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By January 1, 2021April 28th, 2021EXIST

Liz O’Driscoll is the Head of Innovation at Exeter City Futures – a Community Interest Company created in January 2016 by Oxygen House with the support of Exeter City Council. Exeter based business Oxygen House also owns Sparx and ATASS Sports: all three organisations share a focus on data and innovation.

Liz explains ECF’s aim:

“Cities are continuing to grow worldwide, and their infrastructure is struggling to cope.  Globally, we know that we need to transform cities into cleaner, more sustainable places.  But keeping a growing population moving around quickly and cleanly is a complex problem, and one that every city struggles with.”

It’s Liz’s background in research and change management that brought her to Exeter.  Liz joined ECF in February, and has a research career in engineering.  After a PhD in optics and electrical engineering from Bristol she began an extensive career at BAE systems where she progressed from R&D, to Head of Information Processing, through to managing complex long-term change projects (looking 40+ years ahead).

This expertise in managing long-term change is central to Liz’s role at ECF. The overall role of Exeter City Futures is to facilitate and support positive changes – transforming Exeter into a cleaner city with a sustainable travel network.  It’s Liz’s role to engage with organisations and individuals in Exeter to help initiate and develop projects that will help improve the City for all its residents.  Its measure of success is clear – for Exeter to have zero congestion and be fully energy independent by 2025.

A Community Interest Company, ECF is set up as a social enterprise – designed to use its assets and profits for public good rather than being driven by the need to maximise profit for shareholders or owners.  Its business model will be to develop what works in Exeter – successful projects can then be exported to other cities. The opportunity to develop clear examples, with demonstrable evidence of improvement and how it was implemented, in Exeter could attract the next stage of funding and investment.

“Exeter is an amazing city.  It has the attributes of large cities such as hospitals, a major university, and an airport, but it is small enough to be able to try out new things, and measure their actual impact. This could be trialling transport as a service for example – working in partnership with local businesses to offer tailored commuting services for their employees.”

“By understanding demand we can offer alternatives to private car use directly to where there is a need. This offers an opportunity to create efficient travel services that will ease congestion in the City. If successful, it’s a model that could expand and become available to everyone in Exeter.”

Exeter City Futures, in collaboration with the University of Exeter, The Innovation Centre, SETsquared Exeter, and Canopy Exeter are targeting the creation of 10 new investible start-ups in Exeter by the end of the year. Exeter City Futures is especially interested in encouraging new business ideas that respond to the needs of sustainable cities –specifically to realise the goals of zero congestion and zero carbon by 2025. At the Start-up Weekend on 10th June, Exeter City Futures is offering a prize of a 6 month mentoring programme and possible investment for businesses that demonstrate scalable opportunities within these areas. 

Liz hopes to engage with as many local businesses and organisations as possible to identify specific problems and develop solutions. Over the next few months ECF will be running a series of Future Visioning workshops which will offer businesses, policy makers, community groups, and residents the chance to engage in generating a combined vision of the future and begin to identify jointly “the hard problems that we need to solve.”

“What we can do is deploy projects that the public sector may not be able to.  We are able to take the initial risk and test what works. It’s of utmost importance to ECF that we engage across the community and identify as many potential partners as possible and work to see their goals in our own so that we really are a collaborative city.  We are driving innovation with purpose.  Instead of knowing the system doesn’t work very well, we want to work with everyone in that system to improve it.”