Envirocache is a mobile app that has been developed by a pair of S5 schoolgirls, Mari-Ann Ganson and Ellora James, both studying at Wick High School. It is an interactive educational toolkit that will allow users to upload walking routes with tagged plants/wildlife and facts about them. Children and their families can then walk the routes, trying to locate the plants/wildlife – like a nature treasure hunt. The goal to ‘gamify’ walks means the toolkit will have virtual medals/badges for achievements and leader boards as incentives to get children outside, active and educated.
The original team of four girls came up with the idea when entering the Apps for Good competition. They identified that the rise in childhood obesity is closely linked with the increase in technology available to children and were passionate about putting that technology to better use.
Although the app didn’t make it through to the finals of the competition, Ellora applied for the ‘Outbox Incubator’, an EU wide incubator program comprising of funding, mentoring and support for girls aged between 11-22 with startups and interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. This programme gave her that extra nudge and inspiration to progress with Envirocache.
Ellora and Mari-Ann were looking to further develop this interactive educational toolkit, which is aimed at primary age children, in order to take to market.
The team got in touch with Trudy Morris, CEO of the Caithness Chamber of Commerce, for advice on how best to proceed in developing their idea. Trudy contacted Interface who, after issuing a search to various universities, matched them up with Dr John Isaacs from the School of Computing Science and Digital Media at Robert Gordon University (RGU). Also part of the development team from RGU was student Alexa Noel.
RGU have expertise in application development where specific user interface, user experience and communication problems exist. The app and associated toolkit provide a number of challenges in this area including working with children and communication in remote/low service areas. Dr Isaacs also has previous experience and publications in the area of environmental information visualisation and data collection, including connected communities. He has in the past worked with SEPA (Scottish Environment Protection Agency) and Scottish countryside trusts and therefore brings a novel combination of both practical skills and knowledge of environmental issues together with technical expertise on application development, to the collaboration.
To show commitment to the project, the Envirocache team were looking to incorporate the business but, as they were both only 15 at the time, had to wait a few weeks as the minimum age for a director of a company in Scotland is 16. They have since become a registered company, with the Caithness Chamber of Commerce registered as the Company Secretary. The company is supported by Trudy Morris, who is providing in-kind mentoring. Trudy has led the Chamber in Caithness since 2009, leading and running a number of business support programmes for local businesses, business start-ups and young people.
To fund the project taking their product to the next (proof of concept) phase, RGU and Envirocache successfully applied for a Scottish Funding Council Innovation Voucher, administered by Interface.
Company - The key benefit to the company is to have a product which it can take to market. Working with the University has also benefited the company in terms of developing their own, in-house expertise – helping them to gain key skills with regards to development, testing and project management.
Partner Organisations - Once the project is complete, the company will be able to market the product and will do this through the use of social media advertising and working with organisations such as the National Trust, Forestry Commission and NHS. This will give publicity to these organisations as well as to Envirocache and the university partner.
Consumers - Users will benefit greatly from using Envirocache. Children and their families can participate in family outings, become more active (which will help them to lead a healthier lifestyle), and increase their knowledge about the natural world around them. Schools can also benefit from using Envirocache as it can be used for educational outings and may tie in with certain projects and the national curriculum.
Scottish Economy - Success for the project (and the company) will bring economic benefits with regards to job creation and taxation.
There are also likely to be a host of secondary benefits to the Scottish economy should the product succeed. For example, In 2007/08, the total societal cost of obesity was estimated to be between £600 million and £1.4 billion, and other projects investing in obesity – such as Glasgow Health Walks – have shown a return on investment of £8 for every £1 spent.
The STEM skills gap continues to be an issue for businesses across the UK, and this is in no small part due to the ongoing gender skills gap in STEM subjects. While the success of one small female-led digital company such as Envirocache is not going to address this issue overnight, helping such a company to succeed will bring benefits insofar as the company can provide an inspirational example for other young women keen to enter this sector.
Please note that Interface administers the Innovation Voucher Scheme on behalf of the Scottish Funding Council. All funding applications are reviewed on a case by case basis by the Scottish Funding Council, guidelines can be found here.