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Now for ChatSME – and it’s South African

The country’s first home-grown Large Language Model – the technology behind ChatGPT – will be aimed at small business owners.

TymeBank division Retail Capital is set to launch the country’s first homegrown Large Language Model (LLM), the technology behind generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools like ChatGPT.

Called ChatSME, it is is intended to empower and revolutionise how South African entrepreneurs grow their businesses. The AI model aims to provide easy access to valuable knowledge and resources, fostering growth and success among small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Retail Capital told Gadget that ChatSME uses the LLM built by OpenAI, which owns ChatGPT, but distinguishes itself by integrating all the content Retail Capital has created and curated over its 12 years. The local model, with Ben Gidlow as architect, draws from an extensive library of its own blogs, white papers, books, survey results, press releases, and emails.

Retail Capital says ChatSME will go live with a full beta release by 8 September. It says the ChatSME project empowers all small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in South Africa, not just Retail Capital’s customers, to unlock the benefits offered by ChatGPT, Bard, and similar technologies, but with more security, more direction, and more relevance and more up to date information on the market.

“We know that, while business owners are idea-rich, they often find themselves time-, resource- and expertise-poor,” says Retail Capital brand and HR executive Erin Louw. “This means they spend their time in their businesses as opposed to on their businesses. These are the people who stand to gain the most from productivity tools like ChatSME, for content generation, handling of routine tasks, and importantly data analysis for making well-informed business decisions.”

Nesan Pather, project lead on ChatSME at Retail Capital, says: “With our beta testing currently open for early users to trial, we are opening Retail Capital’s first-hand experience and industry knowledge to everyone, allowing all SMEs to ask questions, get advice, and access tools to help grow their businesses. SMEs can find resources about managing finances, building a brand, or leveraging social commerce tools, all at the click of a button.”

Miguel da Silva, managing executive of Retail Capital, says: “The SME community plays an enormous role in South Africa’s economy, contributing roughly 34% to our GDP and creating new jobs, which is vital for reducing our cripplingly high rate of unemployment. We need to empower SMEs in every way possible to ensure their sustainability and growth.”

He likened using ChatSME to “having a dedicated business specialist on speed dial”, always available to address any questions an SME owner may have.

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