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Carly Morris
Head of Geovation

Innovating in a pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest societal crisis most of us have ever lived through, bringing immense challenges but also offering opportunities to innovate. In many cases, the pandemic has sped up the adoption of new technologies, new ways of working, and new attitudes for embracing uncertainty.

I am a great believer in the saying ‘during every crisis, lies great opportunity’. Necessity is a great driver of innovation, as it means we must test new ideas, embrace uncertainty and move at pace.

The most obvious example of innovation during the pandemic has been the worldwide vaccine drive, with necessity driving the speed of development. COVID-19 vaccines were created in less than a year, smashing the previous record of four years that it took to develop a mumps vaccine in the 1960s.

At Geovation, Ordnance Survey’s geospatial start-up incubator, many of the start-ups we support have had to pivot or adapt their business models as a result of the pandemic, but in many cases found a new way to succeed. We have start-ups who began life during the pandemic in our latest accelerator cohort, with founders showing the initiative to launch new ventures in the face of great adversity, sometimes after losing their previous jobs to the pandemic. Anyone who has launched or grown a business over the past year and a half has had to face uncertainty and adapt like never before, and we have some fantastically gifted founders as a result.

Investing in innovation

Ultimately the ‘winners’ over the coming years will be those who never stopped innovating, even in the face of huge challenges, which will have allowed them to overtake the pace of their competitors. Research on the financial crisis of 2008 by McKinsey suggests that companies that invest in innovation through a crisis outperform their peers during the recovery. Not only did those who innovated through the crisis outperform during the crisis, they also outperformed the market by upward of 30 percent in post-crisis years.

The decade that followed the financial crisis of 2008 also saw the emergence of start-ups we couldn’t imagine life without today, such as Uber and Airbnb. We are likely to see a similar burst of innovation post-COVID.

Breaking down borders

One of the ironic upshots of lockdowns imposed during the pandemic is that in some respects, we are more connected than ever through technology. International borders are no longer the barrier they once were, meaning businesses are more comfortable than ever at running large projects remotely and engaging with suppliers or customers abroad. This is particularly noted in the start-up community, where investors have become more comfortable with remote pitches, improving the diversity of the start-ups they invest in.

Video conference during remote working
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, Geovation’s accelerator programme was transformed into a completely remote offering almost overnight.

With the Geovation support now being accessible remotely, we have also seen an increase in the number of international applicants, and we’re keen to expand Geovation’s role in supporting start-ups based outside the UK.

Opening up

2020 was a critical year for geospatial innovation, particularly in the UK. Partly due to new demands on data due to the pandemic, and partly down to the Geospatial Commission’s ongoing commitment to maximising the value of the UK’s geospatial assets, midway through last year Ordnance Survey opened up more of its data than ever before for free.

OS quickly created brand new COVID-19 licences and launched a new Data Hub to provide easier access to OS data. All of this was part of the new Public Sector Geospatial Agreement (PSGA). This has provided a tremendous boost to geospatial innovation – customers have carried out over 40 million transactions, with a 100 percent month-on-month increase in transactions.

One of the areas we expect this to have the most impact is in environment and sustainability start-ups. Geovation has been at the forefront of emerging ideas on topics such as carbon capture, renewable energy, and pollution prevention since its foundation in 2009, but in the coming years the single biggest trend will be a focus on sustainability. We’re already seeing investors measure opportunities with Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) criteria, more and more business applying for B Corp status, and demands from consumers for businesses to become more sustainable.

A new sense of purpose

This past year of innovation under immense pressure has fostered a new sense of purpose at Geovation, giving rise to a new goal: to maximise positive impact by bringing people together and unlocking their potential, so that we all have a commercially, environmentally, and socially sustainable future.

Whether you are a developer, entrepreneur, SME, or corporate organisation interested in how location data can solve global challenges, you can join the Geovation community and become part of a network at the forefront of geospatial innovation.

Carly Morris
By Carly Morris
Head of Geovation

Carly Morris is Head of Geovation at Ordnance Survey, helping start-ups to flourish using the power of geospatial and property data. Previously Global Head of Innovation at one of the world’s largest airline groups, Carly has expertise in accelerator programmes, disruptive and emerging technologies, design thinking practice and innovation methodologies.