Bringing Run An Empire to life
From inception as winners of our 7th Geovation Challenge on how we can encourage active lifestyles in 2013, to the launch of their app this month – Sam Hill, co-founder of Run An Empire, talks about the journey of bringing it all to life…
It was back in 2014 when I first walked into the shiny atrium of the Ordnance Survey head office. My team and I had gotten several trains from East London to Southampton, we had dropped our things off at the nearby Holiday Inn and we were eagerly gearing up for the weekend-long ‘hackathon’ Camp.
We had in the last week learned that we’d been shortlisted from 74 entries to be one of the dozen finalists for Geovation’s latest innovation challenge – “How Can We Encourage Active Lifestyles in Britain?”
I don’t think we fully appreciated how pivotal a moment this was for us. We were looking forward to having some time away from our client projects (albeit on a weekend) to indulge in a passion project that had been bubbling away for some time. We knew we wanted to make something of our own – that we could pour our hearts into… but I don’t think any of us expected we’d be doing so for the next two years.
We had put together a basic proposal for Run An Empire (if I remember correctly I think we were still calling it “Run This Town” at the time, aware of neither the Nike project nor the Jay-Z song of similar names) – we wanted to make a strategy game that you could play on your feet, in the real world, against friends and neighbours. We wanted to make a game where you could “own” territory in the real world – and get healthier whilst capturing it.
This was long before Pokemon Go, but we were enamoured by smartphone games like Ingress and Zombies Run as well as the dozens of fringe, nascent tech projects that had been using rudimentary GPS tech to make playful public game-pieces. We ourselves had only recently finished our first run of Hello Lamp Post – a city-wide installation that lets people have conversations with street objects (lamp posts, bus stops and pretty much anything else you can think of) via text message.
What followed was an intensive 48 hours of concept ideation, analysis, refinement and pitch development. Nervously, we delivered our proposal to the rest of the cohort and within a few hours we found out we’d won! Geovation awarded us the princely sum of £26,000 to get Run An Empire in motion!
Fast forward to today, and Run An Empire is finally, finally in the UK app store. We’re being featured prominently in the Health and Fitness section, we’ve just enjoyed a week in the Top 10 for our category, the reviews have been coming in overwhelmingly favourable and we’ve had some great press coverage.
This comes after a long journey that’s involved a Kickstarter campaign, a CrowdCube investment round; several technology dead-ends; a social-venture accelerator program with Bethnal Green Ventures; scores of coffees with experts and advisors; hundreds of Scrum tickets; thousands of beta testers; a soft launch in New Zealand; a few time wasters; a lot of supportive friends; teaser decks; code refactoring; job interviews; press interviews; business plans; A-B acquisition testing; legal wranglings; accountancy technicalities; viral content creation; user-experience health checks; in-game economy balancing; cheat detection; influencer outreach; quality assurance; community management; tech-sector meetups; investor reports …
… it’s been exhilarating, it’s been educational and it’s been exhausting. This is our first official “start up” (if you don’t include PAN – our design studio, which is a much more bootstrapped affair) and part of the reason it’s taken so long to get to where we are now is not being familiar with the route.
Still, I can feel our trajectory has changed in the last few months – we’ve made incredible progress recently and I’d love to see us keep that momentum. We’re nowhere near done yet, there are many features to be added and refinements to be made. We still need to release to the rest of the world, which includes getting a version working for Android phones too.
If you want to see the fruits of our labours for yourself, which were seeded in the atrium of Ordnance Survey Head Office, then you can download the game here.
Have fun, keep active and thank you!
If you’ve got an innovative idea up your sleeve, and think you could be a budding start-up entrepreneur too, how about finding out more whether the latest Geovation Challenge is for you? Our 10th open innovation challenge looks to the lucrative business opportunities beneath our feet – how to solve problems with mapping, maintaining, managing and predicting our underground utility assets. Find out more here or attend our Launch Party to speak to the stakeholder community in person!
From a simple idea to great innovation: the power of service design
What makes for great innovation? Many things. In Bill Gross’ 2015 Ted Talk, he draws on his experience of being a multi-time founder of dozens of start-ups, exploring what factors make start-ups succeed: from the team it’s made up of, the business model and grassroots funding, the idea itself, and its place and timing. Geovation Challenges work to incubate start-ups from the very root sowing of the seed: coming up with an idea and turning it into a prototype venture, as embarked upon at the Challenge Camp where finalists test and build upon their ideas, competing to win support by a place on the Geovation Programme.
There’s a lot of talk about design these days, but beyond the compelling word and something that ‘might be nice to have’, what actually makes ‘design’ and what value does it give that is increasingly being recognised by businesses (small and large) as critical to success?
