Man wearing virtual reality headset

Augment the City Challenge Competition

A new £575,000 XR funding competition is bringing together innovators from our creative industries sector with our leading tourism organisations to explore how immersive technology will enhance future visitor attractions across the Belfast region, including the landmark Belfast Stories.

The Augment the City challenge competition, led by Belfast City Council’s City Innovation Office and funded by the Belfast Region City Deal, is enabling local businesses to develop ideas, proof of concepts and prototypes using immersive technologies such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality to enhance visitor attractions.

Challenge

Belfast City Council is designing a new tourism landmark - Belfast Stories - which will open in Belfast city centre in 2029.

Belfast Stories will reflect the unique spirit of Belfast through a variety of media and a mix of immersive experiences. Celebrating Belfast’s people and places, this new attraction will enable visitors and local people to connect with the city and one another through stories, screen, and social spaces.

We are working with creative technology innovators to develop concepts and proposals which use innovative immersive and digital technologies to gather, curate and present stories about Belfast and its people.

What are we offering?

Successful applicants will benefit from:

  • funding to support innovation and R&D to develop ideas, proofs of concepts and prototypes in immersive technologies,
  • access to a venue, with state-of-the-art advanced wireless digital connectivity, to develop, trial and showcase their innovative ideas and prototypes,
  • user testing and feedback from visitors to help improve and enhance their product, and
  • a better understanding of the future needs of those creating new visitor attractions in the city and elsewhere.

Funding available

The funding competition will be delivered across three phases:

  • Phase one: Up to ten companies will be offered up to £10,000 each to develop their concepts. This will include an in-person presentational pitch in Belfast at the end of phase 1.
  • Phase two: Up to five companies will be offered up to £35,000 to further develop their proposals.
  • Phase three: Up to three companies will be offered up to £100,000 each to develop prototypes.

Phase one - Successful applicants

Ten tech innovation companies and entrepreneurs have been awarded funding from the Augment the City competition to help enrich the Belfast region’s visitor experiences. Each project has received £10,000 to develop their concept.

  • Belfast Stories Generator: Hamilton Robson will combine AI and immersive tech to create an accessible, interactive platform for exploring the city's vibrant history and culture. 
  • Echoes of Belfast: Imvizar will focus on location-based AR to recreate and share Belfast's historical and contemporary narratives. This initiative will create a dynamic story engine, allowing anyone with a story the opportunity to have their voice heard using immersive technology.  
  • Yarns, Craic, and Danders: Darin Smyth will utilise AI, Metahumans, AR, and game engine technology to create immersive experiences in interactive booths and a complementary AR guide. These experiences will enhance exploratory walks and inspire users to engage with and discover the city's rich stories. 
  • SIGN: Aura Digital Studios will help to empower the deaf and hearing-impaired community to share their stories both locally and globally using haptics and AR technologies in a dedicated physical space equipped for motion capture, via a mobile app using AR, and through a network of visual triggers and QR codes guiding an independent walking tour across Belfast, linking audiences to site-specific performances. 
  • Belfast Memory Machine: SENSEcity will develop an AI-Powered Immersive Storytelling Experience using advanced technology to capture the rich tapestry of Belfast's stories from lesser heard voices. Participant storytellers will be provided with 3D-printed miniaturised models of Belfast buildings and landmarks, e-ink displays, and a smart microphone, all providing a tactile and interactive experience, while they narrate their stories.  
  • Amergin: Liquid City will develop an AI-powered interviewer, archivist, curator, and broadcaster accessible on social media, the web, mixed reality, and in a visitor centre.  
  • Storyfields: Animorph will develop an innovative platform to allow residents to create and share immersive storytelling experiences using their smartphones in an interactive treasure hunt. Designated areas in Belfast will become Storyfields where users ‘plant’ their personal stories and discover those planted by others.  
  • Belfast Back Beats: Cooperative Innovations and The Performance Corporation is an artistic/technology collaboration aiming to develop interactive virtual environments to showcase transformative moments in Belfast's performing arts and music scene, integrating real-world artefacts into virtual environments providing tangible connections to the city’s cultural history. 
  • Perspectives: Neurotech and Belfast Hidden Tours, in collaboration with artist Mark Mullan, will create an interactive mythology and history tour app, allowing users to experience first-person stories, and contribute their own narratives, thoughts, and reactions. The project will have a particular focus on children and young people, including those who are neurodiverse or have other accessibility needs. 
  • Memory Fractal: Ekaterina Solomatina will combine mixed reality and 5G technology to create a narrative sculpture, offering a new way of digital storytelling about the city’s vibrant artistic heritage. As well as visitors experiencing the space they are physically in, they will interact with virtual 3D-scanned and AI/community generated sculptures. 

