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Connected Cities - how can a government trade mission change your business?

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In 2016, Design for Social Change (D4SC) had been toying with the idea of expanding internationally with two of our products:

  1. Changify – a people powered decision-making platform for urban service providers to identify and priortise most pressing urban issues to co-solve with people
  2. CitizenCanvas – our award-winning citizen centric smart city road-mapping toolkit

In 2015, our products were brilliantly received at the Smart City Expo in Barcelona, with a number of enquiries from South East Asia – in particular Malaysia and Singapore – perhaps the fastest-growing smart city marketplace, but that interest would always end with the question, “So when can you visit us?”

A few short months later, I saw Innovate UK’s call for the SE Asia Connected Cities mission and jumped on it.

In retrospect, it was one of the best decisions we have ever made as a company.

UK government trade missions give you credibility & instant access to decision-makers

Priya Prakash, Design 4 Social Change pitching investors at Bristish High Commission, Singapore
Priya Prakash, Design for Social Change pitching investors at British High Commission, Singapore

Being part of that Innovate UK/Department for International Trade mission gave us credibility and instant access to local market knowledge, potential commercial partners, investors and high-level decision-makers – something it is almost impossible to achieve as an SME entering a new international market.

An unexpected benefit was the potential collaborations that arose with other smart cities-focused companies that attended the mission.

Important to prepare pre-mission

We were put through an excellent, 2-day pre-mission training programme, which provided us with valuable market insights and helped us hone our offer and pitching skills.

DIT & Innovate UK help set the context

During the mission itself – having the combined expertise of Innovate UK and DIT was invaluable as they help set the context for what UK is doing in the smart city space and how each company’s offering solved a particular urban challenge in:

  • cyber security
  • big data analysis & visualisation
  • citizen engagement
  • transport
  • smart infrastructure
  • building management etc

Objective of South East Asia mission – gain insight

Priya Prakash, Design 4 Social Change talking to potential partner in Jahor, Malaysia
Priya Prakash, Design for Social Change talking to potential partner in Jahor, Malaysia

We were confident that the mission would allow us to

  • gain in-depth insights into the smart city market in the region
  • meet with potential clients for our services and governmental decision-makers - who are setting the priorities for smart cities development in their nations

However, during the mission, all the projects saw the need to engage with citizens – either in order to gain insight into people's needs, or in order to validate the effectiveness of the solutions they had developed.

This was an exciting opportunity for D4SC and our 'people first' platforms, which helps ‘humanise’ these large-scale smart city developments.

Trade mission helped build real business leads


We were invited back by Cyberjaya in Malaysia to undertake a joint funding bid to the UK Prosperity Fund and that led to forging a relationship with the Cyberview team at Cyberjaya.


Doing business in Singapore, Singapore

With Singapore, we have been invited to tender for a contract with the Housing Development Board that would see them using our Changify citizen engagement platform to better inform the board’s short, medium and long-term planning and decision making. That tendering process is currently underway.

Also large global companies, like Microsoft and Arup, who have Singapore-based offices have reached out to us to see if we can work with both their UK and Singaporean offices.

A valuable 'knock-on-effect' 

Now, 6 months since the trade mission, doors continue to open for us across Government and business in the region.

Following the excellent international media coverage we got as a consequence of the mission, we are now in discussion with a number of potential private and public sector partners.

D4SC is also in the DTI ‘Smart cities playbook’, which continues to attract potential business leads.

Second Connected Cities mission to India will only help us grow more

Seeing how useful the last mission has been for us to expand internationally – D4SC plan to apply to be part of Innovate UK and DIT’s India Connected Cities mission to India – another rapidly developing smart cities market.

Given India’s ambitious plan for 100 smart cities, the mission’s itinerary, taking in Pune, Kochi and the Indian-UK Tech Summit would provide a potentially lucrative opportunity for us to showcase our products.

You next?

So if you’re an urban tech SME or startup thinking of expanding to India, even more pertinent post-Brexit – I highly recommend you signup for this exciting mission.

It will be both a lifetime experience and a business savvy decision in the current climate.

Learn more about the DIT/Innovate UK Connected Cities Mission to South East Asia:

Follow me on Twitter: @priyascape

Follow Design for Social Change on Twitter: @D4SC

You can follow Innovate UK on:

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