Learn about the mission for the Environmental Futures and Big Data Impact LabPublished: 23rd July 2018

Robert Kathro and Kathryn White are programme director and programme manager respectively for the Environmental Futures and Big Data Impact Lab, a recently launched partnership of seven Devon-based organisations.

Based at the Met Office HPC, and employed by the University of Exeter, the duo also work alongside Rothamsted Research, Exeter City Futures, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, the University of Plymouth, and Plymouth College of Arts as well as the Met office. Launching at the beginning of 2018, Robert and Kathryn have now recruited the full 7 strong team and have established the lab in the Collaboration Suite of the Met Office HPC, alongside the Met Office Informatics lab Team.

Funded for three years, by the European Regional Development Fund, the partners seek to offer solutions for data related problems, specifically for organisations who are focused on one of the region’s smart specialisations. The Lab will form joint teams with SMEs to facilitate access to both expertise within the partner organisations, enabling organisations to work with statisticians, data scientists, modellers, and computer scientists to find technical solutions to business challenges, as well as design and product development specialists and academics. The teams will deliver meaningful results for each client SME. Robert has spent 30 years leading businesses of all sizes, across Europe and the US, working in a range of sectors including digital technology and engineering.

Of his latest role Robert said: “The Impact Lab service is specific to businesses looking for deep technical support to address business opportunities involving big data, data science and environmental futures. It fits into a comprehensive set of business support initiatives that are designed to create growth based on the SW region’s core capabilities.”

Kathryn whose experience includes periods working in London and Silicon Valley as an innovation consultant, recently spearheaded a year-long research project in partnership with the University of Deusto, Spain examining how to build successful innovation eco-systems in different cultures, has her own vision for the future of the lab.  Kathryn said: “I have huge admiration and affinity for entrepreneurs – their bravery and unwillingness to accept the status quo, I love to hear their ideas, passion, and enthusiasm.

Our work seeks to support the individual by creating a collaborative and tech ready business environment, and I hope this will, in part, help to safeguard that environment here in the SW for future generations.” The University of Exeter team also includes three highly skilled Industrial Research Fellows: Dr Ralph Ledbetter, specialising in water science and data analytics; Dr Dmitry Kangin, specialist in machine vision; and Dr Alma Rahat, machine learning and optimisation expert. These three work alongside technical specialists from the other six partner organisations to provide technical support to client businesses. Sally Boland and Lauren Ireland complete the team, working as the Programme Coordinator and Marketing Specialist respectively.

Since the January launch the team have already engaged with 50 businesses and are moving forward with 5-6 projects with 4 projects scheduled to start during July and August.

The team will be launching the first of nine themed challenges in September. Each challenge will feature a ‘bootcamp’ style event, where entrepreneurs can receive immediate feedback on their ideas and assistance to development them further with the aid of the Impact Lab’s team.