The companies will have the opportunity to apply for further funding in phase two of the competition.

Key dates

  • 15 April 2024: Challenge Fund (phase one) opened for applications
  • 18 April 2024: Information session for local businesses interested in applying to the fund
  • 3pm, 10 May 2024: Closing date for applications to phase one
  • 17 May 2024: Successful applicants announced
  • End of May 2024: Phase one commences
  • 26 June 2024: Phase one pitch presentations (in-person in Belfast)
  • 30 June 2024: Submission of end of phase one reports
  • Autumn 2024: Phase two
  • Spring 2025: Phase three

More information

For more information, email smartbelfast@belfastcity.gov.uk.

Competition information

Belfast Region City Deal logoBelfast Region City Deal

The Augment the City Challenge Competition is funded by the Belfast Region City Deal (BRCD). The BRCD is an ambitious £850 million programme of investment that aims to deliver inclusive economic growth in the Belfast region and cuts across the responsibilities of local councils, the Northern Ireland Executive and UK Government. The BRCD partnership is comprised of the Belfast region’s six local authorities, four further education colleges, and two universities.


Night time cityscape of Belfast showing roads and motorways, street lights and mountains in the distance

Belfast 5G Innovation Region - SME grant scheme

Advanced wireless technologies, such as 5G, are a key driver of our local economy. As part of our Belfast 5G Innovation Region programme, we are launching a new £300,000 5G funding competition in late spring 2024 to support local SMEs to develop 5G use cases and harness advanced wireless digital connectivity to grow their business.

The funding will be targeted at local high-growth industry sectors including:

  • creative industries,
  • advanced manufacturing and construction, and
  • transport and logistics.

The fund will be open to SMEs located in the Belfast Region:

  • Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council area
  • Ards and North Down Borough Council area
  • Belfast City Council area
  • Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council area
  • Mid and East Antrim Borough Council area
  • Newry, Mourne and Down District Council area.

About the Belfast 5G Innovation Region

The Belfast region, led by Belfast City Council, has secured £3.8 million wireless innovation funding from the UK Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) and has become one of 10 5G Innovation Regions across the UK.

Over £36 million is being invested in regions across the UK, including Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland to drive economic growth and innovation in key local sectors by unlocking the opportunities presented by advanced wireless connectivity and digital technologies.  

Belfast City Council is working with Belfast Region City Deal partners to deliver a Belfast 5G Innovation Region programme which will support our local SMEs and high-growth sectors including creative industries, advanced manufacturing, and transport and logistics to deliver an exciting range of innovative projects powered by advanced wireless technologies. This includes:

  • four 5G anchor projects with Belfast Harbour, Queen's University, Ulster University and Translink,
  • a 5G grant scheme for SMEs, and
  • a 5G Enablement Programme to foster the Belfast Region's advanced wireless ecosystem.

More information

Full details will be announced in late spring 2024. For more information, email smartbelfast@belfastcity.gov.uk.


Belfast Skyline

Funding opportunities and competitions

A range of funding opportunities and competitions are available through Invest NI, Innovate UK, the Small Business Research Initiative and Horizon 2020.


Smart Belfast

Augment the City XR funding competition
£575K funding to support local SMEs to innovate in immersive technologies to enhance the visitor experience in Belfast. Find out more >>


Invest NI

Invest NI Innovation Vouchers
What could a £5,000 Innovation Voucher do for your business? An Innovation Voucher provides funding to small and medium sized businesses to work with an expert Knowledge Provider from a university, college or other public sector research body bringing new knowledge to help businesses innovate, develop and grow. Find out more >>

Innovation, research and development grants
Invest NI can offer funding support to eligible businesses looking to plan or undertake R&D projects. The funding can help you to plan, develop and test your ideas; build and test a prototype; create and refine your concept design; and secure intellectual property.  Find out more >>


Innovate UK and UKRI funding

View the full list of funding opportunities on the Innovate UK and UKRI websites.

