The Met Office Collaboration Building.

Using big data to grow small businesses

The University of Exeter is working with the Met Office and other producers of environmental data and R&D to help businesses find new ways to use complex data to create new products and services, in sectors such as environmental resilience, agriculture, marine, smart cities, health and social care, and advanced engineering.

The £6.3 million Environmental Futures and Big Data Impact Lab is a partnership between the University of Exeter, Met Office, Exeter City Futures, University of Plymouth, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Plymouth College of Art and Rothamsted Research.

The Lab lets SME innovators respond to growing demand for innovation and opportunities using environmental data and sophisticated analytics and visualization tools held by the partners, The project will open up access to knowledge, expertise and data assets held by the partners and use these unique strengths to drive forward regional economic growth.

Alberto Arribas, Head of the Informatics Lab for the Met Office said: “We all live in the same planet and we all get affected by weather, pollution, flooding, etc. That means that environmental data and science have great value for a large number of economic sectors. However, using environmental data and science to create useful applications is not easy: science is complex, and data volumes are huge and change rapidly. The Impact Lab changes the situation completely by creating a unique place where all the different elements (science, technology, business) are combined. This will make much easier to develop useful applications from environmental science and data.” (£3.8 million from the ERDF)

By linking SMEs with environmental scientists, data owners, and business support services, the Impact Lab is helping to create an innovation ecosystem which encourages local growth through the creation of new products and services. The Lab will provide the ongoing guidance and resources required to see these innovations through to market success, connecting with the world’s number 1 University business incubation service, SETsquared.

Support available to SMEs includes access to new data sets, new technology and data analytics tools, business and innovation support and joint projects working with statisticians, scientists, designers and academics in a shared working space. There will also be a Challenge Fund to further develop business solutions.

Robert Kathro, Programme Director for the Impact Lab brings a wealth of understanding and experience having held posts as CEO, Director and MD in range of businesses spanning from large corporates to start ups across a range of sectors including  software and digital tech, manufacturing, retail, marine and strategy & operations consulting. He has worked across the UK, Europe and the USA.  Kathryn White joins Robert as Innovation Manager for the Exeter Impact Lab, she brings wide ranging international experience from within the innovation sector and is focused on developing specific collaborative work packages between each client SME and the partners.

Speaking of the Impact Lab and its opportunities for the region Robert said: “Our region has great potential to become a recognised cluster for Environmental Futures in its broadest sense and the capability to exploit the big data that underpins it. The building blocks to capitalise on this potential are in place. We now need to compete globally using our core strengths to create value as the world becomes ever more digital, urbanisation continues and we all decarbonise. I plan to use my skills and experience to help make it happen and I know Kathryn shares the same objectives.”

The Lab is open for business and Robert and Kathryn are actively seeking companies to work with and can be contacted at and

Date: 22 January 2018

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