The GovTech Catalyst Fund: Supporting & Accelerating Innovation

Rachel Guthartz

16 May 2018

Bhavin Kotecha and Rachel Guthartz look into the GovTech Catalyst Fund’s first five competitions, exploring the range of innovative startups who address the challenges.

This past November, the Government announced a £20m GovTech Fund to accelerate the development of public sector-focused technologies, in addition to a GovTech Catalyst team, who are responsible for nurturing and cultivating the UK GovTech market. This two-pronged effort will be instrumental in driving growth in the sector and attracting talent – whether internal or external – to solving public sector problems. It is worth noting that this money comes from Innovate UK and is procured via SBRI.

Government has the ability to do this with incredible results when it matters: the UK Central Government previously successfully supported the growth of the FinTech industry in the UK, by setting aside a FinTech Fund and appointing Eileen Burbidge as a FinTech ambassador, in 2017 there was $1.8bn in venture investment going to FinTechs in the UK, up 153% from 2016.

Part of the Govtech Fund will go towards a series of competitions which identify specific public sector challenges and invite startups to offer smart solutions. Ultimately, the competitions seek to “help the public sector identify and work with cutting edge technology firms”. Winning companies (4 or 5 for each challenge) will receive up to £50,000 to develop their ideas, with some companies receiving an extra £200,000 to build their proof of concept. A further £500,000 will be available to exceptional companies to continue product development, and to pilot their solutions in the public sector.

Last week, the first GovTech Catalyst round was kicked-off with the announcement of five challenges:

  • Identifying Daesh still imagery (open 14 May to 27 June 2018)
  • Tracking waste through the waste chain (opening June 2018)
  • Tackling loneliness and rural isolation (opening July 2018)
  • Cutting traffic congestion (opening August 2018)
  • Deploying smart sensors on council vehicles to improve services (opening September 2018)

The breadth of the challenges is remarkable, particularly in demonstrating public officials’ interest in exploring innovative and unconventional solutions for problems across the public sector.

While the Home Office’s Daesh imagery identification challenge has a clear and specific ask, other challenges, for instance Monmouthshire Council’s call to tackle loneliness and rural isolation, are an open-call for innovative, out-of-the-box, thinking.

Even more exciting is that there are ten more challenges to come over the next 18 months!

At PUBLIC we’re driven by the desire to bridge the public sector and technology, so naturally we thought we’d spend some time thinking about innovative companies who can address these specific tasks and have put together a list of 22 companies who are meeting the needs identified in these challenges in unique ways.

Home Office: Identifying Daesh still imagery

Home Office research shows that more than two-thirds of terrorist propaganda disseminated online is still imagery. This project will support both Government analysis of, and broader efforts to remove, this harmful material. Currently the Office of Counter Terrorism will spend £824.5m in 2017/18, having spent over £800m fighting Daesh in Iraq from 2014-2017. More important is the human cost of terrorism in the UK: Since 2017 over 30 people have been killed and over 350 injured in Daesh-inspired attacks in the UK.

  • ASI Data Science: Having already worked with the Home Office to develop a tool which spots and blocks the upload of terror video content, ASI are a natural match for this challenge.
  • Cortica: Their AI platform uses facial recognition and behavioural insights to learn and operate in real-time the same way a person does. A very cool company coming from Israel with a wide ranging client base, with the right focus could do very well in identifying extremist imagery.
  • Retechnica: Create intelligent software, specialising in text analysis. They offer a text analytics API and web app that tags your content automatically.
  • aFFirmFirst: An image control and validation platform, currently focused on accreditation of brands to stop image theft. They will have technology that can approach this problem from a different angle and might consider turning their talents to solving a public sector problem.

DEFRA: Tracking waste through the waste chain

A new technological approach could help record, check and track waste, helping boost productivity, reduce costs, and protect both human health and the environment. The regulatory frameworks in waste planning and management are increasing, and commercial waste management is currently a very labour intensive and paper-based system in lots of large corporates. The industry is crying out for a digital solution to alleviate burdens on staff time, increase compliance (waste crime costs the Government £1 billion per annum), and drive better behaviour for a more sustainable economy.