£4m UK and South Korea data driven urban innovation Bi-Lateral
Business can apply for funding to explore the potential of data driven innovations in cities that will deliver positive impact around key urban issues including mobility, disaster management, net zero and other data-centric solutions. Projects must have a South Korean partner. Find out more >>

£98m Healthy Ageing Challenge 
As part of the UK government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, the Healthy Ageing Challenge asks industry and researchers to develop products and services to support an ageing society. Up to £98 million will be invested in research and innovation that supports people as they age. Over the coming years, there will be a series of opportunities for UK-based businesses and researchers. Find out more >>


SBRI funding competitions

The Small Business Research Initiative supports a range of competitions with public sector organisations and departments.


Horizon 2020 funding

There are also opportunities for funding through the Horizon 2020 programme which focuses on European projects in research and innovation.


More information

Find out more about funding opportunities on the Innovate UK website, Invest NI website and NI Business Info website.

If your business is located within the Belfast City Council area, you can also receive support and advice from the council's Economic Development Team at belfastcity.gov.uk/business.


Two visitors taking photo at The Big Fish sculpture beside the River Lagan

Belfast HUB-IN Challenge Fund

The Belfast HUB-IN Challenge Fund is supporting Belfast’s digital and creative companies to develop and trial innovative digital products and experiences to help animate and enrich Belfast's Maritime Mile.

Developed as part of Belfast City Council’s Belfast HUB-IN (Hub of Innovation) project, in partnership with the Maritime Belfast Trust, the Challenge Fund aims to explore how digital innovation can help to sustain, enhance, and preserve the unique heritage along Belfast’s Maritime Mile which connects key attractions, sculptures and viewing points on both sides of the River Lagan.

£120,000 of funding has been awarded to six proposals from Belfast’s creative and digital businesses, artists and innovators to develop innovative visitor experiences to:

  • enrich and animate the Maritime Mile for both locals and visitors,
  • increase footfall, dwell time and local spend,
  • connect surrounding communities, workers, students, and visitors with the Maritime Mile, and
  • align with the ambitions outlined in the Belfast HUB-IN Roadmap.

They will collaborate with heritage organisations and communities along the Maritime Mile in early 2024 to develop prototypes which use technologies such as augmented reality, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence.

Available funding

The Belfast HUB-IN Challenge Fund is now closed.

Six applicants successfully applied for a grant of up to £20,000 each.

Map of Maritime Mile

View the Maritime Mile interactive map or downloadable map.
Map of Maritime Mile showing key visitor attractions, sculptures and viewing points.

Find out more

If you have a query about the Challenge Fund, please email Belfast City Council’s City Innovation Office: innovationfunding@belfastcity.gov.uk

Find out more about the Belfast HUB-IN project at www.maritimebelfast.com/hub-in

The Belfast HUB-IN project is part of a €7.9 million European initiative that aims to transform historic urban areas through innovation and spread public benefits from urban regeneration. It’s funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovative programme under grand agreement No. 869429.


£25m Innovate UK Smart Grants

Innovate UK, as part of UK Research and Innovation, is investing up to £25 million in the best game-changing or disruptive R&D innovations which have significant potential to impact on the UK economy.

All proposals must be business focused, rather than pure research. Applications can come from any area of technology (including arts, design, media or creative industries), science or engineering and be applied to any part of the economy.

Whilst they welcome projects that overlap with the Grand Challenge areas of the UK Industrial Strategy - artificial intelligence and data, ageing society, clean growth and future of mobility - they are also keen to support projects that are entirely outside of these.

Funding

  • Duration between 6 and 18 months: total eligible project costs between £25,000 and £500,000 (single company or collaboration).
  • Duration between 19 and 36 months: total eligible project costs between £25,000 and £2 million (collaboration only).

Find out more

Visit the Innovate UK website to find out more.


SS Nomadic and Titanic Belfast visitor attractions

Hubs of Innovation - call for follower cities

Belfast is part of an ambitious consortium of eight European cities which are leading on a €7.9 million Horizon 2020 funded HUB-IN project to create a Europe-wide ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship.

