26th May 2020

Moving On

Alex Wrottesley

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 5 years since I walked into the first Geovation Hub, a Victorian loft perched above St James’s churchyard in Clerkenwell Green.

The paint was barely dry, there were no desks, the Internet wasn’t connected and the coffee machine didn’t work. But none of that mattered. It was a blank canvas. It was an opportunity to give people a new perspective on Ordnance Survey and how it contributes to our digital economy. As we’ve faced the immense disruptions of the past few months, the power of location has become even more apparent: in allocating resources, planning interventions and designing the systems that will allow us to return to work and see our friends and families again.

Since then Geovation has led the way in promoting innovation at the intersection of software and services and location. The rapid adoption of geospatial data and technology outside the core discipline of Geographic Information Systems has had huge impact on the sector as a whole. The creation of the Hub to support this transition was a direct response to the lessons we learnt during the early days of Geovation, when the team ran annual challenges out of our Southampton HQ. These challenges represented a ground-breaking approach to open innovation, promoting collaboration between OS, corporates and startups to address systemic societal challenges like housing, water use, waste and food security. The philosophy that underpinned Geovation from the beginning still remains – that we achieve more as organisations when we collaborate to achieve a shared vision.

The new Hub at Sutton Yard has made this approach to collaboration a permanent part of how Ordnance Survey (and later HM Land Registry) engage with the wider industry. Geovation has become the epicentre of the UK’s location-data community – bringing together government leaders, established companies, academics, students and startups to share ideas and work together to deliver new policies, technologies, products and services.

Whether it’s our regular Geomob get-togethers, Geospatial Leaders Group or meetings of the Geospatial Commission, Geovation is the first place people turn to when they’re looking for location-data expertise.

Our accelerator programmes have helped us grow the pie for everyone. We’ve supported more than 100 businesses, who have cumulatively raised a huge £77m and created hundreds of new knowledge-economy jobs. From drones to farming, transportation to housing, mental health to insurance and more our startups have spanned the whole spectrum of industries where location-data drives value for customers.

Geovation has also played a key part in support of OS’ digital transformation. We offer a place for our colleagues to listen and learn from the market, putting customers’ needs first, and sharing ideas on how we can serve them better. We’ve seen our members become partners of OS and HMLR and build new services together with them. Our team has also developed a distinct culture over time, even as corporate priorities change and team members come and go: inclusive, diverse and always curious. It’s been a privilege to watch it take shape.

Personally, it’s been a pleasure to have had the opportunity to work with so many inspiring founders. These founders are the people who are literally building our future. Unless you’ve started your own business it’s difficult to appreciate the passion, dedication, creativity and focus that is required to build something from nothing.

So it’s with a great deal of pride that I will be moving on from Geovation next month to take up a new challenge. It’s the right time for me to do something new and a good moment for someone else to take the reins. If you think this is your opportunity, check out the role profile here. I’ve loved every minute of my time at OS and look forward to finding new ways to collaborate with you all in my new role, which will be announced very shortly.

One final thought…

When we started out a marketing consultant said we should call Geovation a global centre of excellence in geospatial. We felt at the time that was a *little* ambitious (given the lack of furniture and internet), so it was particularly gratifying when we were approached by Omidyar Network last year to lead a global conversation on the ethical use of location data: the Benchmark Initiative. I think that means we can finally say that Geovation has earned the right to call itself a world-leading centre for location-data innovation.

It’s been a pleasure to have had the opportunity to contribute to Geovation’s growth and I can’t wait to see where we go in the next 5 years.

At some point later in the summer I’ll be organising a get together for drinks… so hope to see some of you then.

In the meantime, I’ll be staying on Slack as a Geovation member (@lex) so do feel free to get in touch there – or connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter (@lexonic).

Take care!

Lex