This Thursday, we’re hosting our eighth Geovation Showcase. The founders presenting at the showcase have been part of the Geovation Accelerator Programme for the past six months, and this event gives them the opportunity to share their vision with potential investors, partners and future customers.
To give us an insight into the lives of the entrepreneurs behind the businesses, we asked founders Annette Jezierska from The Future Fox, Hugh Farquhar from WatchKeeper International and James Harbridge and Kaivan Faria from AskWinston some questions…
What made you want to become an entrepreneur?
- To answer the ‘why can’t we…” questions I had. You can always push higher, and normal jobs can limit you because you’re serving an existing mission.
- Having worked for one of the world’s largest financial institutions for almost 10 years, I was frustrated by the amount of bureaucracy which at times appeared to stifle innovation and the ability to try and do things differently.
- We met in the venture capital industry and when you work with inspirational entrepreneurs every single day the enthusiasm is contagious! It made us want to solve a real problem and make an impact.
How did you get the idea for your business?
- By working with the tension between the aspirations of communities and planning authorities, the inequality of data, knowledge and time, and a context of increasing quality expectations with lower budgets.
- Upon joining Citibank and establishing their threat intelligence unit, it was evident that location was the primary way of contextualising risk incidents; how often have incidents occurred in a given area and where were our buildings or staff in proximity to those risk events, such as natural disasters or violent incidents. In 2012, I developed a platform in-house which mapped Citibank’s assets, employees, travellers and critical business functions, so that we could quickly determine what operations or staff might be impacted during adverse events.
- Our inspiration was from first-hand experience. We worked long hours and were in this late-night meeting when somebody said, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could send a text and everything at home would be taken care of?”. That’s when it really sparked and we realised it was ridiculous that nobody was doing this.
What did you do before you became an entrepreneur?
- Sustainable transport schemes – from community projects to a £300m bridge. Before that I worked in recycling and as a science teacher.
- Other than working at Citibank in their corporate security department, I’ve worked at a private security company as a risk analyst, focusing on kidnappings in Iraq and terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, and at a corporate intelligence firm writing enhanced due diligence reports on high net worth individuals.
- As mentioned above, we both worked (and met!) through the venture capital industry.
Briefly, can you tell us about what your company does?
- The Future Fox empowers citizens to lead the future of their cities. Our digital platform, StreetBuilder, helps planners collaborate with citizens to build more ambitious schemes, at lower risk.
- WatchKeeper is a data integration platform that leverages location intelligence, mapping companies’ assets and employees alongside real-time risk feeds.
- AskWinston provides 5-star hotel amenities to apartment buildings, which allows residents to get anything done around the home by simply sending a WhatsApp.
What’s your plan for growing the business in the next year?
- We’ve bootstrapped and have some early stage grants (e.g. from Social Tech Trust and Innovate UK) which have been invaluable in getting us rolling. We’re revenue making and hiring. We’re raising seed to invest further in the team.
- We are just finishing a pilot programme where we partnered with IBM to give situational awareness to large organisations of storm, flooding and power outages risks during hurricane and typhoon season. We have had over 30 companies subscribe, including Apple, Uber, SAP, Barclays, Verizon, JPMorgan, Booking.com and the Government of Canada. We are now in discussions with many of these firms to buy our full platform and are close to fulfilling a pre-seed round to help build out the pilot programme to a client-deployable solution. In early next year, we will be looking to raise a seed round to help drive growth.
- We plan to launch more buildings and focus on attracting more people in our existing buildings. We are also partnering with developers and building managers to provide our service to residents across their portfolios in London.
What advice would you give to somebody considering starting their own business?
- There’s a contradiction between two classic bits of advice a) never give up and believe in yourself and b) get lots of feedback, listen openly and adapt to client needs. It’s a constant interplay and sometimes you’re right, sometimes you’re wrong. It makes you tougher. In the UK we’re fortunate to have access to lots of support from organisations like Geovation – get involved in these networks.
- Even if you have a great idea, it is very easy to be restrained from making the entrepreneurial leap by the comfort of a regular pay-check and other corporate benefits – it took me 6 years. But I can ensure you it will be the most rewarding experience of your career. Succeed or fail, I have learned more in 9 months about myself and my ability to push the boundaries of my expertise than I did in 9 years at Citibank.
- Before you build anything make sure you have spoken to people and tested that there is a demand for your product. You also need to relentlessly believe in the problem you are solving and the value your business will create.
Why did you decide to apply to Geovation’s Accelerator?
- We needed to build our capability in geospatial, and it looked like a network where we could connect with clients and partners. Also, the office space is great!
- As a founder it is very difficult to see the wood from the trees on what needs to be achieved. Geovation’s accelerator programmes gives a tremendous structure to your business, allowing you to focus on what is necessary to ensure you have product market fit.
- The focus on PropTech was enough but we had also worked here before and met the team, so we knew there would be a great fit. The office space, network and the grant were also huge benefits.
You’ve been working with Geovation for nearly 6 months now, what’s been the biggest benefit to joining the Geovation Accelerator Programme?
- The network – we’ve met new clients, collaborators, supporters and friends. The rigor and credibility have been helpful too.
- The ecosystem acts as a great sounding-board for innovative ideas, as well as for go-to-market strategies. Both the Geovation team and the other founders on the programme have been invaluable on plotting a way forward.
- Working alongside the other cohorts is a massive plus. Having that support from others going through similar experiences is really helpful.
Finally, if you could have dinner with anybody, alive or dead, who would you choose and why?
- Both Victoria and Albert, for their take on citizen participation in infrastructure. After a quick tech intro, would they work with StreetBuilder?
- My father who passed away in 2012 – the year I originally explored the concepts of my now business.
- Jack Ma and Ray Dalio. Jack Ma is the co-founder and former chair of Alibaba, and he has an incredibly inspirational view of the future. Ray Dalio wrote a book called Principles, which has helped us to create framework for solving problems and how we approach building AskWinston.