Either way, the reactions I got were positive and there was genuine interest about whether this would work as a concept. Personally, I think we should carefully consider the future of our physical presence.
Current business models in this country are just so tight in terms of margin. What can be done to help both ourselves and our clients?
A government gift
Talking of tight margins, how about we relax them somewhat with a bit of money from the government?
It was announced yesterday that the government, through Geovation, a startup accelerator, backed by Ordnance Survey (OS) and HM Land Registry, can receive up to £20,000 if selected. This doesn’t include the range of resources and services that they could also benefit from.
Applications to the programme close on August 27. Go on…have a go if you have a budding idea.
My head of PropTech content, Will Darbyshire, met with the head of Geovation just a few weeks ago and I wanted to give you a snapshot into that interview to give some context.
Interview with Alex Wrottesley, head of Geovation
Alex Wrottesley has been head of Geovation since 2015, a multifaceted role which sees him advise and support his team as they nurture a rolling cohort of startups, concerning himself with everything from fundraising efforts to what has become known around the office as ‘founder therapy’.
In many ways, Alex tells me, it feels like the job was created especially for him.
Despite this, upon first applying for the position, he was concerned that his lack of corporate experience might thwart his chances of success. In fact, the opposite was true. Legend now has it that Ordnance Survey’s director of products at the time, Peter Ter Haar, spotted a CV in the tumbling pile of applications and plucked it out; Alex’s experience of startups and fundraising had caught Ter Haar’s eye and the rest, as they say, is history.
“Stroke of luck,” says Alex, leaning back and smiling broadly, clearly content that, for one day at least, fortune was on everybody’s side.
Alex’s jovial mood is reflective of that bouncing around the whole Geovation team right now. The pursuit of geospatial innovation has been a fruitful one, so much so that, today, they’re moving into new offices in London’s East End, a generous space more than twice the size of their previous digs.
“It’s a real testament to what’s happened over the past three years,” says Alex. “Our stakeholders, Ordnance Survey and HM Land Registry, have backed us with the investment we needed to make this thing grow. In July, we celebrate the third anniversary of the Geovation Hub in London, and it’s also the first anniversary of HM Land Registry coming on as partners.”
Alex describes the past three years as ‘almost a Beta phase’ and that July will see them launch will full vigour. If this has been a Beta phase, it’s been a uniquely successful one.
The Hub has supported seventy-two startups, helped them raise around seventeen-million pounds and created over one-hundred-and-fifty jobs in the process.
The Hub’s biggest success stories include Land Insight, a site sourcing and deal management platform for the property industry; Flock, a firm revolutionising the insurance industry with pay-as-you-fly drone insurance; Shipamax, an intelligent communication platform for the bulk shipping industry; and Refill; a social enterprise project looking to eliminate single-use plastics by mapping locations around the world where people can refill their waters bottles for free. The latter has recently received more than seven-hundred-and-fifty-thousand pounds in government funding, via Water UK, as part of their pledge to reduce single-use plastic waste.
Geovation isn’t all about return on investment
“I think it’s really important to note that it’s not all about helping our stakeholders achieve their business plan. We select our companies on merit, first and foremost. We tend to get very high-quality applicants and only select a very small number so that we can closely support and nurture them. We’re always most excited by, and likely to select, those who can teach us something new about the market.”
Alex illustrates his point with the example of GetRentr, the DIY-lettings app which has recently raised £500,000 in seed funding. While one does long for the day when vowels are considered cool again, GetRentr has been a vital educator for a government currently at the foot of a complicated challenge.
Many people now rent their homes rather than buy. A fact which, as the years roll by, is expected to remain true. And it’s not just young people choosing to, or being forced to, avoid the housing ladder: as the BBC recently reported, the number of middle-aged renters has also doubled in the past ten years.
The government just isn’t in a place to cope with this. This isn’t how it was meant to be. It was meant to be an aspiration: buy a home, fill it with healthy, wholesome, hard-working kids and then proudly chisel chunks off the mortgage.
The work that GetRentr are doing helps the government understand how it needs to evolve in order to fit this new picture of society: in a world where mortgages are no longer a reliable spring, how should it work with banks to help create new revenue models? What laws or regulations need to be put forward to protect the rights and freedoms of tenants? What sort of data provisions are landlords going to need? Do we need to rethink home insurance?
In an ecosystem where rental property is in such immense demand, how does the government ensure that tenants aren’t exploited by rising rent values? And what about those with the least money to spend, how do we guarantee they are able to find and retain an adequate home?
Geovation’s work with GetRentr facilitates government understanding of the new property ecosystem. As, too, does their work with Skyscape, a member of the current cohort, who are, as Alex says, “helping us better understand the importance of creating a marketplace for rooftop real estate”.
In the future, it will become increasingly important for building owners to be able to monetise their footops with mobile phone masts, 5G receivers, urban agriculture and, ultimately, landing pads for flying cars.
To be able to do this, the government needs to reconsider regulations around airspace and city planning as well as ownership and contract laws.
“Geospatial data, or location data, is an incredibly broad church,” says Alex. “So we’re not particularly confined when it comes to choosing who we work with, just so long as their business aligns with one of the three core categories of Ordnance Survey’s innovation strategy.”
Those three categories are mobility, infrastructure, and connectivity. By constantly churning the soil in these areas, Geovation acts as a membrane between the government and the outside world, reporting and informing on the current state of innovation to ensure they’re always part of the most vital and beneficial conversations.
The huge scope of geo-spatial applications
The above snapshots are just a small part of a wide ranging interview Will had with Alex but should give you a small window into the sheer scale of geo-spatial and its impact on our sector. The uses could, to some, seem quite specialist but only once you get access to the level of the data the governments holds, you realise just how important this all is to our daily lives.
My suggestion, check out Geovation, see what they have backed previously, and seriously consider if there is something that can be done here. You can see from companies like GetRentr that were mentioned above just what is possible.
You may just surprise yourself and create something that is really special.
*James Dearsley is a leading PropTech influencer and commentator. You can follow him on Twitter here.