Competing for new opportunities

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By Mark Hampson, CIO, Satellite Applications Catapult

Satellite Applications Catapult CIO, Mark Hampson, looks at the impact of competitions in stimulating engagement and opportunities for companies looking to establish or further their presence in the satellite technology sector.

In contributing to the continued growth of the UK’s Space industry, the Catapult has implemented a range of initiatives over the past two years, addressing different audiences. These have included providing technical expertise and support, organising networking events, hosting conferences and workshops, and offering dedicated workspace for people to work and collaborate in.

Additionally, competitions have played a significant role, stimulating external interest and raising awareness about satellite applications and the UK Space sector. Organised by industry and government bodies, competitions such as the European Satellite Navigation Competition and Copernicus Masters have seen dozens of businesses engage with the Catapult, with several tangible benefits to winners, including financial.

Opening doors

For many start-ups and SMEs, finding the platform to showcase their ideas is often a considerable barrier to progress. With a strong concept developed and a target market identified, securing the opportunity to move to the commercial stage can be an arduous process. However, competitions offer genuine opportunities through which to open doors and gain access to the necessary influencers and decision-makers, who can start moving an idea from concept to commercialisation.

For some businesses, they will be hoping to open doors to investment, while others will be seeking expertise around marketing and business development. Either way, winning a competition is certain to boost the opportunities afforded to a company.

Raising profile

Naturally, media interest in a business often follows the announcement of a competition win. Such coverage, from mainstream national papers and trade publications, can be invaluable, as iGeolise Co-Founder and Director, Peter Lilley, whose company won ESNC’s UK leg in 2012, explains.

“Winning the competition transformed our business. On the strength of winning, we achieved national publicity which brought in our very first client. This acted as a springboard to attract further clients and by the end of 2014, we turned over in the region of £1m,” says Peter.

iGeolise’s clients include Zoopla and Visit Britain, as well as the UK’s largest estate agency group, Countrywide, which tripled conversions on their website through iGeolise’s Travel Time platform. The company has also become a Microsoft Partner, and secured more than 30 clients.

Elsewhere, soon after winning the 2014 UK competition for its ‘seeCrop’ farming app, Intelligent Precision Farming (IPF) achieved national and sector media coverage of its success, including coverage in The Times and on BBC Radio 4, which saw a five-fold increase in web traffic.

Economic impact

iGeolise is not the only example of a competition winner that has gone on to deliver significant revenues; DW International Ltd, which won the 2013 ESNC Special Topic Prize, was awarded a European Commission project worth €732,739 for GNSS Monitoring for Critical Applications.

Elsewhere, Oxford Space Systems (OSS), with whom we’re closely engaged, has benefited from Innovate UK’s Launchpad funding competition which offers £100,000 for turning an innovative idea into a commercial project. Specialising in developing novel deployable hardware system such as booms, panels and antennas that are lighter, less complex and lower cost than existing designs, OSS has also attracted wider funding input, including €1m of venture capital seed investment.

Fast-track development

Aside from greater brand awareness and the financial benefits, a further benefit of competition success is the opportunity to accelerate your product development plans.

IPF’s own win didn’t just generate media coverage, but saw the company secure a contract to be incubated at the ESA Business Incubation Centre. This was achieved through support from the Catapult, and will provide a fast track mechanism for the development of the ‘seeCrop’ app. ESA BIC will host an R&D team in Harwell to support the app’s development.

Meanwhile, OSS is already planning several spin-offs of its smart technology, including a design which overcomes the tendency to jam, and which already has a UK patent. The company is hoping to apply the innovation to other appliances, such as collapsible buggies.

What are you waiting for?

So, if the above doesn’t provide enough reasons to enter at least one of the competitions available, I’ll leave the final word to a previous winner, iGeolise’s Peter Lilley. “If someone’s got two hours free, they should enter the competition…and frankly, if they haven’t got two hours free, they should make two hours! It will transform their business.”

Links to competitions:

  • European Satellite Navigation Competition – open to anyone with an idea which utilises satellite navigation technology; be it for position, time, navigation or any other application.
  • Copernicus Masters – awards prizes to innovative solutions for business and society based on Earth observation data.
  • Launchpad – Innovate UK runs these funding competitions to help technology-focused companies in specific geographic clusters. Up to £100,000 is available to turn an innovative idea into a commercial project. Business support and coaching to attract private investment also available.
  • Innovation Vouchers – Up to £5k funding for for start-up, micro, small and medium-sized enterprises to work with an external expert to gain the knowledge to innovate and grow.