The project aims to promote the urban transformation and heritage-led regeneration of historic urban areas through innovation and entrepreneurship, while preserving their unique cultural, social and environmental identities and values.

Eight city pilots are currently working on their selected historic area and transforming it into a Hub of Innovation and Entrepreneurship by co-developing new business models and innovative solutions that will bring together sustainability and cultural heritage. The Belfast HUB-IN is focused on the Maritime Mile in the city's Titanic Quarter.

Call for follower cities

HUB-IN intends to select at least 20 additional historic urban areas to follow the project and potentially develop their own hubs of innovation. The collaboration between the eight pilot cities and follower cities will develop into the HUB-IN Alliance, to create a ‘network of interest’ and continue the work of HUB-IN by supporting and connecting Hubs of Innovation across Europe into the future.

The follower cities will have access to a range of knowledge and insights, as well as exclusive content and support for their own regeneration processes.

More information

To find out more and express your interest in becoming a follower city, visit www.hubin-project.eu/alliance/


£98m Healthy Ageing Challenge

As part of the UK government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, the Healthy Ageing Challenge asks industry and researchers to develop products and services to support an ageing society.

The number of people over 75 in the UK today is one in 12. By 2040, it will rise to one in seven. We're also living for longer and a third of children born now are expected to live to 100.

This presents a challenge to health services, but it is also an opportunity for businesses and researchers who can help people to stay active and productive as they age.

The Healthy Ageing Challenge will support UK government’s mission to ensure people can enjoy at least five extra healthy, independent years of life by 2035, and will support people to stay in their homes for longer, tackle loneliness, and increase independence and wellbeing.

Funded projects will need to show how they will tackle one or more of the following challenges of older life:

  • Sustaining physical activity
  • Maintaining health at work
  • Design for age-friendly homes
  • Creating healthy, active places
  • Supporting social connections
  • Living well with cognitive impairment
  • Managing common complaints of ageing.

Funding

Up to £98 million will be invested in research and innovation that supports people as they age.

Over the coming years, there will be a series of opportunities for UK-based businesses and researchers. This includes:

Healthy Ageing Catalyst 2020

This funding is aimed at researchers with early-stage innovative ideas that align with the Healthy Ageing Challenge. Awards will provide £50,000 at 80% fEC and must be led by an academic who is based at an eligible UK research organisation. Awards can support staff time and resources needed to meet a key milestone that demonstrates the potential of the innovation. Closing date for outline stage is 13 February 2020. Find out more >>

Trailblazers (£40m)

This programme focuses on supporting the development of near to market propositions with potential to be adopted at scale. It will stimulate new ideas from a wide range of businesses and social enterprises to develop and deliver products, services and business models at a large scale to support people as they age.

Investment Accelerator (£29m)

This programme will catalyse private investment in business-led research and development, to grow and take to market innovations for healthy ageing that have clear potential to be adopted at scale. These will focus on product and service innovations, not larger-scale infrastructure.

A total of £29 million in government grants, together with matched funding from private investors, will be available over the next four years for projects up to £1.5 million in eligible costs.

Social, Behavioural and Design Research Programme

This programme will deliver evidence on key challenges facing the older population and ways in which support and care can be delivered effectively. Insights from the latest social and behavioural sciences and cutting-edge design research will feed into other activities in the healthy ageing challenge, enhance the competitive position of UK-based companies, and inform a wider group of stakeholders.

Developing the pipeline: Early stage support

UKRI will provide financial support to academic researchers and small, medium, enterprises working together to develop new products and services. This is early stage innovation activity and it will attract match funding from existing funding streams that focus on digital healthcare and older adults.

A total of up to £12 million will be available through a range of opportunities which will be announced starting in 2020 and run for up to four years.

Community of Practice

This programme will facilitate collaboration across the investment portfolio to maximise impact, facilitate international collaboration, support knowledge exchange and foster a pipeline of early stage innovations.

Find out more

Visit the UK Research and Innovation website to find out more and keep up to date with funding opportunities.


Open Data Fund

Open Data Fund - £30,000 funding available

The Department of Finance has opened a £30,000 Innovation and Outreach Fund to encourage the use of open data.

