December 2021 marked our 6-year anniversary and, whilst it may be an entrepreneurial cliché, I’m really proud to look back to our early days working as a group of three friends and colleagues and to see how far we have come.
The journey began back in 2011. I met Peter and Yang while designing, building and racing a solar-powered car as part of a student-run project at Cambridge, raising £500,000 to take 20 people to Australia to race it. After graduation we went our separate ways, but we had all caught that entrepreneurial bug. We wanted to start a new project together.
In December 2015 VivaCity was born. We combined our passion for technology with an ambition to make cities smarter, safer and more sustainable. In the early days we were manufacturing sensors in our bedrooms. Today our headcount surpasses 100. It’s been an amazing journey so far and we’re looking forward to what the next chapter brings.
2015/16: The journey Begins
After graduation, we went our separate ways. However, after that entrepreneurial experience of the solar car, we had “the itch” to start something new – and, on 21st December 2015, VivaCity was officially born. After lots of trial and error, manufacturing sensors in our bedrooms, we gradually established our core product, and made our first hires, Steve and Julien, who are still with us today.
We moved into our first shared offices in Old Street courtesy of an accelerator programme, Hacktrain, and installed the first prototype sensor. And not just in the UK – by August, we had a sensor in Dublin too!
By the end of this first year, we had reached almost 10 people. This founding year was crucial in not only allowing us to test our AI techniques and technology in exploring our product, but also in establishing the identity of the company – who did we want to be culturally? How did we want to work together? Many of the core tenets we established back then, around company-wide transparency & autonomy in decision-making, are still with us today and help guide who we want to become.
2017: Picking up speed
In April 2017, we kicked off the VivaMK project, part of Innovate UK’s Smart Cities initiative, which marked our first multi-million-pound contract. Our team of 10 clearly couldn’t deliver something on that scale, and so we brought in investment from Innovate UK and a seed investment round led by Tracsis PLC to grow our team. By November 2017, we had reached 20 people, including our first sales hire. This nascent team needed ever-more space to work in, and so we started subletting a shared office in Kentish Town – the first time that we had actually paid for office space.
2018: Exploring new routes and territories
The start of 2018 saw us land our first contracts directly with local authorities, Oxford and Cambridge, rather than through third parties – it took us having a million-pound turnover to be trusted enough by local authorities to contract with directly. A couple of months later and we had successfully completed our VivaMK contract, having installed a multitude of parking sensors and First-Generation Traffic Sensors across Milton Keynes. Projects to follow included the commencement of a tunnel trial with Highways England in April and the beginning of the Innovate UK funded Smart Junctions project in July – one of our key projects in the Smart City revolution. By October, the team totalled 30 members and we set our sights much further afield. The end of the year saw our first sensor installed outside of Europe, about as far away as we could imagine – in New Zealand.
2019: Finding a home and going beyond
2019 saw us develop as a company and take on new strides in our technology and, crucially, our services. In May, a Customer Success team was formed from our existing Project Management resource, recognising that our work with clients travels on beyond the initial delivery of our sensors. Every journey has its pivotal moments and I see this as one of them. With the work these teams carry out, we started to get client feedback like “VivaCity are a joy to work with” – when you hear that, you know you’re heading in the right direction.
With this new function in place, the team expanded to 40 people by June, and this was joined by a second investment round led by Downing in July 2019. With more members and funds, it was finally time to find our own home. After years of changing locations and sharing space, we found our spot just round the corner from our previous shared offices in Kentish Town, marking the first time we had a space we could call ours. The base really helped us to grow as a team and further evolve our company culture and identity, creating an open, flexible and collaborative working environment (as well as helping with the team socials of course!)
This newfound home allowed us to focus on our development and we reached two key milestones – our first commercial contract with TfL in November and the first junction to be operated using AI in Manchester in January 2020. By March 2020, we had live operations with 15 UK cities or regions.
2020: Adapting to lockdown and welcoming the next chapter
March signalled the world being thrown into lockdown, creating a significant hurdle to be faced by all businesses, whether in early stages or not. Less than a year into our new home and we were not only back to working from home, but also having to manage a business of over 40 people in separate locations and projects happening across the country. Adapting to new conditions, we worked with organisations using our technology to help travel during lockdown, including assessing and facilitating the significant increase in Active Travel. By July 2020, we had live operations with over 30 UK cities or regions, a total doubling under lockdown.
We reached a key milestone and our 5-year birthday! At 49 people, the next hire making us officially a medium sized company – the magic 50…and the journey continues.
2021: A year of growth, growth and more growth
2021 was a BIG year for us. In February we secured £5m of Series A funding which we reinvested to support the expansion of our technology and grow the VivaCity team. When we say ‘grow’ we mean double. We’re now a team of over 100. We were super proud to have won the Queen’s Enterprise Award for Innovation, we returned to in-person events including Highways UK, developed our Smart Junctions technology in Cambridge and Manchester and partnered with companies including Ford and Vaisala to deliver insights and explore new uses for our technology. (You may have also spotted us on BBC Click.)
This meant for an extremely fast-paced and busy year. Our rapidly growing client base meant that recruitment accelerated to support this and thankfully our new hires were happy to get stuck in straight away! And in the midst of all this growth and busyness, we made sure there was time for a much needed company away trip, where we gave Crystal Maze our best shot, attended a Medieval Banquet and (of course) reflected on 2021 and strategised for 2022.
And what 2022 holds for us…
This year we’re looking forward to moving to a larger office (and fingers crossed we’ll actually be able to go there more regularly!), continuing to expand our team, developing our Smart Junctions capabilities further and taking VivaCity overseas. Our overarching aim, as always, is to maximise the value our customers can derive from our technology, focusing on data insights and how we can help build smarter, safer and more sustainable cities.
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