  • LegalThings: A blockchain-enabled digital transaction management platform, currently working with the  Netherlands’ Government to harness blockchain technology for waste transportation management.
  • Tillr: Flexible compliance platform that enables centralisation of multiple compliance processes, reducing costs and business risks, and embedding automation.
  • Zaptic: Provide a digital toolset to automate best-practice workflows and ensure that procedures meet standards in industries with complex supply chains, regulatory requirements, and distributed workforces.
  • AMCS Group: Provide end-to-end software and on-vehicle technology, enabling smarter more seamless, and digitally-fuelled waste and recycling management.

Monmouthshire Council: Tackling loneliness and rural isolation

The government recognises that rural transport is vital to local communities, and businesses. A technological solution, exploiting vehicles with spare capacity could support rural economies. ‘The Cost of Loneliness to the UK’ puts the cost of loneliness to employers at £2.5bn per annum, and over 9 million people always or often feel lonely. There are multiple ways to address vehicle capacity and tackle loneliness, and a combination of some of the solutions below may directly solve this problem.

  • Drivy: Car rental marketplace which allows drivers to rent cars from people in their area.
  • HiyaCar: Peer to peer vehicle renting platform which has the potential to become an invaluable service to poorly-connected rural areas.
  • Neighbourly: A marketplace which connects local community projects with businesses for social good. It’s matching service could be expanded to connect individuals and businesses to vehicles with spare capacity.
  • No Isolation: Created to tackle loneliness and isolation, this startup develops communication tools tailored to the specific needs of different demographics.
  • Kraydel: Non-intrusive oversight, and an easy-to-use communication tool for senior citizens.

Department for Transport: Cutting traffic congestion

In 2017, drivers wasted on average 31 hours in rush-hour traffic – a cost of £1,168 per motorist, with UK commuters spending an average £135k commuting over the course of a career. In addition to the direct financial cost, traffic congestion also contributes to loss of productivity, high air pollution in urbanised areas, and poor population-wide mental health. Greater collection and new analysis of data could help target interventions to cut congestion, and reduce its numerous adverse effects.

  • Teralytics: Offer advanced insights into human mobility, working with telecom companies and data partners to capture more extensive data.
  • Valerann: Transform road studs into smart, wireless devices which allow detection of hazards, traffic management and data capabilities.
  • CityScience: Statistically evaluate system inefficiencies and develop clear roadmaps to reduced congestion.
  • Travelai: Generate detailed data on how people move automatically, using mobile phones.
  • Connected Space: Partner with organisations to create bespoke solutions, for instance creating platforms to help local authorities do more with their data.

Deploying smart sensors on council vehicles to improve services

Poor quality roads have led to an 11% increase in car breakdowns. With an enormous backlog of repair work, councils need to prioritise the busiest routes and sites near public services. Local authorities also need to be more active in their prevention tactics to address what is currently £30 million a year spent in compensation claims due to poor roads. If local authority vehicles can be equipped with innovative data capture systems, we could understand potholes, litter, recycling, parking, air quality and more in real-time, every day, for no added cost. This could mean reduced service delivery costs and better local services.

  • Mobilized Construction: Collect real-time data from a proprietary device fitted to dashboard, helping councils repair roads faster and at a lower cost.
  • BreezoMeter: Using existing or additional sensors, they enable local authorities to monitor air quality. Data is used to inform policy decision-making, facilitating better urban planning.
  • Wejo: Use connected car data to address challenges from traffic flow management to the availability of parking spaces.
  • AppyParking: Comprehensive parking app which shows real-time parking availability and collects data from sensors to give insight into parking bay usage and congestion.

Investing in startup-developed technologies like these marks a crucial step in public sector support for SMEs. As Minister for Implementation, Oliver Dowden remarked, the fund demonstrates the Government’s commitment to “providing more opportunities for tech businesses – including small firms – to access public procurement contracts”.

We are keen to see how the competitions unfold, how they support a culture of innovation, build Britain’s SMEs, and accelerate the use of new technologies in delivering – and transforming – public services.

Join us at The GovTechSummit in Paris on 12 November 2018 to bring entrepreneurs to the public sector!

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