In February 2017 Leo, an A-level Student at Colyton Grammar school, worked with the Exeter City Futures team as part of a one-week work experience placement. Six months later Leo has joined us again and reflects on the progress Exeter City Futures has made since his last visit.
Six months ago, I partook in my first work experience placement for Exeter City Futures, during the week when the deadline for the first cohort of accelerator applications were due.
Since then, the company has moved offices to Broadwalk House in Southernhay, right in the heart of the city centre – a peaceful location which overlooks the gardens there. This area is ideal for working with the accelerator teams: containing larger open-plan office space, including a blackboard and creative mind-mapping space; and smaller meeting rooms for more focused work.
Their main success recently has been the launch of the accelerator project in March this year. It’s one of the three main innovation channels, which are at the core of company. It has been set up to connect entrepreneurs, start-ups, and social enterprises; with access to data, mentoring, and city authorities; to bring sustainable, impactful solutions in the city.
Personally, it has been a wonderful experience to see the development of the teams in the inaugural cohort, and the diversity of their projects. There are currently six teams within the cohort who are in the process of testing their solutions; over my second week with Exeter City Futures I have been helping to interview them.
With the demo day fast approaching, the teams are nearing the end of their time in the accelerator and are working towards a MVP (minimum viable product). This is something they have researched to establish that a customer demand for it is present, and can use to build their start-up businesses once they leave the process.
Different teams within the cohort began the process at different stages; for example, the bike delivery service, Escargo, which aims to reduce the number of delivery vehicles on the road by providing an alternative via bicycle. During the process, the team had help refining their business model based on what became feasible after market research, thus maturing and making their end product better.
The start-up AtoB is another example of a team who have really taken their ideas and made them into reality; they are preparing to launch an app for an on-demand coach service, to take families from Exeter to tourist attractions in the surrounding region.
In contrast, other teams have entered the accelerator with more developed businesses, such as GreenRide Sharing (for spare seats in cars) who have made an app and recruited nearly 300 drivers! The group RideOn also started slightly further down the line; with a bike repair workshop which I was fortunate enough to visit. They are a charity who aim to encourage inner-city drivers to switch to cycling, as well as promoting education and awareness courses on cycling.
In my opinion two of the more challenging tasks have been taken up by Binit – who are developing a solution for businesses to dispose of their waste with a collective management coordination scheme; and QBots.AI, basing their business around renewable energy software for greater efficiency in electricity storage and more control over meterage.
Looking forward, the company has three challenges open for a second cohort of teams; including initiatives in: reducing traffic flow in peak periods; encouraging inner-city commutes by bike; and increasing the local area’s low carbon housing stock.
Sharing data and ideas
Alongside the accelerator, Exeter City Futures is working to relaunch the accelerator as a more rounded start-up support programme, targeted at start-ups and small businesses. There will also be a new Data Portal – a partnership with the city council, which will contain transport, energy, and commute data, as well as much more including health and economy statistics. This would primarily allow the council and businesses to use the data, but also engage the public with analytics surrounding city issues.
The development of this online database ties in with the company’s beliefs that open-access data will allow Exeter to become an Analytical City, and act as a catalyst of positive change for all. It is hoped that it will be available to all in the Autumn.
Another development from my last visit is the new online Ideas Board, which replaced the outdated community platform on the Exeter City Futures website. Through this, members of the public of Greater Exeter can voice their concerns and connect with the current teams and people at Exeter City Futures. Issues, such as anecdotal experiences of bicycle commutes to work, are shared by the community, and then can be identified and constructively made into future challenges.
Community Partnership Pilot
Through a more local initiative, they have been branching out to Heavitree for a community challenge programme. Whilst this is currently a project in progress, the aim is to involve the residents of the area in Exeter to analyse their own issues, and understand how traffic congestion, parking, and public transport affect the people of Heavitree.
In partnership with Exeter University, Exeter City Futures will be able to co-design and kickstart practical solutions to these problems and use Heavitree as a real-life case study example.
Anyone interested in keeping up-to-date with future developments can sign up to the fortnightly Exeter City Futures newsletter.
Overall, Exeter City Futures is now an established company, with defined and achievable aims, a passion for innovation, and it has been a pleasure to work alongside them (twice)!