Geovation believes and places emphasis on the importance of service design in innovation. The open definition of ‘service design’ is “the activity of planning and organising people, infrastructure, communication and material components of a service in order to improve its quality and the interaction between service provider and customers”. Put simply, if you are building a service for people it should be relevant, useful, responsive and friendly. A fundamental of a start-up venture according to the Lean Startup Model is user research. As Eric Ries, pioneer of the Lean Startup movement says in his book, “Too many startups begin with an idea for a product they think people want. They then spend months, sometimes years, perfecting that product without ever showing the product, even in a very rudimentary form, to the prospective customer. When they fail to reach broad uptake from customers, it is often because they never spoke to prospective customers and determined whether or not the product was interesting. When the customers ultimately communicate… that they don’t care about the idea, the startup fails”.
Let’s look at some real-world examples of good service design. What do Airbnb, Spotify and Uber have in common? Despite their different industries, the effectiveness of their service has been the centre point of each of their success. They empower users in a great way to do simple things that have always been around – renting a room, enjoying music, and travelling across cities. Chief Design Officer at the Design Council sums up these companies’ use of service design: “the shaping of service experiences so that they really work for people. Removing the lumps and bumps that make them frustrating, and then adding some magic to make them compelling.
Can you think about services you personally use and really enjoy using? What is it do you think that makes your experience positive? It can be surprising how the little, supposedly mundane aspects that may otherwise be overlooked, can make all the difference to the service overall. Taking a service-design approach involves paying attention to every aspect: “Design is not just how it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works” – as Steve Jobs put it. Services make up 77% of UK’s GDP and design-led companies who provide excellent customer experience outperform the S&P 500 by 43%. Through Geovation Challenge Camp, teams are given a taster of this fundamental element of product development, with help from experienced Service Design Innovation MDes students and graduates from London College of Communication, and expert service design facilitators, Nonon.
You will be encouraged to speak and work with others; to test your ideas, to prototype it, to talk to users and listen carefully to feedback to constantly be informing and re-informing the design. Service-design testing is ensuring the customer experience will be positive, a crucial exercise in the process of turning your idea into a prototype venture.
Geovation’s next open innovation challenge will be on underground assets – ‘How can we better manage our underground assets, in Britain?’ Stay tuned via our blog, tweets or contact us if you’d like to find out more.
‘Underground Assets’ to be the focus of next Geovation Challenge
Each Geovation Challenge we run focuses on a new issue, from water scarcity and food security to transport and energy poverty. The formula we use every time is Innovation = problem x solution x execution and we are now planning the next Geovation Challenge, starting with the ‘problem’ part of the formula. Identifying the problems is an important first step of the Challenge so that solutions can be focussed on real problems worth solving. For the next Challenge we are holding ‘Deep Digs’ to uncover the problems associated with better management of underground assets. We are also looking for sponsors who are interested in helping us facilitate innovative ways to solve some of the problems experienced and support the winning ventures’ places on the Geovation Programme.
The Geovation Challenge is run online and culminates in a Geovation Camp where finalists develop their prototype ventures using design principles to focus on a sustainable business model to take their idea forward. Winning ideas will be invited to join the Geovation Programme, a 6 month accelerator focussed on idea development, product creation and commercial realisation. The Programme provides geospatial startups with the expert support they need to take their ideas to market.
It’s also interesting to see some of the great feedback we had from sponsors and participants about Geovation and camp.
“The Camp is a great idea – well delivered with energy, helpful material and access to smart people and skills. A very positive and unforgettable experience”
“Geovation is an excellent initiative and provided a truly exceptional experience… Well done to all involved, I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to stretch themselves and achieve a better plan than they could have on their own”
“A brilliant opportunity to accelerate your business venture”
“Highly recommend to everyone who is a creator or user of geospatial data as a great opportunity to challenge yourself to improve what you do or how you do it”.
“A once in a ‘project-lifetime’ experience… being surrounded by innovation and design experts in an environment designed to bring out the best in your team and your idea.”
The Water Challenge sponsors were United Utilities, Southern Water, Defra and Environment Agency.
If you’re interested in how the Geovation Challenge works and the collaboration benefits of sponsoring the next Geovation Challenge please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Starting the Sustainable Catchments project
Well done to all the finalists who took part in the Water Challenge Geovation Camp held at Ordnance Survey over the weekend 4-6 March. The finalists had been selected as the best ideas entered to our Geovation Challenge to tackle problems associated with improving water use in Britain sustainably. Dr Steve Buss is an environmental scientist, based in Shrewsbury. A hydrogeologist by training, his professional interests also include spatial modelling and Python programming. In the Sustainable Catchments team Steve works alongside Mark Fermor, Chairman of the Geosmart Information Group.