Awards of between £300 and up to £5,000 are available to fund the development of apps or other interactive visualisations that make innovative use of data on the Open Data NI portal.

Organisations and individuals hosting engagement activities including hackathons, workshops, seminars or events that will raise awareness of open data will also be eligible to apply to the fund.

Opening up public sector data has the potential to provide commercial opportunities and drive economic growth and innovation. This fund will encourage creative re-use of the growing number of public sector datasets available on the Open Data NI Portal and help deliver on the ambitious targets set out in the Open Data Strategy.

More information

Further information about the Innovation and Outreach Fund can be found at www.finance-ni.gov.uk/niopendatafund.

The deadline to apply is Friday 7 February 2020.

Successful applications will be notified on 24 February 2020. Funded activities and projects need to be completed by 30 June 2020.


£40m Healthy Ageing Funding: Information Session - 4 October

A £40m Healthy Ageing Trailblazers funding competition is now open for applications.

As part of the UK government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, the Healthy Ageing Challenge asks industry and researchers to develop products and services to support an ageing society.

It will support the UK government’s mission to ensure people can enjoy at least five extra healthy, independent years of life by 2035, and will support people to stay in their homes for longer, tackle loneliness, and increase independence and wellbeing.

Competition

The competition fund aims to encourage businesses and public sector led collaborations, including social enterprises, to develop and demonstrate how products, services and business models - which support people as they age - can be adopted at scale.

Stage one - £100,000 for research and business plan development
Stage two - £36m to develop and implement products, services or business models, with individual eligible project costs of up to £6 million.

Information Session

4 October 2019, Belfast City Hall, 1pm - 4.30pm

The Knowledge Transfer Network is holding an information session, facilitated by Belfast City Council, at Belfast City Hall on 4 October 2019 from 1pm - 4.30pm.

Hear from the Healthy Ageing Challenge leads at UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) which is investing up to £1.5 million in stage one of this two-stage competition.

Background information

The number of people over 75 in the UK today is one in 12. By 2040, it will rise to one in seven. We're also living for longer and a third of children born now are expected to live to 100.

This presents a challenge to health services, but it is also an opportunity for businesses and researchers who can help people to stay active and productive as they age.

Funded projects will need to show how they will tackle one or more of the following challenges of older life:

  • Sustaining physical activity
  • Maintaining health at work
  • Design for age-friendly homes
  • Creating healthy, active places
  • Supporting social connections
  • Living well with cognitive impairment
  • Managing common complaints of ageing.

Find out more

Visit the UK Research and Innovation website to find out more and keep up to date with funding opportunities.


£90K space data analytics funding

£90K of funding is available through a Small Business Research Initiative competition for new space data analytics projects.

The Department of Health (DoH) Northern Ireland funding is intended for projects that can triangulate prescription (health) data and air quality / pollution data with location data to supply new information through an innovative and engaging mechanism.

This new data should enable local citizens and the public authorities to be better informed about air quality and empower them to make better decisions when managing life, care and well-being in a sustainable and healthy way.

The projects should focus on delivering:

  • citizen-based utility to enable healthier choices
  • wider public health planning
  • clinical management of patients where poor air quality could lead to an exacerbation
  • understanding exposure to pollutants and effects at a local level
  • promoting urban healthy living and cleaner environments
  • better city and transport planning.

Funding

This competition is funded through the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) scheme and is open to all providers that can demonstrate a route to market for their solution.

It is particularly suited to emerging, small and medium-sized business, as the contracts are of relatively small value and operate on short timescales.

Phase one

Total funding of up to £90,000 for phase one is available to cover all challenges within the SBRI brief. Phase one contracts:

  • are intended to design and develop prototypes or demonstration units
  • will be awarded to a potential of three contractors for a maximum period of four months and maximum funding of £30,000 (excluding VAT) per project
  • must be completed four months following the commencement of contracts.

Phase two

In a potential phase two project, clinical and field trials of technology may be required. Suppliers for phase two projects will be selected by a competitive process between existing phase one suppliers.

Phase three

There may be an option for phase three contracts, which are intended for pre-commercial testing to support continued development of the prototype.

Closing date

This opportunity closes on Friday 30 August 2019 at 3pm.

Find out more

Visit the NI Business Info website and eTendersNI website to view the tender documents and find out more.