A support programme backed by GCHQ for UK companies using data to help improve the safety of people online has launched in Greater Manchester. 

The mentorship scheme – GCHQ Innovation Co-Lab – will be run from The Landing in MediaCity, Salford, and seek innovative start-ups and SMEs based in the North West. 

Companies taking part in the 12-week programme will work with GCHQ technologists and industry experts to improve their products using data science, artificial intelligence and machine learning. 

The aim is to support the development of innovative products in health, education and other sectors including those that tackle the long-term effects of organised crime. 

Gav Smith, GCHQ Director General for Technology, said: “As we increasingly live more of our lives online there is a greater risk data can be manipulated to commit crimes and take advantage of the most vulnerable members of our society.  

“With GCHQ’s mentorship and support these businesses will have the potential to use the latest technology to improve people’s safety online.” 

Last year GCHQ, which identifies, analyses and disrupts cyber threatsannounced the opening of a new Manchester city centre hub in Albert Square. 

“We’re excited to be supporting the thriving technology ecosystem in Greater Manchester, connecting ingenious entrepreneurs and creative technologists with the mission of GCHQ to help tackle some of our hardest challenges, added Smith. 

The scheme is also being run in partnership with global tech accelerator UP Ventures. 

Emer Coleman, Project Director at Up Accelerator, said: “The GCHQ Innovation Co-Lab will focus on enabling cutting-edge technologies based around data science, artificial intelligence and machine learning.  

Critical sectors such as health, education, emergency services and communications rely heavily on data integrity on which increasingly, vital machine learning is based. 

“This will only become more important in the future as citizens and businesses across the globe adjust to living with COVID19.  

Our goal is to help emerging businesses make technical and commercial breakthroughs with their ingenious products and services by giving them access to world-class GCHQ technologists as well as industry experts and dedicated coaches.” 

Jon Corner, Chief Digital Officer at the City of Salford, said: “The GCHQ Innovation Co-Lab at The Landing resonates with our ambitions in Salford and Greater Manchester to build products and solutions that work for all citizens.  

“I’m delighted that The Landing MediaCityUK is a key part of an evolving and growing partnership with GCHQ, which itself is contributing to the strength of the Greater Manchester digital eco-system.”