Bristol grads’ AI handwriting business wins £25,000 prize


By Isabel Bromfield, Second year, Mathematics

Two Bristol Graduates have secured the top prize at Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards for their business that uses artificial intelligence to create handwritten-looking letters on a commercial scale.

Co-founders and University of Bristol alumni Robert Van Den Bergh and Alex Robinson officially began their company Scribeless in 2018 after its conception in 2016, with the help of University of Bristol’s Basecamp Enterprise team and UWE’s Launch Space facilities. Earlier in October, Scribeless topped 2,000 other businesses to win the £25,000 joint 1st prize from Santander’s Universities Entrepreneurship Awards, along with Cosi Care.

Scribeless aims to provides clients with convincing-looking handwritten notes efficiently and affordably on a large scale. The venture of an Accounting & Finance and a Computer Sciences student, it uses AI, machine vision, style transfer technology and colour-physics mimicking algorithms to ‘learn’ a style of writing and add imperfections to give an authentic look. After the written content of the letter is uploaded, advanced robotics armed with fountain pens reproduce the letters at five times the speed of a human. They can then be sent to as many as 10,000 recipients at once, all in a script indiscernible from real handwriting.

Scribeless began in Bristol – rated in the top 5 cities for startups in 2019 – after Van Den Bergh spent weeks at an internship writing handwritten letters to clients and seeing the positive effect it had. After Van Den Bergh and Robinson officially launched the company, they secured Scribeless a place as one of 15 finalists out of 500 businesses to present the idea at The Pitch Final in London in October of last year. Van Den Bergh and Robinson then secured £400,000 from investors by writing to them with the company’s own software. Scribeless is currently expanding beyond its Bristolian birthplace and now has offices in the US, Canada, and Europe, with more opening soon.

More recently, Van Den Bergh entered and was crowned joint winner of Santander’s Universities Entrepreneurship Awards 2019, winning another £25,000 of seed funding as well as future support from the bank’s services. Of the event, Van Den Bergh said that it was ‘fantastic to win the Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards’, and that the ‘support [they have] had throughout has been instrumental in driving forward the growth of the business.’ He credits the experience with ‘[enabling them] to continue growing [their] team and provide handwritten marketing to more companies around the world.’

Scribeless has quickly grown to catering for large companies such as Marriot International, Panasonic and NatWest. In an increasingly electronic world, companies are starting to see the benefits of writing personally to clients. It is estimated to increase engagement with customers massively, with word-of-mouth referrals increasing by 1000% for similar companies. On their website, Scribeless quotes a 32-fold increase in return on investment from alumni of the University of Bath.

Talking with the University of Bristol, Van Den Bergh said that they are ‘incredibly proud’ to have won the Santander prize, and ‘can’t wait to help more companies utilise [their] handwritten solution.’ ‘The University of Bristol and, specifically, their enterprise hub Basecamp have been hugely helpful since the start of Scribeless and supported us through the entire Santander Universities competition. The Basecamp team have helped us every step of the way", Van Den Bergh said.

What sets Scribeless apart from rival companies is its software: of similar services, Van Den Bergh states that “even if they've written by a pen, fonts look like fonts,” in contrast to Scribeless’s AI creating a more authentic-looking script by learning the inconsistencies of real handwriting. Speaking in The Pitch final, Van Den Bergh told the audience that their ‘research-driven AI can learn any handwriting style. Even yours.’

Featured image: Aaron Burden / Unsplash

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