The innovators – 51st Parallel and Connected Space

By - Wednesday 22nd February, 2017

In the first of a three-part series, two of Croydon’s groundbreaking companies explain what they do, how they do it, and why Croydon’s the place to be

Image by The Town That Love Built, used with permission.

Croydon has 10,000 businesses, a tech community that’s internationally recognised as a model for building a local tech ecosystem, and more offices and workspaces opening every week it seems. It’s easy to see how it’s become such an effective engine room for new ideas. From IT services and game design to road-safe headphone usage, Croydon companies are putting the borough on the map as a hub of innovation. Six companies at three of Croydon’s workspaces – TMRW, Sussex Innovation Centre, and StartUp Croydon – spoke to the Citizen about how they’re breaking the mould. Two of them are presented below:

51st Parallel
Early-stage augmented-reality games startup

What do you do?

We’re building a games company based around augmented-reality gaming. We’re a two-man startup – Rob Chandler is a developer and Will Cookson is the creative and conferencing one. We used to work together at a central London-based startup, we were building white-label donation software and fundraising tools for charities. We decided to take a leap to focus fully on something that we had been playing with in side projects, and we’re completely self-funded. We’ve seen trends in VR and AR [virtual reality and augmented reality] and we want to take real data and make that into a game – satellite data, live flight data, anything that we can find that’s open sourced, we want to try to make a game out of it. We’ll be doing an iOS/Android game available in the app store in the next six weeks – I’m afraid that I can’t say more than that right now!

How are you innovating?

We plan to make open-game formats. When you rely on real-world data to generate the information in the game, real-life elements of chance and risk are inherently part of each session. It’s all very experimental; how each game goes will depend on where you are in the world, what time it is and so on, so of course it’s quite hard to balance! In addition, we’re using smartphone devices to have augmented views, so things appear on your screen based on what your camera is looking at. We had this idea before Pokémon Go, but when it came out it was a great proof of concept that people would use their phones in that way. Live flight data is an example of data that we can feed into our games, and you can see how that will be different every time you play: there’ll be different planes in the air, different weather conditions, different stuff around you and so on. When you take that model and think about what can be done, in Croydon, London and internationally, you’re suddenly picturing games based on public transport data, Uber data, bus data… the possibilities are endless.

Why Croydon?

We’ve been here for two weeks – Croydon was really convenient for us because Rob lives in Croydon and Will lives in Gipsy Hill. It’s very appealing to not have to commute into London. It feels like you’ve got some space to think down in Croydon, you’re not jostling with all the other startups in central or east London. It’s really well connected in terms of transport, and we love the TMRW space where we’re based. Boxpark’s a great place to meet up and hang out with friends or those all-important business connections. Our company name is 51st Parallel, which is the latitude of Croydon!

Photo by TMRW, used with permission.

Mick Robins, Connected Space
Co-creators of innovative technologies

What do you do?

I’m the CEO of Connected Space and we co-create innovative technologies. We work closely with our strategic partners to design, build and deliver technologies that transform businesses. We call ourselves co-founders of innovative technologies; what that means is that we leverage our own technology platforms, and we actually get involved in product development thanks to a lot of experience that we have there. The ‘connected’ in our name runs through everything that we do – there’s a business challenge, there’s a technology solution, and then there’s an approach to take that to market; for example, working out how customers will pay for it. Some clients are startups, some are huge global organisations. With startups, we get more involved with their business planning. For example, we took on a partnership with a live sports product, they were initially going to launch in the UK and go to the US, but now we’ve turned that on its head and it’s launching in China. ‘Connected’ is collaboration, it’s connecting startups with large companies, it’s connecting business models. It’s how we see the world.

For example, we have been helping Samsung develop a connected car solution that will launch in the US later this year. At the same time, we are transforming a fintech’s supply chain through deep integration with Salesforce and other technology frameworks. We’re also really interested in Smart Cities; three live projects that we’re working on at the moment are around connected transport, connected cities, and connected sport.

How are you innovating?

The fast pace of technology is disrupting every aspect of our world, but innovation goes beyond the technology hardware and software itself. A lot of our focus is in ‘the Internet of Things’, which sees previously ‘dumb’ technology becoming ‘smart’ (in other words, connected to the internet) along with the increased focus on the role of artificial intelligence. But at Connected Space, we see true innovation when this technology has the power to unlock exciting new business models and affect our own lives in a transformative way.

We utilise React Native as a technology framework and have been doing so for the last 18 months. Samsung was expecting a Java solution, but we’ve invested quite heavily in understanding the opportunities around React Native to be deployed at certain points around a certain life cycle. We think that we’ve got the most developer hours clocked up in the UK after Facebook when it comes to React Native. So sometimes innovation also comes down to transforming ways of working, and our strategic partners simply need to inject more dynamic methods of delivering technology into their own organisations. When we bring a tool to the table that they weren’t expecting, we’re playing a bit part in that.

Why Croydon?

We love Croydon. Andy, my co-founder, is local, as is a third of our 30-person team here at Connected Space. Last summer we made a bold move to relocate our company from Shoreditch to Croydon and haven’t looked back. For us, it’s super exciting to be part of Croydon’s hugely impressive regeneration, its vibrant arts and culture scene, and of course Croydon Tech City. CTC gave us the confidence that we could recruit amazing local tech talent, and we’ve recruited as locally as possible – 90 per cent of us are from south London.

Smart Cities is a long-term plan for us, and we’re bringing a Croydon attitude to it – we could wait for Smart Cities ideas to come to Croydon, or Croydon could decide what smart cities means for itself. Croydon is a golden opportunity, a moment in time that doesn’t come around very often. The regeneration investment is, for us, magnified by the potential to engage with the Croydon Tech City environment. We’re having conversations with the council and organisations like Westfield, The Body Shop, companies that are part of this regeneration. If you’re a first-time visitor to Croydon in three years’ time, how are you guided around the town centre? How do we communicate with you? How does an autonomous vehicle drive you from one side of town to the other, while an autonomous tram takes you back again? And it doesn’t have to be multi-billion-pound schemes – electric-powered bike-sharing schemes come to mind. We want to be part of a movement that starts to connect these conversations together and to start making Croydon the smartest borough in London! Smart City ideas and benefits can resonate for Croydon’s almost 400,000 residents.

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The Croydon Citizen is a non-profit community news magazine for London's most populous borough.

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