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The perks of government-funded tech investment

The perks of government-funded tech investment

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401(K) 2012

Martin Pett, principal technologist at Catapult Transport Systems, speaks to Hot Topics about the advantages of having gained part of its investment from the government.

Tech investment can be hard to come by.

Despite the relative ease with which startups seem to obtain funding today, for every Silicon Valley startup that raises its first million, there’s scores of companies that are still waiting for their opportunity with a big time investor.

How to get more funding is a constant struggle and worry for plenty of young businesses, but while other companies have to go through the rigmarole of seeking tech investment, either through VCs, angel investors or bootstrapping their businesses, a select few have the luxury of government funding.

Alongside the obvious financial advantages of securing such a deal, there are plenty of other perks of having close ties with a national government as a tech organization.

Catapult Transport Systems, which works as a development platform for innovative transport solutions alongside its commercial operations, manages to pull in two thirds of its tech investment through the UK government: One third from Innovative UK and another third from the UK’s department for Transport.

Catapult is currently in the process of using a virtual town that they’ve created to help develop its own transport solutions, and inspire other innovators to do the same.

Using Oculus headsets and the Omnideck platform, the virtual world allows users to interact with another one of Catapult’s projects, the LUTZ Pathfinder, a driverless car, as well as simulate other transport scenarios.

Hot Topics sat down with Martin Pett, principal technologist at Catapult Transport Systems, to talk about the benefits of working for a partially government-funded organization.

Pett says that one of the major benefits of government funding is that they can house research licenses for software.

“We’re working with software partners as well as the end-users of those models, and people can come and experiment in a controlled, safe environment which is low-cost and has no impact on how things operate on a day-to-day basis. That’s a very critical benefit of our position.”

Not only do the software licenses aid their own development projects, it also means that Catapult can function better as an incubator.

One of the difficulties that some tech companies face when looking to develop transportation solutions is a lack of access to the models that each local council uses to simulate such new implementations.

This is important says Pett because: “If someone has a novel idea, the best way of validating that the idea has legs is to get it into a model to simulate it.”

“Those models cost millions of pounds to develop, and the local authorities aren’t willing to hand them over, they don’t want to provide free access.”

Because of the links with the government, Catapult can access replicas of the transport models to use for its own simulations, as well as showcasing them to other would-be tech innovators in the transport sector.

“The majority of our major cities have got transport models that help local authorities to make decisions about improvements, changes, planned events that are going to happen.”

“The time and cost of providing that access is prohibitive, but because we’re independent and we’ve got the skills, we’ve offered to take custody and take copies of those models and facilitate access to those models to innovators.”

Catapult also accumulates a lot of government-gathered transport data and stores it itself as a research resource internally and for others.

Catapult incubates a number of startups, and part of the assistance they offer is providing access to its data libraries. Pett explains:

“Until now you’d have to go to a number of data providers who have some of the data sources and feeds and ask them what they’ve got.”

“We believe that by providing a library of data sources, people will be aware of the data that’s out there and they’ll be better informed of the data that they’re going looking for the projects that they’re trying to achieve.”

While Catapult ultimately does not have the same business aims as a lot of tech ventures and subsequently doesn’t attract the same amount of commercial income, it’s success as a tech incubator is clear.

Public resources like these can be just as important as the next Uber in terms of revolutionizing the transport network if they are used correctly, and with its innovative use of virtual reality, there is obviously plenty of development that Catapult will contribute to in the future.

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