In 2018, PUBLIC supported 21 companies through our GovStart accelerator programme. From closing huge funding rounds to game-changing pilots, here’s what our GovStart companies got up to in 2018 – from beginning to end.
2018 was off to an exciting start with Flynotes – a medical consent platform – closing a Seed Funding Round.
Red Sift, a cyber security startup stopping phishing attacks, signs a deal to protect Ministry of Justice email accounts.
Adzuna, a search engine that collates every job listing from every site, starts DWP’s Universal Jobmatch contract worth over £7.5m.
The Birth of GovStart: Come Write the Next Chapter
Daniel Korski, PUBLIC’s CEO and co-founder, tells the story of PUBLIC, and of its growth programme GovStart’s conception.
One moment I was walking through the famous black door at No. 10 Downing Street, one of the Prime Minister’s close advisers; the next I was being expedited out through the backdoor, having watched David Cameron’s resignation speech, and then followed him into the ignominy of unemployment.
I walked down Whitehall, wondering what to do next? Should I continue in politics, for example offering my services to one of the campaigns for the next Tory leadership? Or should I throw myself into the post-referendum debates that would help determine what the vote – and Brexit – actually meant? There were, thankfully, plenty of commercial offers. My phone had been filling up with text messages from people I had worked with in the City, offering lunches, coffee and jobs.
As I reached Trafalgar Square, I had resolved to do two things. First, I had to write a searingly honest account of why we lost the EU referendum. I felt I owed my perspective to future generations who would ask what had happened. And I knew that I would inevitably forget details and probably embellish events if I tried to write anything in the future. I also needed it to achieve catharsis; to move on. The article, which was one of the first accounts of the run-up to and details of the referendum, is still one of the most downloaded on the Politico website.
The second thing I decided was to devote the next couple of years to ensure the extraordinary technology-enabled transformation I had seen in sectors like financial services, retail and consumer goods, would also benefit the public sector. I have been passionate about public service all my life. While I have enjoyed stints in the private sector, I always yearned to return to public service, to solve problems for the many. Through work in London, Brussels, Washington, but also Kabul, Sarajevo and Basra, I have sought to deliver better public services, working on issues as broad-ranging as sanitation, energy, trade, and sanctions, as well as military and intelligence reform.
In my time in No. 10, and through conversations with the likes of Elon Musk, Reid Hoffman and Sheryl Sandberg, I had come to understand how the collapsing price of technology and the dissemination of know-how could help solve the most difficult problems.
In Government, we had set up the Government Digital Service, created Innovate UK, built the Open Data Partnership, launched the G Cloud, and supported industries like FinTech, AI, and genomics. Far-sighted predecessors and colleagues like Rohan Silva, Tim Luke, Jonathan Luff and Joanna Shields had backed the British tech industry, from its early beginning around Shoreditch.
But despite this there was still no pipeline of product-led startups that were looking to use their cutting-edge technology to transform public services.
Investors were reluctant to back companies that were focused on the public sector. And Government – ministers as well as officials – were not really grasping the opportunity before them, and were therefore not making it easier for new companies to compete for contracts.
That is what gave birth to PUBLIC and its GovStart accelerator programme. A belief that with a bit of external help – especially the triptych of insight, access and capital – technology startups could help deliver better, smarter and cheaper public services.
And a conviction that if we got it right we would help the UK and Europe position themselves at the forefront of an important digital trend. Perhaps even, in a small way, help overcome some of the challenges of Brexit.
There were, of course, many steps between then and now. Backers like Robin and Saul Klein, Brent Hoberman, Jon and Spencer Moulton, Stefan Glaenzer, Jonathan Marland, and Ned Cranborne, and many others, were key to getting the project off the ground. So were early collaborators like Eileen Burbidge, and supporters like Emma Jones.
Alexander de Carvalho joined as my co-founder and added commercial rigour and digital know-how to PUBLIC’s operation. Mark Lazar designed the GovStart programme from scratch, even though he had sworn, following a few years at Techstars, that he would never run another accelerator programme. Caroline Makepeace built the wiring of the organization and Edward Elliot made us known far and wide. Our PwC secondee Bhavin Kotecha brought much-needed financial modelling to our business.
Mentors like Bill Crothers, Theo Blackwell, Matthew Trimming, Ruth O’Neale, James Stewart, James Steventon, and Stephen Heidukewitsch, provided expert advice. We have since been joined by my former colleague from No. 10, Max Chambers, and Andy Richardson, the former VP of Technology at Thomson Reuters, who is our CTO.
As we looked to set up PUBLIC I traveled to the US and across Europe to look at different models and see how best to build the premier GovTech ecosystem. I was particularly impressed by Civic Hall and BetaWorks in New York, Brent Hoberman’s Founders Factory, The Family in Paris and Matt Truman’s TrueStart. I took the best from these and sought to adapt their advice to the particularities of the public sector. Corporate partners like AWS, Mishcon de Reya, and PwC helped further. Perhaps most importantly, was the response from the public sector. From No. 10 and HMT, Secretaries of State and junior ministers, from the Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood, and Civil Service CEO John Manzoni, to GDS chief Kevin Cunnington, as well as PermSecs in many departments, there was nothing but support for what we wanted to do and achieve.