I had been following the Geovation Programme for some time on Twitter and previous challenges excited me but weren’t in my field. As the Water Challenge was launched, in Winter 2015/16, northern England and Scotland were experiencing devastating floods. Many commentators and organisations, including Defra and the Environment Agency, started to come around to the idea that flooding could be mitigated by changing the way that we use land in the catchments upstream of vulnerable communities.
Our initial idea was to develop a national map of the areas where there is an opportunity to change the way the land is managed so that rain water can be held up and released slowly. Planting trees, blocking drains, putting meanders back in to rivers all act to spread the flood peak so that the risk to downstream homeowners and businesses is reduced. Given that the Geovation Challenge is run by the Ordnance Survey it was clear that inputs from the country’s mapping agency would be invaluable in making the project happen. As Mark and I worked through the proposal at Geovation Camp we realised that we should look at all the other benefits that the flood mitigation measures might provide to the environment: better water quality, improved water resource, cleaner bathing waters, better habitats for wildlife… So the idea has moved on from creating a tool that simply proposes natural flood mitigation measures to a more holistic mapping platform which takes into account all the benefits that changing catchment land use might provide.
We are now working with the Geovation Hub to develop a web app that can be used to map opportunity areas for land use change. We are using a spatial model to process national maps from the Ordnance Survey, Environment Agency and other agencies into the raw data that the system will work with. The web app will be online for limited trials with community flood groups, and government agencies, in July 2016 and opened up to the public in November 2016. Our strategy for data licensing is to use primarily Open Data as inputs to the model so that we can release some of the model outputs as Open Data. With free access for everybody we hope to stimulate communities to work with land managers in their catchments to reduce the impacts of flooding, and to improve their local environment for all.
Geovation Water Challenge winners announced
Well done to all the finalists who took part in the Water Challenge Geovation Camp held at Ordnance Survey over the weekend 4-6 March. The finalists had been selected as the best ideas entered to our Geovation Challenge to tackle problems associated with improving water use in Britain sustainably.
Over the weekend the 10 invited teams used the Innovation = Problem x Solution x Execution equation to develop their prototype venture, using design principles and focus on how they could build a sustainable business model to take their ideas forward.
The teams were supported by service designers and helpers from Ordnance Survey and the Geovation Hub, as well as expert help from those with domain and licensing knowledge and experience in business models.
On Sunday the teams delivered 5 minute pitches and the judging panel asked questions to dive deeper into their water ideas. The panel then selected the 3 to be offered extras support and funding through the Geovation Programme. The assembled audience of helpers and team members also voted for the team to receive a £1000 Community Award.
The team of Natalie Fee, Olivia Drake, Thomas Bell and Gus Hoyt will further establish Refill Bristol and aim to roll out nationwide with their app to pinpoint and endorse free tap water refill points at streets, cafes, retailers, hotels and businesses around the city. This is to reduce dependency on plastic bottled water, and change the public mind-set of using plastics that end up in our oceans. The app will capture data and reward and encourage behaviour change by allowing users to build points to exchange for money off vouchers, and gamification. Refillable Cities also won the Community Award of £1,000.
The Geovation Camp Judging Panel
With Geovation Camp imminent (this weekend) and 10 teams now confirmed to attend we thought it would be an ideal time to remind you of the judging panel who will be deciding which 3 of these teams will be invited into a 12 month funded Geovation Programme
Our judging panel is drawn from our challenge partners EA, Defra, Southern Water and United Utilities; our independent Geovation Challenge Judging panel Chair, Roland Harwood, co-founder of 100%Open; and Dr Alison Prendiville, our internationally recognized service design expert and former Course Director for the MDes Service Design Innovation atLCC/UAL
Roland Harwood (Chair) is co-founder of 100%Open, the open innovation agency that works with the likes of LEGO, Orange and Oxfam to co-innovate with their partners. Roland was formerly Director of Open Innovation at NESTA, the UK’s National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts. Graduating with a PhD in Physics from Edinburgh University, he has held senior innovation roles in the Utilities and Media industries and in addition has worked with 100’s of start-ups to raise venture capital and commercialise technology. In addition he has worked as a TV and film music producer for SonyBMG. He will be joined by: (more…)
London Parks launch at The City of London
“Let’s make London the world’s first National Park City. A city where people and nature are better connected. A city that is rich with wildlife and every child benefits from exploring, playing and learning outdoors. A city where we all enjoy high-quality green spaces, the air is clean to breathe, it’s a pleasure to swim in its rivers and green homes are affordable. Together we can make London a greener, healthier and fairer place to live. Together we can make London a National Park City.” This is the opening of the www.nationalparkcity.london website. It’s beautiful isn’t it? (more…)
Housing Challenge winners Geovey
“I’ve just had a great idea.”
