Event report: What AI means for small businesses

Event report: What AI means for small businesses

Posted: Fri 1st Mar 2024

Small business owners joined Enterprise Nation, Cisco, Sage, Dell, Square and Vodafone Business at an event hosted by Google to discuss what the rapid rise of artificial intelligence (AI) means for small businesses.

The event coincided with the launch of a new Enterprise Nation report, as part of the Tech Hub initiative, which found that around 60% of businesses are 'excited' about using AI to save time, with one in five saying they would use it to improve marketing campaigns.

However, skills and confidence also play a key role in how technology is transforming businesses, and the report found that both were low in relation to AI.

Tech Hub AI report
The session began with welcoming remarks from Emma Jones, CEO and founder of Enterprise Nation, and Katie O'Donovan, director of government affairs and public policy at Google.

The stage was then set for a keynote address by minister for technology and the digital economy, Saqib Bhatti MP.

Speech from technology minister, Saqib Bhatti

In his opening remarks, minister Bhatti cited the Enterprise Nation research, which found that more than half (57%) of UK small and medium-sized businesses have adopted AI in their business. However, he added that many SMEs currently feel they lack the knowledge and support they need to take full advantage of the opportunities presented by AI.

To help bridge this gap, the UK government is setting up an industry-led SME Digital Adoption Task Force. The minister emphasised the importance of ensuring that AI is trustworthy, accessible and beneficial to all businesses and consumers, noting that security is critical to building a thriving AI economy.

Saqib Bhatti MP at Enterprise Nation Tech Hub AI event

To this end, the minister highlighted the government's £420m investment in AI skills training initiatives to equip British people and businesses with the skills for an AI-powered future. This includes skills bootcamps, an AI skills competency framework and £100 million for an AI Bridge programme to support adoption in traditionally less tech-savvy sectors.

The minister cited government analysis suggesting that AI has the potential to create up to 200,000 new jobs and add billions to the UK's GDP in the coming years. However, the minister concluded with a call to action, noting that the government cannot realise the economic potential of AI alone and that collaboration with industry is also essential.

The minister also highlighted the government's AI Opportunities Forum, which aims to encourage cross-sector adoption of AI. Working together, government, industry and SMEs can unlock the transformative potential of AI for the UK economy.

Google Digital Garage: Boost your productivity with AI 

Digital marketing trainer Kirstie Kavanagh gave the audience an insightful AI training session. She began by explaining how Google sees AI as the third major technological revolution, after the internet and mobile phones.

AI systems are digital tools that are trained on large amounts of data to act intelligently. They are already embedded in many products we use every day - from Alexa's voice commands, to Netflix's movie recommendations, to fraud prevention in banking.

Kirstie outlined two main types of AI: predictive AI, which identifies patterns in historical data to make predictions, and generative AI, which creates new data or content based on its training.

However, she noted that AI has limitations. Inaccuracies can arise from biases in the training data. The quality and neutrality of the data used is critical. Confidential data also needs to be handled carefully.

Kirstie then discussed the range of AI-powered productivity tools available. These can summarise content, condense information and highlight key facts. Useful prompts when requesting summaries include specifying word counts and asking for bullet points or executive summaries.

For meeting and video summaries, she recommended services such as, Trint, Google Lens, DeepL and Google Translate can powerfully describe images and translate text.

Overall, it was an insightful overview of how AI is transforming products today and how it can increase productivity when used judiciously. Kirstie clearly communicated both the promise and the limitations of this rapidly evolving technology.

Enterprise Nation Tech Hub AI event group shot

Panel of businesses using AI and their top tips 

The audience then heard from small business founders:

This panel discussed their experiences using AI tools. Ali explained that he tested applications such as Chat GPT, Google Gemini and Midjourney to see which would be most useful. He found Midjourney particularly helpful in speeding up the process of creating reference images for photographers. While it initially took six hours to learn how to use it, he can now generate the images in just 30 minutes, saving him significant time.

Ali added that he also optimises paid advertising spend on the Amazon marketplace by automatically adjusting bids based on keyword performance.

Surya explained that his company provides a platform that uses AI to assist with content creation. Applications such as and Dali are used to edit video scripts, removing unnecessary words to make videos more concise. Its platform also generates tailored LinkedIn posts for corporate clients through a subscription model. Humans review the AI-generated content before it is published.

While the panel identified opportunities to scale operations using AI, Emma Goode acknowledged concerns about potential job losses, while noting that AI can augment rather than replace humans.

The panel recommended an experimental approach, using different AI tools in different ways. This will allow their full capabilities to be uncovered. It was suggested that even small investments in AI access through monthly subscriptions or pay-as-you-go models can increase efficiency. This frees up time for entrepreneurs to focus on growing their businesses.

Enterprise Nation Tech Hub AI event

Discover how tech brands can support your AI journey​​​​ 

Finally, attendees heard how major tech brands can support their AI journey. We were joined by:

  • Natalie Sweet, global VP product marketing at Sage

  • Didi Denham, AI, quantum and data UK policy lead at Google

  • Samina Hussein-Letch, UK head of industry relations at Square UK

  • Ben Porteous, senior demand generation manager at Vodafone Business

  • Paul Brook, EMA pre-sales workload dpecialists director at Dell

  • Chintan Patel, chief technology officer at Cisco UK & Ireland

The panel discussed the adoption and responsible use of AI across different industries. Chintan discussed Cisco's long-standing responsible AI strategy, which embeds ethics into its products. He highlighted the use of AI to block email threats while avoiding customer data.

Ben and Samina discussed how Vodafone and Square are using AI to improve customer experience and drive growth. Vodafone is tackling digital inclusion issues, while Square aims to simplify AI integration for small businesses through easy-to-use solutions.

Didi discussed how Google has been using AI in its products for over a decade, focusing on quality and user empowerment. She highlighted the value of their Internet Legends programme in teaching children about online safety.

Natalie explained how Sage is using AI for automation and data accuracy in accounting. Sage is launching a new generative AI system that can ask natural language questions about accounting data.

The panel concluded by sharing their visions for the next year in AI. Chintan predicted widespread adoption of AI as the technology becomes available and skills improve. Ben Porteous hoped to see confidence in AI grow alongside more complex solutions that enable competition.

Samina envisioned small businesses accelerating with greater access to technology through the democratisation of AI, and Didi was optimistic about the economic opportunity of AI, with Google research showing a potential £400bn boost to the UK economy by 2030.

Natalie Sweet wanted to see a stronger, incentivised digital economy, accompanied by transparency and ethics to ensure AI is accessible. Paul Brook emphasised the importance of embracing competition, rather than seeing it as a threat, as it increases overall volume.

The panel predicted a breakthrough year for the adoption of AI by businesses, with an increased focus on reskilling the workforce to ensure AI increases efficiency and expands the workforce rather than reducing it.

Tech Hub: Recommendations and resources to help small businesses adopt new technology
About Tech Hub

Backed by top technology firms, Tech Hub is a new-generation, one-stop-shop solution that allows businesses to access industry-leading digital tools, training, support, and know-how to succeed, all in one place. Take me to the hub

Enterprise Nation has helped thousands of people start and grow their businesses. Led by founder, Emma Jones CBE, Enterprise Nation connects you to the resources and expertise to help you succeed.

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