ENERGIC-OD develops a geospatial data brokering infrastructure throughout Europe. It achieves that through deployment of Virtual Hubs (VHs) – a set of technologies rendering diverse types of geospatial data accessible through a single and easy-to-use API (application programming interface). The purpose of the project is to facilitate the access to geospatial data for SMEs, thus promoting innovativeness and competitiveness in Europe. The project has already implemented five national VHs (in Italy, France, Germany, Poland, and Spain) and one city level VH (in Berlin). The consortium is currently working on unifying them all to be accessible through a single gateway, so called ‘pan-European VH’.
The contest organized between December 2016 and March 2017 was designed to provide the ENERGIC-OD consortium with proof of concept of VHs functioning. Alongside the Veneto Appathon 2016, it made the VH technology open to all SMEs, start-ups, and entrepreneurial students from across the EU. Its purpose was to learn more about the types of applications that users might develop for VHs, together with the accompanying business models (i.e., value propositions, mode of marketing, monetization, etc.). Furthermore, the contest was meant to inform ongoing activities of the consortium in the space of dissemination (who the key audiences for ENERGIC-OD marketing efforts are, and what channels are best for reaching them) and exploitation (how to structure the licensing arrangements, what the pricing structure for the VHs should be, etc.). The consortium also wanted to see whether the technology is understandable to third parties.
Contesting teams produced diverse applications with interesting business models. One application focused on property search using a chat-bot interface (Puntofisso Limited), another pulled together various data (e.g., weather, terrain, pollution) to assist in planning of running routes (RouteRunner), and other still developed a map-based system of rated experiences of student facilities by fellow users (Freshman). Revenue models ranged from freemium, advertising, to software-as-a-service licensing. Some business plans would target European citizens as customers, other focused on business to business markets. One of the key problems experienced by the contestants in relation to their business plans was the discoverability problem – i.e., how to ensure that their application is noticed by potential customers in the thicket of similar applications.
The observations from the contest entries are currently used by the ENERGIC-OD consortium to guide the project activities. Dissemination (WP7) and exploitation (WP8) efforts have been enhanced in the contest’s wake. For the exploitation activities, the partners noticed that it’s better not to charge fees for the access to the data brokered by the VHs, and instead to structure the revenue stream around licensing of the VH technology to third parties. Also, the establishment of a single pan-European VH is important to marketing and user-friendliness of ENERGIC-OD. The consortium learned which components of the VH technology are most popular among the application developers – and which should be made as accessible as possible (GI Suite, web crawler, and crowdsourcing component). Furthermore, the dissemination activities of ENERGIC-OD should assist application developers in overcoming the discoverability challenge. The dissemination should also focus more on informing the ENERGIC-OD networks that the technology of VHs is available for licensing for those parties, who wish to have their private VH instances.