Geovation Hub – one year on


The Geovation Hub has been open now for one year. In that time it has:

  • 550 members’ regular attending the hub and using its space and resources.
  • 40 SMEs basing themselves at the Hub.
  • 4 start-ups on the Geovation Programme.
  • 30 lead partners.
  • Delivered £300,000 of revenue through partnerships and sponsorships that was unbudgeted.
  • GeoSpock – one of the first members of Geovation, using the hub to build their business and validate what they are doing. We took an active role in helping them secure £3.5m in investment.
  • FATMAP who came to us in the summer of 2015 with 3 people needing somewhere to establish themselves and take their 3D ski maps to market. They went live with their product in December and went out to a web summit in Ireland. We worked closely with them on their pitch and presentation, and they ended up raising £1m of bridge finance.
  • FATMAP grew from 3 to 8 employees when they were with us.
  • 3 Crowd Cube successes – Stay Safe raised £400,000. OpenPlay raised £150,000. Store Mates is closing in on raising £150,000.
  • Around 20 companies this year that have grown by at least a couple of people since they have been at the Hub.

I caught up with Geovation Hub manager, Alex Wrottesley about Geovation, the Hub and the past year.

Alex Wrottesley

Alex Wrottesley

What is Geovation and what is the Geovation Hub?

Geovation is Ordnance Survey’s (OS) commitment to open innovation and the Geovation Hub, Clerkenwell, is how OS creates new models to work with other companies and organisations outside the business.

In our first year there are already a wide range of businesses using the hub. This includes large corporations, to SMEs to individuals starting out. Basically it is anyone with an interest in innovation and entrepreneurship within geospatial data.

We help any business that wants to access geospatial data and expertise. This is prioritised on their needs and requirements. For large businesses we look at membership options that let them work with us and co-invest with Geovation to explore new areas. For small companies, particularly those individuals who are starting out, we provide a whole range of free resources that let them develop their business. This can be coaching and mentorship, access to data, access to developer advice, access to software, all the stuff that is really hard to attain when you are a start-up. We provide this on terms that are exceptionally beneficial and easy for these organisations to use. This is something that I don’t think anyone else can offer and it means those businesses can get things started faster and they can move further than they otherwise would have been able to do.

Start-ups that manage to get onto the Geovation Programme we invest cash as well as dedicated resource for extended periods of time.

What’s the Geovation Programme?

It’s OS’s corporate accelerator. Where we take small geospatial start-ups and invest funding, resources and developer time to help them advance their companies.

So why is this of value to OS?

OS is currently a going through a broad, long-term transformation programme. Innovation tends to correlate closely to entrepreneurship. So through the Hub, the people who use it and the activities that go on in and around it, OS is learning what kind of behaviours, what kind of patterns, what kind of ideas are driving new value. We take this knowledge that we have gained at the Hub and use it to support OS business.

OS is at a point in its history where the challenges and opportunities open to it are greater than ever before. If we can get this right at the Hub we can become a really meaningful global player in a really important part of the technology ecosystem. What the Geovation Hub has done already for OS is help the business understand the clock speed at which it needs to operate to succeed. Through Geovation OS can move fast, take risks and experiment – what kind of mistakes can we afford to make? What kind of mistakes can we not afford to make?

OS employees also come to the Hub and work with us on projects at the Hub. This exposes them to what is going on at the Hub. For instance, the London survey team came to the Hub to talk about how they could develop the surveying process. There was no natural time in their diary to do this stuff and we provide a facility to facilitate that opportunity to think creatively about our work and how we can deliver it, which traditionally would have been quite hard to do within OS.

The Geovation Hub

Does the Geovation Hub have value outside of OS?

We always have one eye on how we contribute value to UK Plc. For us it’s very straightforward. We’re trying to help new businesses start up and there is great evidence that the most value created for the national economy is by helping companies go from zero to five people. That is the first wave of value creation in terms of jobs and the tax income from these. It’s all incremental benefits to the economy, so if we can help 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 small companies get off the ground, that adds real value.

Aside from the pure economic benefit there is the strategic thought leadership side. Making sure the UK is seen as a leader of geospatial data and GeoTech. OS is a globally recognised brand that knows more about geospatial data than anyone else and the Hub is there to amplify that. Through our increasing approach to international markets Geovation will be a significant part of that by telling the innovation story internationally.

What does the Hub mean to London?

London is one of the richest technology ecosystems in the world and we provide workspace for London-based businesses to grow. We are an active participant in a bunch of initiatives with the Mayor’s office and we’ve also been working with local authorities in London, supporting them on a variety of initiatives. We are working with the Future Cities Catapult to identify the challenges facing London as a city. We try to participate where we can locally and are currently sponsoring the London Tech map, an online platform that shows how tech companies in London are growing.

What do you think the Hub offers entrepreneurs and the start up community?

To the start-up community in general the Geovation Hub adds a new dimension. There’s a huge market for accelerators and incubators and start up hubs, spaces and co-working spaces, London is littered with them. So where Level 39, the big financial technology (FinTech) accelerator founded by Canary Wharf, has been hugely successful because the people working with those technologies have a lot in common. Put them all in one room and they’ll be going ‘we need to know how to use this bank’s API to access this insurance data’ or ‘we need to know how we can pass this payment analysis to a third party database’. They all sit in the same space and share the same knowledge and experience. We are doing the same with GeoTech.

Our goal is to establish GeoTech as a concept the same way people think of FinTech. So if you’re doing something where geospatial data is important to your location, or place, or you want to look at analysis of how things are presented well, you go to Geovation. We have something new and exciting to offer.


Tell me more about the partners operating at the Hub

In our first year we’ve been working really hard to establish a suite of partners who add value from a content point of view and a knowledge point of view, and from funding and technology as well.

From the knowledge side we work very closely with KPMG’s high growth team who do consulting work with our start-ups looking at their business plans, their challenges and their opportunities.

We work with Dorsey, a Minneapolis head-quartered law firm that specialise in start-up legal support, who provide free legal consulting work to the start-ups on the Geovation Programme.

We have lead funding partners, such as Intel, Nominet, DSTL and IBM. Each of these companies puts in financial support, but they also provide workshop support and do surgeries where our start-ups can talk to them about technology challenges and receive access to hardware and software.

We also have partners for particular activity streams. So when we do the Geovation Challenges, we seek sponsorship partners. So, for instance, on the most recent challenge that looked at improving our relationship with water we were joined on the challenge by United Utilities, Southern Water, the Environment Agency and DEFRA. We are now working on a new Underground Assets Challenge and are seeking partners for this.

You’ve made it through the first year, what are you most proud of?

The fact we have assembled a really strong team that has a really strong culture and desire to take up this responsibility and own it as a team in the belief that that we can help. Not just Geovation, but our parent company. I’m very proud of our people.

What next?

We’re currently exploring taking small equity stakes in the businesses we support through the Programme. We want to develop a long term interest in these businesses and this is clearly a new step for OS. Importantly we won’t take equity in those who start the Programme, we wait until we’ve had some engagement with them before we invest, which means we can retain an objective perspective as they go through the first phase of the Programme.

Through investing in start-ups we have the opportunity to generate income to OS. If one of our small investments becomes a really big company that 1, 2 or 3% we own in them might become a significant return to OS.

The Geovation Programme is currently recruiting – find out more and apply by 17 August.

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