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Innovation is Catapulted in This Environment

The financial crisis of 2008-2009 saw the emergence of startups that became companies we now cannot imagine life without — Uber, WhatsApp and Airbnb. We expect to see the same surge of entrepreneurship and technological innovation emerging from this crisis, says Carly Morris, Head of Geovation at Ordnance Survey. 

From specializing in trade and working capital in financial services to heading the Innovation division at the International Airlines Group, you have had an interesting career trajectory. What brings you to Ordnance Survey as the head of Geovation?

I believe in inspiring people to learn from one another and work together. This is particularly relevant in the world of startups and corporates, and I love to see entrepreneurs with new ideas solving problems that industries have been pondering for years. The value I bring is that of a ‘translator’, helping startups and corporates understand one another, work together and learn from one another. I truly believe that when this happens, every one is a winner.

To do this for Geovation, to work with the great team we have in place, and the many and varied startups we work with, was an exciting opportunity I had to take.

Since its inception in 2009, Geovation is said to have become a leading proponent of the value of open innovation in the public sector. Can you tell us more about the initiative and how impactful it has been over the years?

Just like our startups, Geovation has grown and evolved over time to become the industry-leading accelerator that it is today. Geovation started after a series of annual challenges concerning use of location data to solve societal problems. Entrepreneurs were invited to submit ideas in response, and Geovation would help develop the best ideas into sustainable businesses.

Today, Geovation has two innovation hubs in London and Edinburgh, as well as a series of partner hubs across the UK. We run Geotech and Proptech accelerator programs, and to date we have supported over 125 businesses, creating over 560 new jobs for the UK economy and raising over £86 million ($116.50 million) in investment. 79% of the companies supported by Geovation are active even today, which against the usual startup failure rate of 90%, really demonstrates the value that Geovation adds in helping to create businesses that can go the distance.

A great example of this is Refill, whose app reduces the need for single use plastic bottles by connecting people to places where they can fill up their water bottles with free tap water. They are now working with many partners to deliver free tap water across not just in the UK, but in other countries also.

The Geovation community, with its network of entrepreneurs, investors, developers and corporates, strives to solve the society’s problems with the power of location and property data

Can you shed some light on the startup ecosystem in the UK, and how has the idea of having entrepreneurs, investors, developers, academics, students and corporate innovators on a common platform worked for small companies?

The UK has a reputation of being a global innovation powerhouse, with an incredibly vibrant startup ecosystem. According to TechCrunch, London is now the global leader in impact-tech (tech solutions that address one or more of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals) and venture capital investment into London-based impact tech startups has grown by almost 800% since 2015. We have also created more unicorns, tech companies valued at more than $1 billion, than any other country, besides the US and China. It’s clear that the UK is the place to be if you want to start a business.

The Geovation community brings together the best that the UK startup ecosystem has to offer, with our network of entrepreneurs, investors, developers and corporates all working to solve society’s problems with the power of location and property data. For startups joining us on our Accelerator Programme, that means instant access to everything they need to power their venture. We make that huge startup ecosystem feel like a tight-knit family for our founders, and that has a big impact on their ability to accelerate their ambitions.

In the aftermath of COVID-19, the UK has laid great emphasis on location data through its geospatial and data strategies. How do you think this will help the country in tiding over the current economic crisis and building a better tomorrow?

Everything happens somewhere, and geospatial data is essential in more industries, technologies and businesses than you could ever imagine. Whether we are planning for the rollout of electric vehicles and deciding where to put the charging points, or measuring the best location for the next wind farm, location data is an essential part of building a better tomorrow.

Geovation is an advocate of building businesses that have a positive impact on people, planet and profit. We help to create ventures that are not only financially successful, but also sustainable for our environment and society. Our vast networks, access to quality data and technical expertise, and support with everything from branding to fundraising, means the startups that work with us have all the materials needed for building a better tomorrow.

The current pandemic has highlighted the importance of geospatial data and technologies like never before. Do you think this will be a turning point for the industry in terms of technology adoption?

Crisis creates opportunity, and if the past year has shown us anything, it’s that innovation is catapulted in this environment. While people may have sadly lost their jobs, they have started new businesses, and while technology adoption may have taken months, it can now take weeks. The financial crisis of 2008-2009 saw the emergence of startups that became companies we now cannot imagine life without: Uber, Whatsapp, Airbnb, (even Geovation started in 2009!). I expect to see the same surge of entrepreneurship and technological innovation emerging from this crisis, which Geovation is perfectly positioned to support.

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