CivTech: Solving public sector challenges and launching new businesses

civtechThe Scottish Government has said its accelerator programme will revolutionise how technology-led businesses work with the public sector. Following a successful pilot, CivTech will match digital technology innovators – typically start-ups and SMEs – with public sector organisations looking to create digital solutions for a range of ‘civic challenges’.

“It aims to drive innovation in public services, empower the public sector to think differently, and provide economic development opportunities for digital companies,” one of the project’s leaders told the Digital Cities series hosted by FutureScot in association with The Sunday Times Scotland.

Last year’s pilot saw nine firms deliver a range of products in partnership with the likes of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), the NHS and Transport Scotland. This led to a new flood forecasting system, smart road monitoring software which promises “to detect potholes before they happen”, and a new fundraising service for homeless people enabling them to raise and access emergency funding.

“It is a truly smart and innovative ap- proach to public sector procurement that has the potential to disrupt and enhance current systems,” said Bob Downes, SEPA’s chair. “Especially impressive is the pace of the project, the calibre of the work, and its high level exposure it has gained in such a short time”.

Learn to Love Digital was one of the CivicTech pilot companies. It developed an app called Highlands Discovery which provides a deeper connection with the surrounding landscape for travellers when driving on the A9.

Company co-founder Stephen Heron said: “CivTech is a great way of bringing innovation into the Scottish public sector. The experience has enabled us to make connections with the public sector and other start-ups within the tech industry.

“It has given us an opportunity to access markets that would otherwise have been impossible. We were supported every step of the way in developing our product through the accelerator, a challenging, intensive but rewarding process. We now want to leverage this experience to maximise the commercial potential of our product.”

As well as being provided with access to training workshops and co-location space, winning  bidders  can  secure  contracts worth up to £100,000 – while retaining 100% equity and intellectual property rights, with the potential to sell their newly-developed  products  to other organisations around the world. In CivTech 1.0, all six of the winners have secured follow- on contracts worth more than £1.3m with 23 new jobs created.

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay said: “Scotland is highly regarded around the world for innovation. We have some of the brightest entrepreneurial minds based here on our own doorstep, so it makes perfect sense to tap into that talent to help the public sector work faster and smarter.

“If we want to be a world leader in tech we need to create conditions that allow companies to thrive, and that includes enabling new ways of working, such as streamlining the public sector procure- ment processes and working in a more agile, fast-paced way.”

The recently launched CivTech 2.0 poses a new set of challenges, and invites companies and individuals to propose a solution, including protecting birds of prey, tracking visitors to historic attrac- tions, improving access to statistical information, creating a smarter outpatient booking system, using data to improve access to public services, and mobilising networks to build ‘brand Scotland’.