“Is government good enough? We don’t think so. Today we are calling on entrepreneurs to join the revolution for better government.”
Timothy Barnes, founder of The Rain Gods Ltd, has issued a rallying cry to entrepreneurs who want to use their skills to build better government in the UK and around the world.
The company operates the Rain Cloud Victoria start-up incubator in Westminster, located just a few minutes walk from all of the main UK government departments as well as major local government institutions.
The Rain Cloud programme has been in what Barnes describes as a “beta stage” since quietly accepting its first members in September 2016. Six months on, and with 45 members already installed and a further 20 joining in the next eight weeks, he is now on the hunt for ambitious entrepreneurs looking to develop businesses that can provide new services to government or are built on the data that it produces. It’s an area he refers to as CivTech, short for Civic Technologies, a term intended to act as a catch all for start-ups looking to bring digital disruption to government.
Barnes cites companies like MegaNexus Ltd, a multi-million pound software services business based in London’s King Cross, to show that the UK can build successful, private CivTech companies that serve government needs. MegaNexus provides training solutions to prisons across the UK and employs 120 people in the UK and India. But such companies have not historically been able to access the support that start-ups in well-known areas such as FinTech and Artificial Intelligence have enjoyed. The Rain Cloud will address that need.
Dr Dan Brown, founder and Chairman of MegaNexus concurs.
“The Rain Cloud Victoria is a fantastic space for startups looking for support from entrepreneurs and potential partners that have made a success of working with government. I wish it had been around when we started. It might well have helped us reach success a lot earlier.”
In the US, CivTech companies have had an easier time finding support. Los Angeles-based NationBuilder helps those running political campaigns and is reported to have raised nearly $20m in venture capital funding, much of it from investment royalty. The company was launched in 2011 and thanks to the support that it received to scale fast, by 2016 was serving more than 9,000 organisations in 112 countries worldwide. It serviced more than 3,000 candidates on the ballot in US elections last November and is working with seven presidential candidates in the forth-coming French elections.
“NationBuilder has built a successful, global CivTech business in just a few years and received investment from some of the most respected names in venture capital. We are convinced this will become a major new sector for startups and investors over the next couple of years,” explains Toni-Cowan Brown, Vice President of European Business Development at NationBuilder.
Barnes is convinced that through the Rain Cloud Victoria incubator, the CivTech Forum networking events programme and a planned CivTech Academy training operation, that the UK can build many more successful companies like MegaNexus, based on UK technology, but help them to get to market faster and grow more quickly, just as Nation Builder has been able to do.
There is certainly a lot of good raw material to work from, explains Dr Alastair Moore, Head of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UCL’s Engineering Faculty.
“London is one of the top global centres for big data, machine learning and cyber security – possibly the leading centre worldwide. These are the critical technical domains for complex CivTech systems. Getting the latest research out of our world-class universities and into start ups will be the basis for a major new tech segment and we expect London to lead globally.”
John Spindler, CEO of Capital Enterprise and co-founder of the London Co-Investment Fund, believes The Rain Cloud is well placed to make this dream a reality.
“Tim and his team have unmatched experience in delivering start-up support in London. Harnessing real entrepreneurs, technical experts and government specialists has made their model one to watch and is a first in the area of government-focused launch programmes,” he says.
It’s certainly working for the first companies that took a risk and signed up with the Rain Cloud during their trial phase.
“The Rain Cloud is a genuinely supportive environment where we have found excellent mentoring and some great partners. We are talking to other members about collocation and have agreed two pilot projects, one of which has already led to a sale,” reports Ed Dowding, a serial entrepreneur and founder of Represent.me, which has developed digital democracy tools for improving citizen engagement in political decision making. Represent recently secured angel funding and is now looking to secure a larger seed round.