Besides the triptych of insight, access and capital, we now support companies with product development and fundraising, as well as PR and marketing. We also invest in companies, either because we want to follow-on companies from GovStart that go on to raise, or because we see a great startup outside the cohort that we want to back.
We have worked with many departments and mayors, like the West Midlands’ Andy Street, to open the public market for new solutions. And we’ve learnt a lot along the way – not least which departments are genuinely open to change, which frameworks and bids matter, and which digital programmes will actually deliver results.
The last GovStart cohort won contracts worth millions of pounds, received help to build or refine their products, support to ensure compliance with GDPR and cyber requirements, met ministers and officials, and learnt how to sell into the public sector – both when the public sector knows what it wants and when you have to persuade decision-makers and buyers that the best option is one they didn’t even know existed. We have – with the help of Microsoft – published research reports, which have sought to demystify the nature of public procurement.
In the process, we believe that we have, in a very tangible way, helped improve public services.
And that last point is what PUBLIC and GovStart is all about.
Alexander and I are clear: PUBLIC is a mission-driven business. Profit is our discipline, but not our purpose. We are primarily motivated by the promise of transforming public services through the magic that innovative technology companies bring. And so we cannot wait, as we open the applications to GovStart, to see the many ways that a new cohort of companies will seek to transform public services.
We have written the first chapter of GovStart, along with companies like Adzuna, Pockit, Eyn, Cera, RedSift, Flynotes, AsktheMidwife, Novoville and Calipsa. Come write the next chapter.
Cyber Security, Emails and the Public Sector – Interview with Red Sift
We talk to Product Strategy Director of GovStart member Red Sift about the need for greater email security in the public sector.
Cyber security can be a complicated topic. How would you explain Red Sift & OnDMARC to someone who didn’t have a background in cyber security?
Red Sift is a secure data platform for developers. It facilitates the creation of applications aimed at solving big data problems. On top of the Red Sift platform we have created our cybersecurity product OnDMARC, which is focused on email security.
Email is the main vehicle to deliver cyber attacks and different studies show that 91% of cyberattacks start with phishing emails. Through email impersonation cyber criminals can pretend to be you, spoofing your email address and relying on your brand reputation to get the recipient to carry out actions. The DMARC protocol is a fix to this vulnerability. However, DMARC can be time consuming and complication to implement
OnDMARC helps organisations implement the DMARC protocol by providing users with clear actions on how to configure their DMARC records. This allows users with no cyber security background to be able to quickly and safely implement the protocol and be protected against cyber attacks that start with email.
Why is DMARC particularly important for the public sector?
The importance for DMARC in the public sector has been proven by cases like HMRC’s recent attacks. Almost all national and local government organisations use email as a communicational channel through which to support citizens: from confirming appointments to arranging bulky refuse collection. It’s therefore paramount for everyone to trust that the email they receive from someone purporting to be a government organisation is indeed generated by that organisation.
This makes the protection that DMARC offers vitally important for the public sector. In fact, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has required any government organisation, be it central government or local authorities, to implement the DMARC protocol.
What could potentially happen if you weren’t DMARC protected?
We regularly meet people from both big and small companies where they have experienced the fallout of unauthorised third parties sending emails “on their behalf” to their customers, suppliers and employees.
The risks that unprotected organisations face can be things like:
Increased malware attacks – When employees open an impersonated email they’re increasing the risk of installing ransomware on the network
Loss of sensitive data – A common aim of email impersonation is to extract confidential email from the recipient which can then be used or sold
Financial loss – Fraudulent emails often request funds to be transferred so not only is there the initial loss, but with the upcoming GDPR legislation any data breaches will be further amplified with financial penalties.
Reputational damage – Even if the phoney email didn’t originate from your organisation the recipient will undoubtedly associate the negative experience with you.
How is Red Sift developing its product for future cyber security threats?
We use a mix of technologies and particularly AI to make our product more and more self-service. We believe that platform-based technology can help democratise the protection provided by DMARC, helping small and large organisations get protected against cyberattacks.
What do you see as the future of cyber security? How will cyber security look in 5-10 years’ time?
Cyber security, just like other areas of security, is a race between who can evolve quickest – attacker or defender. Fifteen years ago you could use email with basic spam and phishing filters. However, now strong filters and multiple email authentication methods are critical. It’s a certainty that in 5-10 years we will see not only a wide adoption of DMARC but also it being mandated by regulators across different industries and insurance providers.
In the near future Cybersecurity will be impacted by different technological developments, but perhaps most significantly by Artificial Intelligence. As the complexity of security infrastructure grows to match new and emerging threats, AI will emerge as a crucial way organisations can begin to make sense of the growing number of daily reports, alerts and incidents. To find out more about Red Sift, see their website.
Join us at the GovTech Summit in Paris, on 12th November 2018 to bring entrepreneurship to the European public sector & transform democratic practices!