Geospatial tech has been criminally underrated for far too long.

It might not sound as flashy as AI or FinTech, but it’s an untapped goldmine of potential for UK tech entrepreneurs. The problem is that it’s so untapped that most government figures don’t have it on their radar at all, let alone actively think about how it can be part of their policies.

That’s why I’m calling on the government to invest in raising the profile of the UK’s geospatial tech industry, helping it to attract the international investment it needs to become a world-leading, central part of our economy.

The UK boasts one of the best startup ecosystems in the world. Monzo, Revolut, Deliveroo are just some of the companies to have found their footing here. Geospatial tech could spurn the next comparable company, but it’s largely ignored by UK founders.

If you’re not familiar, geospatial technology is an umbrella term for various kinds of tech that record and analyse geographic information. That might bring to mind classical cartography or maybe more modern uses like Google Earth or Uber – all of which are facets of geospatial technology. But it’s become significantly more advanced than that in the past decade.

Perhaps its most prominent uses today are in national security and science. Geospatial tech helps guide unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), track disease outbreaks, suppress forest fires, provide humanitarian relief, monitor biodiversity, and so much more. The exciting thing is that we’re only at the very surface of what this technology can do.

Greenwashing, greenhushing, and… greenkeeping

As the geospatial tech industry moves forward, there’s a genuine opportunity for the UK to become a global leader in the space. The GeoBuiz-22’s Global Geospatial Industry Outlook report estimated that the ‘economic impact of geospatial technologies on the global economy is going to rise by approximately 89% between 2022 and 2025 and by 196% between 2025 and 2030’ – highlighting the huge potential for the UK economy if it takes the lead of the global industry. 

To take that lead, we need to stake our claim by supporting the industry and investing in its growth. We should do that before our European counterparts can do the same.

The government has acknowledged the importance of geospatial technology in its UK Geospatial Strategy 2030. The policy paper set out to ‘unlock billions of pounds in economic benefits’ through geospatial tech and recognised the £6 billion turnover achieved by geospatial companies per year.

‘It’s time for government to get behind startups & scaleups’

It’s encouraging to see the government actively set out a world-leading geospatial tech industry as one of its key goals, aiming to ‘secure the UK’s position as a science superpower’ and committing to attracting more funding to the sciences in the coming years.

Where the report seriously falls short, though, is by failing to address exactly how funding for geospatial tech will be increased, particularly to a level that will allow us to compete on the international stage. 

At the heart of this issue is geospatial tech’s profile as an industry. There is a general understanding of why the technology is important and how it is practically applied. However, we are not properly selling the immense potential of the UK geospatial tech industry to investors.

It’s not simply a tool for other, more established industries – it can create fast-growth businesses of its own. And it has the potential for huge societal and economic impact, across areas from climate change to sustainable urban development.

Of course, further down the line, the government can tackle things like skills and training, but this will all be for nothing if the industry doesn’t have the standing to attract international investment, grow, and create a consistent stream of startups entering the sector. Entrepreneurs must be able to see the industry’s potential and choose geospatial tech as their niche, and investors must have the confidence to back them.

In my mind, the only way forward is for the government to truly commit to supporting geospatial tech and put at least £100 million behind a promotional campaign to highlight the potential in the industry. Early-stage startup founders and entrepreneurs must be made aware of the commercial opportunities at their fingertips, and investors must be shown that this is the place to invest their money.

‘AI will surpass humans in 5 years’

This might sound like a lot of money, especially in the current economic climate. But it’s an investment in our future. It’s already dwarfed by the £6 billion yearly turnover of UK geospatial companies – a figure which could grow exponentially if we light the spark now.

A publicity campaign certainly wouldn’t seal the deal for geospatial tech, and there would need to be more work further down the line. But this would provide the starting point for UK geospatial tech to hold its own internationally and begin to mature as a high-growth sector.

The risk is that, without a campaign as ambitious and bold as this, the potential that the industry has in the UK will completely go to waste. In a time of economic uncertainty, we need sectors that hold promise for the future and can carry forward the UK tech industry. 

As the government itself says, there are billions of pounds worth of economic benefits to be unlocked – and this cannot be ignored.

The future of geospatial tech in the UK could be incredibly bright. It already has a huge range of applications that help people at home and worldwide on a daily basis, and there are countless more applications that we haven’t even discovered.

It is completely possible that the UK will be the one to unlock those discoveries. But the UK government must be fully committed to building a world-leading geospatial tech hub for this to be realised.

‘Deepen roots, branch out then remove the deadwood’