It’s a match! Hear from businesses that the Catapult helped connect

Funding and business support are not the only perks for small enterprises joining our programmes; networking opportunities allow companies with similar ambitions to come together and share ideas. We speak to two new pairings developing business propositions after meeting over coffee at events organised by Connected Places Catapult.

GoMedia and Signapse: Partners in Sign 

“Don’t be afraid to work together, and be prepared to have conversations with everyone,” advises Sven Koster of GoMedia, one of nine business start-ups selected by Connected Places Catapult earlier this year to take part in the Station Innovation Zone programme at Bristol Temple Meads. 

Another of the firms on the programme was Signapse, led by Sally Chalk. “It is important to trust people and to have a big growth mindset,” she says. “Things tend to go well when you have a positive outlook.” 

Since getting to know each other through the programme, the two companies have joined forces to combine their efforts and develop a product they intend to take to market.

Sally Chalk of Signapse
Sven Koster of GoMedia

GoMedia had previously developed technology that translates train announcements into text to help deaf travellers, and audio wayfinding systems for blind and partially sighted persons. Signapse produces sign language translations of journey information at railway stations using artificial intelligence. 

Together they have developed ‘Luna’, set to be trialled next year to provide personalised journey information on trains for passengers in need of assistance. 

“Sign language users on a train may not know they are approaching a station, but with Luna that information will be displayed on your phone,” explains Sally. 

Sven adds that rail passengers may also need to know where to stand on a platform to join another service. “Onward journey information is another important aspect of the product: you will want to access that information wherever you are.” 

Currently they plan for the technology to be available on smartphones and laptops, although such information could also be displayed on large screens. Minimising the need to install additional physical infrastructure presents, they say, a fast and cost-effective accessibility win for transport infrastructure owners and operators. The product will be promoted in the UK first, and international opportunities are being explored.

Sally and Sven agree that without the Station Innovation Zone competition, the two of them would probably not have joined forces. 

“Soon after setting up my company, it was mentioned to me that the Station Innovation Zone would be a useful ecosystem to place myself in, so I jumped at the chance of getting involved,” Sally says.  

“The atmosphere among those taking part was a mix of enthusiasm and energy, and as a start-up, we were keen to make as many connections as possible.”  

Sven adds that taking part in the competition represented “the next logical step” for the company he represents; having recently carried out trails of its technology at London Euston.  

Collaborating rather than going it alone allowed each partner to play to their strengths. “We always knew what our capabilities were; you just can’t do everything yourself,” Sven says. “We realised there are better players in the market who can look after certain aspects of a solution. It would have been more costly and time consuming – and we may have been later to market – had we not partnered up with someone else.” 

On one side, GoMedia is good at integrating data streams, designing solutions and presenting them to end users; and on the other, Signapse has a detailed understanding of artificial intelligence and sign language. “The process has been a bit like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle,” says Sally. “We held some of the bits, and they held the others.” 

Sven adds: “As an organisation, you need to know your unique selling points and acknowledge there are better people available to do certain things. It is good not to see everyone else as a competitor.” 

Find out more about the Station Innovation Zone project.

Water Offsets and ALIS: Preserving and cleansing water

“When I first heard Ramon speak, I said to myself ‘that guy is going to be my business partner’,” recalls Tapiwa Gavaza of water resilience and engineering specialist company Water Offsets, who remembers a recent business trip to South America, organised by Connected Places Catapult.

“I sent him a message immediately after the event, because what we were both doing sounded like it would complement each other’s company.”

Ramon Alejandro, the founder of biotechnological company ALIS based in Monterrey, Mexico, picks up the story: “When we first talked, we agreed that we could do great things if we work together. We are not competitors, but are both involved in making the most out of water. Our biotechnology sits very well with Tapiwa’s knowledge of consulting and water resilience.”

Ramon Alejandro, founder of ALIS and Tapiwa Gavaza of Water Offsets

Both companies were involved in the UK – Latin America Net Zero and Resilience Programme, which took a delegation from the to the South Summit in Brazil.

Water Offsets, based in Hertfordshire, aims to help cities, communities and commercial clients improve water resilience by reducing water consumption, facilitating greywater recycling, rainwater harvesting and aquifer recharge. It also promotes the principle of water neutrality through water ‘offsetting’ – balancing the need for water in new homes with savings made through retrofitting older properties.

“The major issue is that we don’t have enough water in many cities; there needs to be an increase in sharing,” says Tapiwa. “Existing premises can reduce their consumption significantly, and we have recently designed the world’s first large scale water-neutral development of 800 residential units, and a nine hole golf course including sports and recreational facilities.”

Ramon’s company ALIS uses microalgae to generate oxygen through photosynthesis in order to remove contaminants such as nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater. “We started with the realisation that microbiology can be used to clean water, and we need to get this organism into cities to capture pollution and start to generate oxygen,” he says. “Biotechnology can do much to help the environment.”

Tapiwa says being part of the UK – Latin America Net Zero and Resilience Programme was a very worthwhile experience, not least because it brought people together who share similar passions.

We decided straight away to team up,” he remarked. “I know of water companies and developers who will need Ramon’s treatment services in the UK. I’ve always believed in Water Offsets being a vertically integrated water company offering a one-stop shop.”

In the UK, Tapiwa has spoken to a couple of developer clients and water treatment companies about using Ramon’s microbiology system alongside his company’s expertise and has helped to bring about a trial at a residential development in Southend in Essex.

In return, Ramon has introduced Tapiwa to city officials in Monterrey, Mexico and helped to organise meetings that have led to promising business opportunities. One such project set to make use of technologies from the two companies is at a new residential development in the city.

Together they aim to provide water cleansing and management solutions to as many as 50,000 properties in the UK and Mexico within three years.

Both men are pleased to have been introduced to each other by Connected Places Catapult who, Tapiwa says, provided “a lot of encouragement to collaborate and work in partnership” at the event in Latin America.

He adds: “Many of this year’s cohort are now friends, which has helped us all to feel that we are not alone in our journeys.”

Ramon says: “The group featured people working in different sectors and with different strategies, but everyone was working towards net zero, which was great. Thank you to Connected Places Catapult for helping to bring us all together.”