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Open Data Institute will act as biz incubator

The government has detailed its plans for the institute, led by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Nigel Shadbolt, which aims to get industry and government to share data that others can use to generate new businesses
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

The government has fleshed out its plans for the Open Data Institute, which it says will spur economic growth in the UK by releasing previously inaccessible facts and figures.

On Tuesday, the Technology Strategy Board said the Open Data Institute (ODI) will provide a "first-of-its-kind" incubator environment for individuals and organisations to research and exploit the potential of 'open data' — a term that refers to making data freely available for use and republication. It will open later this year under the leadership of Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Nigel Shadbolt.

"We don't just want to lead the world in releasing government data — our aim is to make the UK an international role model in exploiting the potential of open data to generate new businesses and stimulate growth," Francis Maude, the minister for the Cabinet Office, said in a statement.

According to the government, the ODI will hold annual competitions that will provide mentoring support for "small businesses that show the greatest promise for the exploitation of open data". It will also organise "data-wrangling" hackathons to accelerate the exploitation of newly-released government data.

"The more we can put public data out in a raw form, protecting personal data and anonymity, the more it creates opportunities for data to be sliced, diced, and mashed-up in ways we in the public sector couldn't come up with," universities and science minister David Willetts told ZDNet UK at a Google event in London.

The ODI will also target students with a 'Jump Start' scheme that provides technical and business support for "ultra-early startups", and train open data evangelists and technologists.

World wide web inventor Berners-Lee and artificial intelligence expert Shadbolt worked on the Data.gov.uk project to release government data, and they were previously lined up to be the directors of a new Institute for Web Science at Southampton University. However, that scheme was scrapped in 2010 when the coalition government came in.

Since then, though, the Tories have professed a keenness for open data, and the government announced the creation of the ODI in November.

The ODI, due to open in September, will receive funding in the region of £10m over five years. The goal is to attract matched funding from the private sector via corporate sponsorship, research grants and donations.

"We are making more official information available than ever before," universities and science minister David Willetts said in the statement. "Data on areas like procurement, the quality of care homes and crime rates are already being used to provide innovative new services."

"Now, the Open Data institute will support businesses that want to use data in imaginative new ways for everyone's benefit.  This will release commercial potential, driving new forms of economic growth and new benefits to individuals," Willetts added.

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