Citizen Tech and Data Science Co-Labs: helping GCHQ work with emerging tech talent

GCHQ for UP Ventures
Consulting Programme Director
Innovation programme design and delivery
Big thanks Danny Meaney, Emer Coleman and Caleb Conner


When GCHQ opened its new site in Manchester bringing with them hundreds of jobs in technology and data to the region, MediaCityUK was chosen to host a series of initiatives to bring GCHQ closer to the wider tech and business community in the region. CurveFinder® founder Steven Thomas was subsequently appointed as Interim Programme Director on behalf of UP Ventures to design and deliver two important innovation programmes. Each would bring GCHQ's world-class engineering team and selected tech businesses together to solve problems relating to Citizen Safety, Open Data and Smart Technology.

Programme 1: Safe Citizen Innovation Lab

The Safe Citizen Digital Innovation was aimed at improving citizen safety in a digitally connected world. The 16-week Accelerator Programme was designed for companies with technology solutions and customer-facing products and services.

This first of two cohorts focused on living safely in a connected digital world with a clear focus on what matters to citizens. We were specifically looking for solutions that would make a real impact on day-to-day experiences across a range of digital scenarios. These included:

  • location-based physical technology solutions
  • methods for using technology to support the informed citizen
  • new ways for understanding and trusting information
  • connected devices to improve quality of life
  • creative data engineering for social purpose and to provide new insights

Programme 2: Data Science Innovation Co-Lab.

Across the globe, citizens and businesses were pivoting to living with COVID-19. As we adapted to this new normal, GCHQ felt it was more important than ever to protect, support and empower our communities by harnessing the best of technology. 

We’re pioneering a new kind of security for an ever more complex world and businesses can play their part in helping to keep the UK safe.

This 12-week programme will give these companies, using cutting edge tech, unique access to GCHQ technologists to help hone their products - from helping to prevent the spread of fake news to countering people trafficking.

GCHQ spokesperson

Our Data Science Innovation Co-Lab harnessed data science, machine learning and AI techniques helping scaleups with tangible products or services that addressed challenges with

  • Biased, partial or anomalous information
  • The use of open-source data to fill gaps in our perspectives
  • Autonomous data collection across multiple sources, overcoming format differences and contradictions

A unique learning experience

CurveFinder® Founder and UP Managing Partner, Steven Thomas designed a unique learning experience that took GCHQ and each programme cohort through both a practical and creative process. Each interaction was designed to enable knowledge sharing and specific problem-solving.

  • GCHQ and UP Ventures provided unique, tailored technical and business support
  • Structured online and in-person mentoring sessions from a range of experts
  • Access to networks of local government providers, coaches, GCHQ experts
  • The opportunity to pilot solutions and use a unique group to solve problems and test ideas

World-class Cohorts and results

We were able to recruit two high-quality cohorts that were amongst the best that GCHQ had worked with in any previous programme in any location across the UK. Throughout each programme, GCHQ mentors were able to learn from the talented group scouted by Steven and the team and were able to take these learnings into their own work. Each business that made up our cohorts benefitted massively from the practical problem-solving frameworks and challenging format designed by Steven. Many have gone on to win commercial contracts and/or considerable investment to aid their growth.

Successful participants included Bellrock Technology, which was included in the G-Cloud 12 framework as a data analytics supplier for the UK government. As well as Journey Protector, a developer of technology that helps prevent cargo theft and human trafficking in the logistics industry, led by CEO Anne Lawlor, which has secured significant funding since completing the programme.

Read more about our Safer Citizen Cohort

Read more about our Data Science Co-Lab Cohort

These businesses have real potential to improve people’s lives in an increasingly digitally connected world, from helping the elderly to reducing emissions.

We’re excited to be supporting the thriving technology ecosystem in Greater Manchester, connecting ingenious entrepreneurs and creative technologists with the mission of GCHQ to help tackle some of our hardest challenges.

Gav Smith, GCHQ’s Director General for Technology