Dangerous words in our office. The two of us run a small business (www.nautoguide.com) aiming to change the world of digital mapping and “great ideas” often lead us astray from the path we should be formally treading. But I just couldn’t keep quiet; I’d been reading the challenge laid out by the GeoVation team and immediately saw how we could make a compelling case.
The challenge centred around the theme of housing and asked, “How can we enable people in Britain to live in better places?” I mulled this over whilst grasping a cup of coffee and asked myself who best understands the needs and issues of the community? Is it the powers that be? Is it those servicing the community? No, it’s the community themselves. They always know what needs improving and often know the best way to go about it, why not give them a tool where they can describe their needs, describe their solution and let the good ideas gather momentum? Surely this would enable people to live in better places by giving them a tool to facilitate change.
I turned to my business partner Richard and we began to develop our thinking further. We saw how a well annotated map that could be easily shared across social networks would go a long way to describe the needs and ideas a community may have. We also saw how these ideas could be seeded in a form of consultation by the powers that be, asking communities what they thought of plans and allowing interactive discussion with the map as the basis.
Reflections of a new GeoVation judge
To have been a judge for the first time on this year’s GeoVation Challenge, calling for ideas to enable people in Britain to live in better places, has been a privilege. The challenge, as always, is about how to better use Ordnance Survey data innovatively to enhance the public’s understanding and experience. If the future is data driven, how can that data be used most innovatively and accessibly? For the last few years, Ordnance Survey has worked with a number of other organisations to find imaginative and sustainable solutions to a whole range of different challenges. They have inspired ideas and actions that would never have seen the light of day without the GeoVation nudge – or perhaps that should be the GeoVation kick!
The challenge, as far as I am aware, is unique. Not only does it ask respondents to resolve each year’s challenge problem, but it forces collaborative working, skills exchanges, peer mentoring and demands the creation of new and exciting solutions and ventures using geography. Those who become finalists have to bring a team to the GeoVation Camp to work on building the selected idea into a prototype enterprise or venture and pitch it to the independent judging panel for the chance to win a share of funding to implement – subject to completion of a satisfactory venture plan. The process is equally gruelling and exhilarating, for both judges and contestants!
GeoVation ideas from a service perspective
A guest post from Alison Prendiville, who will be one of the judges on our Housing Challenge panel.
For a third year running it is a great pleasure to be invited back to judge the Ordnance Survey GeoVation Challenge – ‘How can we enable people in Britain to live in better places?’
Every year the ideas posted in response to the Challenge are impressive and this year is no exception. Linking up Ordnance Survey data with the Land Registry’s licensable data offers an interesting mix of [government] data sources to address some of the current challenges facing UK housing, neighbourhoods and communities; it also presents perhaps one of the most difficult contexts for a GeoVation Challenge.
Affordability, availability, access and infrastructure
Following Roland Harwood’s guest blog, we bring you a second guest blog from one of the judges on our Housing Challenge panel, Jane Davidson. Jane introduces herself and discusses affordability, availability, access and infrastructure: the main themes of the challenge.
I’m a sucker for a good system – a system that works, is both efficient and effective and opens up access to better information to the widest group of people, preferably on something which can improve their opportunities. So when I was asked to be a judge on the latest GeoVation Challenge, calling for better ideas to enable people in Britain to live in better places, I jumped at the chance.
I have spent years of my life considering housing issues – in the 1980s, as a local councillor in a ward with hundreds of poor quality houses in multiple occupation and as parliamentary researcher on the 1988 Housing Act; in the 1990s, as Head of Housing and Social Care for the Welsh Local Government Association; and, in the 2000s, as the Minister with the overarching responsibility for Environment, Sustainability, Planning, Energy and Housing in the Welsh Government. There are a number of areas on which action can be taken to effect different housing outcomes, both now and for the future, most of which lie in the responsibility of governments – e.g. changing the planning system to produce low carbon, energy efficient buildings, changing tax systems at UK or local council level, releasing more land for building, requiring more social housing, requiring greater energy efficiency obligations, developing incentives for target groups, e.g. first time buyers. All need to be underpinned by a better evidence base in relation to current practice and opportunity.
Final few hours to enter the housing challenge
As we enter the final few hours of the £101,000 GeoVation Challenge to find ways to tackle some of the long standing housing issues such as affordability, availability, access and infrastructure and best use of assets.
When we launched the GeoVation Challenge we explored some of these problems and why they are important. For instance, affordability and what this means can vary considerably by geography, community, household or individual. In the 1950’s the average house cost just over 4 times the average salary, but had risen to over 8 times by 2008.
How do we ensure there are enough suitable properties available for first time buyers to get on the property ladder? Why? Because only 18% of more than 325,000 properties with at least two bedrooms for sale in England were within financial reach of a household with children in an average local wage. (more…)