Guest post by Shaun Odili, Geovation’s work experience student, March 2018
Over a year – 488 days to be precise – had passed after my first visit to the Ordnance Survey’s Geovation Hub and my awe for the place had not diminished. I remember being astonished by its marriage of avant-garde thinkers with a contemporary environment, and also that it took me 17 years to discover it (not that it existed 17 years ago – the Hub launched in Clerkenwell, London in July 2015). Fast forward into the present and I was back to do work experience with the team and one of its resident startups, Urban Intelligence, who I had got in touch with after initially meeting their Founder at the Geovate 2018 conference in February. I had an incredible, insightful and inspiring work experience placement, which I would like to share with you about.
During the first day of my placement I was introduced to the plethora of concepts and components that Geovation recommend to be considered by a startup when coming up with a true, viable innovation. Those startups that come through the Geovation Challenge or accelerator Programme are especially guided through these concepts. I had the chance to be introduced to these key concepts by Dr Chris Parker, Geovation’s Challenge Manager. The Challenge is Geovation’s annual open innovation challenge that calls for ideas to address critical social, environmental and economic problems, aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Finalist ideas teams attend a 2-day mini accelerator ‘bootcamp’ – Geovation Camp – to develop their ideas into a scalable, sustainable business venture. I was particularly enthused by two components. The first being the “formula” for successful innovation which is ‘problem x solution x execution’: although seemingly straight forward, this formula captured my interest as it articulates how innovation is essentially engendered by problems. To a keen geographer like myself, this is very exciting; in a world riddled with social, economic and environmental problems this means that the scope for innovation is almost infinite! The second component that interested me was the “Lean Canvas”, Alexander Osterwalder’s adaptation of the Business Model Canvas. As someone that is considering venturing into entrepreneurship, it was fascinating to see the key elements of a successful business plan presented in such a digestible and understandable format.
Now, what would a work experience placement under the Ordnance Survey be without a visit to their HQ? – the map-making machine, itself! Speaking to a variety of employees enabled me to gain a more holistic view of the work that OS does. From having a conversation with the Head of Sustainability to learning more about modern cartography, to attempting to understand the mechanisms of cost efficient street photography, the day I spent at the HQ was one of immense learning. I even went home with a map of Francis Benali’s voyage across the 44 premiership and championship stadiums.
Back at the Hub, I was fortunate enough to be able to sit in on a meeting with one of the recent winners of the Geovation Challenge, Planet Patrol, founded by the awe-inspiring Lizzie Outside, who aim to remove plastic waste from our inland waterways. Being amongst individuals with a fervent desire to solve one of our biggest environmental issues, in plastic pollution, was highly motivating. In addition to speaking with members of Pedals and GetRentr (both Geovation Programme alumni startups), my belief that the Geovation Hub is a facilitator for those with the zeal to effect positive social and environmental change was reinforced.
My time at the Hub and at the Ordnance Survey’s HQ enabled me to understand that, yes, we are faced with environmental and social problems, however day by day there is work being done to solve them. Although this work may still be scratching the surface, the potential of Geovation is unquestionable – unfathomable, even.
Shaun Odili is a young student currently participating in The Amos Bursary during his gap year. The Amos Bursary is an initiative to inspire and develop British students of African and Caribbean descent. Through working with sponsors, strategic partners, volunteers and supporters, the initiative delivers unique opportunities, leadership programmes and a mentoring scheme to offer life changing experiences and ensure each student moves from potential to performance. Shaun hopes to attend university after completing The Amos Bursary, with interest in a geography and economics joint honours degree.