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Cambridge Spark to open London AI Campus and plots US expansion




It promises to be a year of growth for Cambridge Spark, which is about to open its new London AI Campus, plans US expansion and will become the first provider of a new artificial intelligence specialist apprenticeship.

The company, founded by Dr Raoul-Gabriel Urma, offers data science and AI education for individuals, companies and universities using KATE, a learning and assessment platform that is itself powered by AI.

The Cambridge Spark team. Picture: Andrew Wilkinson
The Cambridge Spark team. Picture: Andrew Wilkinson

Having outgrown the Bradfield Centre on Cambridge Science Park and switched to its own site in Hills Road, Cambridge Spark is now expanding its London operations.

It will leave serviced offices in Euston for its own site on Pentonville Road, close to King’s Cross, in March.

Tom Phillips, business development and partnerships manager, told the Cambridge Independent: “KATE is based on academic research, and developed as part of a research project at the University of Cambridge.

“It gives learners instant feedback and assessment of their code as they go along. When it comes to reskilling workforces using data science and coding with Python, we use Kate to do it more quickly.

“We work with Anglia Ruskin University on a couple of degrees and automate the process of assessing people’s homework.

“Over the next couple of years, we want to push what we are doing for data science and AI education.

“Everything we do is around helping people acquire knowledge and education opportunities, or providing people with access to networks - either physically meeting people or giving them a platform to present their work on. Opening the London AI Campus is the next logical step for us.”

The campus will enable Cambridge Spark to run more courses, events and workshops.

“We want the London AI Campus to be the centre of data science and AI education in London,” added Tom. “We will work with different partners on the campus - other companies that have the same mission around upskilling workers, who we might work with on events.

“We are looking at a series of events where PhD students in AI and machine learning present their research. The audience will be people in industry.

The Cambridge Spark team at their 2019 Christmas dinner
The Cambridge Spark team at their 2019 Christmas dinner

“Once you’re a data scientist in industry, one big issue is that you’re out of the loop of what’s happening in academia. This is another way to bridge that gap.”

The site will focus on “community-building and knowledge-sharing” he said, adding it will act as “a springboard for the growth” planned this year by the company, which employs 17 and counting.

One driver of growth is the apprenticeship training Cambridge Spark offers.

“We provide level 4 data analyst and a level 7 AI specialist apprenticeship, which is a new standard out this year,” added Tom. “We’ll be the first provider in the country offering it, as the others will be universities who must wait until September.”

Employers are keen to be the first offering the new apprenticeship, he added, which will run over 14 months - a timetable accelerated by the blended learning environment provided by KATE.

One major financial services firm switched from its existing provider because of KATE, while Cambridge Spark is also working with a pharmaceutical company and a significant manufacturing and logistics company.

“The majority of our clients are in financial services, because they’ve moved quickly to upskill and reskill,” said Tom, adding that the interest from many sectors is growing.

“The clients we have signed already this year mean we have matched our revenue from last year. There is a huge demand, ranging from getting people from spreadsheets to using Python for data analytics to advanced data science techniques, AI and machine learning.

Dr Raoul-Gabriel Urma, CEO of Cambridge Spark. Picture: Keith Heppell
Dr Raoul-Gabriel Urma, CEO of Cambridge Spark. Picture: Keith Heppell

“We are seeing more demand from people using the apprenticeship levy. A lot of people don’t realise the digital skills agenda can be covered by the levy too,” he said.

Next, the company plans to expand internationally.

“We are looking this year at doing more work in the US. We’ve got clients in New York.

“I’m talking to one of the Ivy League universities about running online courses, powered by KATE. That is very exciting.

“We are also having serious discussions in Singapore about working with the university there,” said Tom, predicting: “It’s going to be a big year for us.”

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