The founder of a UK ‘connected car’ tech start-up is targeting global domination after US automotive giant General Motors took a 35 per cent stake in the business.
Last month BusinessCloud reported how Chester-based wejo had struck a landmark deal with GM that includes a $25m (£19.4m) cash injection and a long-term data-sharing agreement between the two companies. The deal values wejo at £213m.
Founded by Richard Barlow in 2014, wejo provides information to a variety of end-users including insurers, local authorities and breakdown recovery services by tracking seven million connected cars.
As cars become more connected they’re generating huge amounts of data with a growing number of sensors. The data is hugely valuable for businesses but has remained largely untapped – which is why wejo’s technology has been hailed as a game-changer.
The entrepreneur set wejo up to bring telematics to the mass market and the company’s technology is already processing more than one million data points every second.
“There is a new world out there where more and more cars are being connected when they leave the factory.
“The idea is that one day wejo is recognised within your car, within the satnav, and drivers will see the wejo brand and know that they can trust where their data is going to go to.”
Barlow said the key is that drivers have the choice to share their data or not.
“If the driver isn’t happy to share any data, then the data will go nowhere,” he stressed.
“If you’ve given consent for that data to be shared, we have local councils and transport departments in states in the US that are buying that data. You may see rubber strips across the road connected to a box, they’re counting traffic and only provide limited information. We’re working with councils to replace these heavy installations and use connected car data instead as it has much richer information, as it knows the number of occupants in the vehicle, it knows the vehicle weight, make, model and speed etc – it’s much more accurate than general measurements.”
Barlow said wejo is now working with a number of OEMs or car manufacturers around the world.
OEMs are original equipment manufacturers and they produce parts and equipment that may be marketed by another manufacturer.
“We have OEMs whose cars are sharing over 1000 sensors as every button in your car will have a sensor, your window will have a sensor if there’s something stopping it close, an engine may well have 60 sensors. Every movement of the cylinder will have a sensor, and there could be emission sensors.
“Every motor manufacturer is different, and we’ve now worked with 15 OEMs globally where we’ve taken their data and we’ve shown how it can be used to the benefit of drivers and the OEM on an anonymised and dual consent basis.
“We’re now dealing with local authorities, cities and councils in the US, but we’re not doing that in the UK yet. And although we’re a UK company, the majority of our income is generated in the US.
“We’re sharing live availability parking spaces, you can then see in your app, we’ll know the moment a car leaves a parking space, we’ll then do an update and show it’s empty, we’re about to announce our first parking test where you’ll see where parking is available which can be an issue in the city.”
Barlow welcomed GM’s investment but also praised the consistent support of other investors like Seneca Partners.
“I was very lucky that I’ve been able to build a network of people who funded us, including Seneca, a North West-based firm, who have invested three times,” he said.
Wejo currently employs 150 people but has plans to add another 100. The tech start-up currently has two offices in the UK and one in Silicon Valley, with plans for a second US office in Austin and a further office in Europe.
“We have got a great group of people who have joined me over the last few years in Chester,” said Barlow. “It’s all part of the Northern Powerhouse, I’ve got no reason to believe why we wouldn’t stay in Chester.
“We are the global leader in this sector at the moment, we do have competition in Asia, Israel and the US.
“We process over a million data points every second and that’s actually quite a barrier to entry for anyone. The architecture we’ve developed, the research and development, building the OEM relationships, takes a huge amount of time.”