterprises.

In order to keep its growth momentum, the Dutch government has continued to introduce initiatives that aim to help small and medium enterprises. One such initiative is called the SME Innovation Stimulus for Regional and Top Sectors (Mkb-innovatiestimulering Regio en Topsectoren, MIT, in Dutch). With these stimulus efforts, the Netherlands wants to help smaller companies become part of building disruptive innovation for the society.

Support for AI Projects

The MIT scheme for supporting AI projects of SMEs is being initiated and supported by the Dutch AI Coalition (NLAIC). It has also received support from regional organisations and is being implemented by RVO. The idea of this scheme is to look at SMEs building AI projects by working with other SMEs. Another criteria is whether these SMEs are interested in contributing to the development of digital key technology.

As part of this initiative, the RVO is offering €2.9M as the total budget that will be distributed among the startups. The application for submission began on 15 March and ended on 10 May. According to a report, the scheme saw no less than 85 proposals being submitted. These proposals were then ranked and accessed, and only twelve will be selected to receive the subsidy from the €2.9M budget.

“The great enthusiasm for this scheme forms a good basis for a new call, which will be initiated in the context of the AiNed programme of the National Growth Fund drawn up by the NLAIC,” says an official notification.

Role of AI in the society

The Netherlands is one of the few countries to envision a role for AI projects and applications in society. The RVO, Dutch AI Coalition, and other organisations see AI applications contribute directly to economic prosperity, social well being, and solving major societal challenges.

With the AiNed program, the country wants to nurture the startups, small and medium enterprises positioned to create a societal impact. The government sees an outsized role to play for SMEs, especially in the economic and innovative areas of AI development. With SMEs encountering barriers with their AI development, the MIT scheme is being implemented with support from the AiNed programme.

There is a need to bridge the gap for SMEs between the knowledge base and application, the Dutch government sees the MIT scheme as the way to bridge that gap. With the first set of twelve proposals set to be announced soon, there is already confirmation that there will be another round of the MIT scheme.

This next round of the MIT scheme will start during the first quarter of 2023 and will be repeated annually until 2026.

Need to accelerate AI adoption

The Dutch government sees the need for accelerated adoption of AI applications and the MIT scheme has helped find some genuine ideas. From a list of proposals that were no less than 85, the awarded proposals bring relevant applications of AI to all sectors of society. These sectors include intelligent maintenance and automated drone inspections of important infrastructure.

Some of the other sectors where AI application proposals were offered include healthcare, green in urban planning, analysis of media expressions, horticulture, and aquaculture optimisations. The proposals also aim to use AI to tackle optimisation of shipping routes and noise measurement in the built environment.

These proposals were also awarded for their use of synthetic (non-personal) data for AI training. The next step in this process is that all the coordinators and partners will work together to complete their respective projectives with a subsidy offered by the MIT scheme. The progress and experiences of the project will be tracked by NLAIC and will be further shared by the AiNed programme.

The MIT scheme shows that AI startups can flourish not by raising capital from venture funds or from individual investors. They can instead get subsidies from key stakeholders in the society, including government or local authority, to build their product and applications. The success of this scheme could pave way for more such public and private collaboration to advance the use of AI in our society.

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2048 1391 Editorial Staff
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