In the fast-paced world of tech start-ups, growth – and the speed of it – is everything. From lightbulb moment to sketching a product outline, to prototyping it and securing investment, success is ultimately determined by how quickly founders can build and scale their ideas into a viable product that the market demands. There are no guarantees of success, which is why entrepreneurs invariably need every bit of support they can muster, financial and more.
When I visit Meadowbank House in Edinburgh, the high windows of its light and airy central atrium reception area are in stark contrast to the building’s unprepossessing and brutalist 70s exterior, which at first glance might be the last place you’d expect to find a grouping of some of Scotland’s most promising prop-tech and geospatial technologists.
Nevertheless Registers of Scotland (RoS), without whose records of property ownership homes and buildings in Scotland could not be bought or sold securely, is hoping to provide some of that wraparound support to Scotland’s data-driven innovation (DDI) community, having just embarked on a collaboration project with Ordnance Survey (OS); at the end of October the organisation formally unveiled the first Scottish version of ‘Geovation’, an accelerator scheme which has been running in London since 2015, creating more than 200 new jobs and raising £23.3 million in investment funding.
RoS published its corporate plan in April this year and one of its four strategic objectives is all about data, and the organisation’s desire to be much more innovative with it, to create greater economic and social value. To that end, getting Geovation Scotland off the ground in a little over six months, with some real-life innovators to fill a new open-plan office space, replete with some ‘mushroom stools’ (unfortunately kept in the dark for my visit), is an impressively quick turnaround of some higher order goals into some impacts on the ground.
Before I meet the founders, I’m given an overview of how the 12-month programme will run. Although the companies have just moved into the space, with the paint barely dry on the walls, a lot of prep work has already gone into creating the new incubator. Lyndsey Dougan, Geovation Scotland’s delivery lead, has led the process thus far, engaging with a nationwide community of property and geospatial technologists and launching a ‘call’ for applicants in August. More than 30 ‘high-quality’ applications were received and eventually whittled down to six, and then finally three, based on a pitch to an expert panel convened by RoS.
“It was not quite Dragon’s Den but it did have that feel,” says Dougan, who will work with the three companies – Folarity, AboveBoard and Walks and Waterfalls – towards the next big test of their reflexes, a ‘showcase’ pitch event hosted in six months’ time. “By that stage, we will have worked with the companies, who are at the concept or early stage of development at the moment, to establish their value proposition and help with the setting of goals, pitch training, and seeing what skills gaps they have: that can include finance, legal support, marketing, people management and much more.”
By then, RoS also aims to have its second cohort launched, in order to fill more of its incubator space and nurture the community.
The prize on offer is not just the £15,000 the companies will each receive by way of grant funding, coupled with business mentorship and access to potential investors; companies like Refill, a London programme alumnus, are testimony to a real demand for geospatial innovation, particularly in the field of sustainability. The app, which allows organisations to ‘put their taps on the map’ – literally providing a guide to where you can refill your water bottle – has already connected users to 20,000 businesses who are helping cut down on single use plastic pollution. “They’ve just been picked up by Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, which is going to be hugely high profile for them,” adds Dougan, who will be supported at the incubator by Jess Sibley, Geovation Scotland’s Community Manager, and at board level by Kenny Crawford, Business Development Director, who has helped shape some of the organisation’s key market goals. Dougan said: “There’s no reason why the programme here in Scotland can’t go on to similar levels of success.”
Crawford adds: “We’ve been through a huge internal digital transformation process at RoS so opening up our data is just the next stage of that journey.”
Meet the founders:
SARAH MORRISON has been working with her partner Jamie Henderson on building a platform that puts the community feel back into shared living. AboveBoard is designed to solve some of the long-standing issues around factoring (property management) that blight apartment blocks in Scotland and beyond. Morrison, who has been working in the financial services industry, says: “The actual product came from Jamie, but it’s something we are both really interested in. It seemed an obvious gap; it can be really frustrating when you live in a communal space but nothing gets done in terms of resolving building management problems. We’d like to restore some of the balance there, between owner and occupier, and also address issues around social isolation. The programme and the co-working space here is the perfect opportunity to hopefully go on and do that.”
MARTIN WARNE is a bit of a tech start-up veteran, having been based in London with the likes of Do Nation, a sustainability platform that rewards corporate good behaviours. A computer scientist, he augmented his tech skills with a post-grad in environmental forestry, and thus Folarity was born. “It’s a platform designed to help forestry managers replace some of the paper-based processes that they have been accustomed to, and also to help them plan their work much better. I’m really interested in AI [artificial intelligence] and machine learning, as well, and how that can be applied to forestry. There is scope to be able to get much better at analytics around disease mitigation, for example; Ash dieback has been a huge problem and we can use the technology at a massive scale to be able to determine with far greater accuracy the health of forestry stocks.”
This article appeared in the Autumn issue of FutureScot Magazine, distributed in The Times Scotland on Saturday, November 23.
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