The Edinburgh Incubator is a joint initiative with the municipal government in Shenzhen, a major city in China’s Guangdong Province. It offers free office facilities to Edinburgh-based companies looking to explore the market in China, alongside tailored support from the Invest Edinburgh team to help businesses set up and operate in China.
What we do is very niche, but we have a very cosmopolitan workforce with maybe nine or ten different nationalities. That’s driven by the attraction of Edinburgh, its world-class universities and the credentials of its tech companies.Rob Palfreyman, chief executive and co-founder, sensewhere
“Getting free access to the incubator’s office space gave us the freedom to concentrate on the development of our presence in China, gaining awareness and familiarity with the companies we pitched to,” explains sensewhere chief executive and co-founder Rob Palfreyman. “It also saved on all important financial resources like rent and the time it normally takes to find the right space to work from.
“In a country of such cultural contrasts, it was imperative to gain insight into the local market, its practises and behaviours, as well as gaining access to contacts to get onto the ladder – all of which was on offer.”
Sensewhere’s technology uses signals from indoor electromagnetic sources like Wi-Fi routers and Bluetooth to pinpoint a user’s location in areas like shopping centres and airports – where GPS (global positioning system) signals from satellites are weak or blocked.
The technology has hundreds of millions of mobile users around the world and recently passed the milestone of supporting 50 billion location requests.
“GPS doesn’t work inside buildings, because the structure of the building blocks the signal,” Palfreyman explains. “We provide a GPS-like service when the user goes inside. Before, there was no accurate way of location targeting people inside venues.
“It’s a global service, so it can be used wherever a device is being used in the world, and we’ve now got more than 600m monthly active users. It’s important that people can navigate around complex indoor spaces. It’s also important for marketers to be able to share marketing information with people based on their location – and for emergency services to know where people are. Our technology also supports social web services, chat apps and gaming navigation.”
Sensewhere employs 30 staff worldwide, including 20 at its head office in Edinburgh’s Princes Street. Its international offices are in Mountain View, California, China’s capital Beijing, Shenzen and Shanghai. Sensewhere’s software is used by companies in sectors such as social media, gaming, retail, advertising and mapping. Its customers include retail data specialist OneMarket, which is using sensewhere as part of its digital marketing strategy, and Tencent, China’s biggest internet services company and a major investor in sensewhere.
Support from the Invest Edinburgh team has included coverage for sensewhere in the Invest Edinburgh Magazine, website and social media platforms, which reach a global audience of almost 19,000 influencers, followers and readers.
“The marketing support better positioned us to craft our PR exposure as well as benefit from event invitations and awards this afforded us,” Palfreyman says. “We directly benefited from help with well planned-out individual guidance and practical assistance from the very beginning, which greatly influenced our insight and direction.”
Sensewhere started life as a spin-out from the University of Edinburgh and has benefitted from the city’s academic and quality of life credentials.
“Being in close proximity to academic institutions like the University of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh Napier University and Queen Margaret University is a big attraction and has helped us attract good quality graduates,” Palfreyman says. “What we do is very niche, but we have a very cosmopolitan workforce with maybe nine or ten different nationalities. That’s driven by the attraction of Edinburgh, its world-class universities and the credentials of its tech companies.”
Sensewhere is recruiting in engineering roles covering areas such as big data, cloud development, location technology and software development. The company secured £1.4m in grant funding from economic development agency Scottish Enterprise to support research and development.
Palfreyman says Edinburgh’s tech ecosystem and business support infrastructure has been key to the company’s growth.
“The tech sector here has continued to strengthen and is very vibrant, with lots of very good technology companies,” he says. “Edinburgh is an increasingly popular destination for business development, particularly in the technology sector, offering a breadth of inspiration for young business entrepreneurs and stimulating substantial private sector investment.
“The ecosystem here radiates support. There’s a very good angel and venture capital community – and there’s very good support from agencies like Scottish Enterprise for companies looking to set up here. I think all that really does make a big difference.”
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