Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI)

Aims of the project:

  • To identify ways to maximise commercial rates revenue for Belfast City Council

With the help of Future Cities Catapult (the Government-backed global centre of excellence in urban innovation), SMEs were invited to address the challenge of maximising commercial rates revenue and competed to receive funding support. The competition was launched in July 2016 and four companies were selected to receive £5,000 each in phase one which focused on the development of proofs of concept over a six week period.

At the end of this period, Belfast City Council and Land & Property Services were presented with multi-faceted solutions including Internet of Things (use of sensors), behavioural science, rule based data analytics, and machine learning. Two companies were selected for phase 2 of the SBRI competition and received a further £55,000 to develop their ideas from concept stage to prototyping.
During the prototyping phase from November 2016 to end March 2017, companies had the opportunity to trial their new solutions over two weeks. During this time they identified previously uncollected rates to the value of £350,000 which will continue to provide a year on year revenue stream to Council and the NI Executive. Belfast City Council is now developing a procurement specification with the intention of acquiring a suitable solution to meet its needs.

Key challenges and how were these overcome:

  • SBRI is pre-commercial procurement, ie the procurement of research and development to address an unmet need. This was the first SBRI project that had been undertaken by Belfast City Council or Department of Finance so there was a lot of initial learning. Having support from the SIB and DfE staff who were experienced in running SBRI projects was very useful.
  • The biggest challenge in the project was getting sufficient data sharing established with the contractors. This required establishing an appropriate framework and data governance regime in place to facilitate data sharing with involving several government and local government stakeholders.

Key success factors:

  • Proving that the use of machine learning/data analytics applied to linked public sector data can increase commercial rates revenue.

Key learnings:

  • Small digital SBRI projects are a fast and cost effective way of encouraging open innovation in a risk managed environment.
  • Data sharing proved to be a potentially bigger hurdle than any stakeholders had realised at the outset and this need to be built in to future specifications for this type of project.

Organisation: Belfast City Council in partnership with Department of Finance (NI) and Future Cities Catapult.

Delivery Agent: Belfast City Council in partnership with Department of Finance (NI) and Future Cities Catapult and support from Department for the Economy and Strategic Investment Board

How long has the project been operational: Since 2017

How long the project took from concept approval to implementation: It is intended for a fully developed solution to be procured in the near future.
How long has the project been operational?R&D phase of the project ran from June 2016 until March 2017 with a further 3 month test in autumn 2017.

Total project cost: £130k

Funding: £100k from the NI SBRI Challenge Fund and £50k from Belfast City Council

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