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KTP develops new platform to support SMEs’ mental health and wellbeing

The University of Liverpool has worked with Business Doctors to develop an innovative new platform to support the mental health and wellbeing of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and build resilience and confidence amongst the business-owning community.

Academics from the University’s Department of Computer Science worked with Business Doctors to develop ‘Thrive Hive’, a community platform that provides a safe space where business owners can come together to discuss challenges and share experiences and services.

The platform uses a chatbot to provide an empathetic digital companion to advise when an individual comes forward with a problem, including directing the user to human or more advanced digital support services if needed.

The system includes a reward mechanism to encourage users to share experiences and useful advice and by supporting others, users earn rewards building on the idea of ’pay it forward’.

The technology was developed thanks to a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP).

The partnership brings together world leading expertise in ontology engineering and adaptation, conceptual modelling, dialogue mechanisms, machine learning (sentiment analysis and emotion detection) and online learning from the University of Liverpool.

The original aim of the project, which began in 2021, was to develop an intelligent Autonomous Business Advisor to digitise their face-to-face model of business support.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic made it apparent that business owners sought a more empathetic and emotional connection rather than just a technical connection to support their mental health as well a need or a safe environment for potentially vulnerable users.

Professor Frans Coenen, Department of Computer Science, University of Liverpool said:

“This KTP has provided the “Knowledge Base” supervisors, at the University, with the opportunity to put into practice their research in the context of an application domain, Thrive Hive, that has far reaching potential with respect to the small business community both in the UK and internationally.”

Richard Tidswell, Regional Director (South West), Business Doctors said:

“The KTP has been a huge unlock for us, not only providing the research and skilled people needed to develop our technology, but the agility to respond to the needs of our audiences. Together we’re creating accessible and inclusive opportunities and support, giving voice to business owners that will ultimately improve people’s lives.”

The partnership between the University of Liverpool and Business Doctors is continuing through an Accelerated Knowledge Transfer to Innovate (AKT2I) Innovate UK grant and a follow-on proposal in partnership with Teeside University for an Innovate UK Smart grant. In addition, Innovate UK will be providing access to the platform for KTP Associates as a trial for the platform.

Business Doctors is an organisation with multiple franchises that aims to provide the owners of SMEs with affordable business support and guidance, in particular coaching business owners to achieve their goals.

You can find information about KTPs on the University of Liverpool’s website here.