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Economy Minister Diane Dodds has announced £2.5million in support for 13 projects as part of the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI).

SBRI enables the public sector to tap into new ideas and technologies through funding competitions to business, resulting in new opportunities for companies who can provide solutions to the tough challenges faced by the public sector.

Commenting on the announcement, Minister Dodds said: “SBRI is a highly effective way of using the buying power of the public sector to encourage the development of new innovative solutions.

“The budget allocation for the Fund in 2020/21 is £2.5million which will allow two new SBRI projects to start phase one. This is in addition to continuing support for 11 existing projects.

“Given the unprecedented impacts of Covid-19, the decision has also been taken to ring-fence £0.5million specifically to address pandemic-related digital challenges.

“I want to congratulate all those projects which have been successful in accessing funding. I was particularly pleased to see my own Department’s Careers Service amongst the successful applicants. The Careers Service recognised more could be done to improve pathways into work for young people with additional educational needs and specifically autism, and the SBRI is enabling them to address these challenges.”

Frances O’Hara, Head of the Department for the Economy’s Careers Service, added: “When we launched this competition we wanted to hear from companies who had ideas or innovative projects involving interactive technology that could address the specific issues people with autism face when trying to access careers advice.

“The SBRI competition has enabled us to explore new and emerging solutions using interactive technology. We have now appointed two SME companies, Neurotech and Damgeo, to undertake a second phase of their SBRI project. Both projects use interactive technology to support the delivery of careers advice and guidance to young people with Autism Spectrum Disorder. This second phase will provide an opportunity over the next 18 months for the two selected companies to undertake a period of further development and extended testing of their solutions in a ‘real world’ environment within the Careers Service. The two companies will be working closely with the Careers Service and local schools across Northern Ireland.”