Space and finance companies come together to build nature-based solutions

Luca Budello, Knowledge Transfer Manager, Geospatial Insights and Andy Bennett, Knowledge Transfer Manager, Space, would like to celebrate the 18 startups who pitched their innovative solutions, marking the culmination of the Ignite Lab: Space for Nature & Biodiversity.

Posted on: 18/04/2024

Six weeks ago, Innovate UK Business Connect, the Satellite Applications Catapult and NatWest brought together Earth Observation (EO) startups and experts from the financial sector to start a roadmap for the creation of scalable Nature Based Solutions (NBSs), products and services. With a focus on user-centred design and system mapping, together, we helped 18 startups to re-think their technology starting with a ‘problem to be solved’ in the financial sector.

Programme highlights

The pitch event was the climax of an intense six-week journey where 18 startups were armed with tools, resources, and expert guidance to integrate system thinking into their nature and biodiversity products for the financial sector. This event provided a unique networking platform across finance, technology, and ecology domains, to tackle one of the most complex challenges we face in society:

Transforming financial practices for a sustainable, profitable future – one that preserves nature and sees Net Zero as an opportunity for building a resilient financial sector against climate and nature risks.

Read: How Earth Observation is Shaping Sustainable Finance

The startups’ showcase

Each of the 18 startups brought unique ideas to the table, demonstrating how EO data can transform our approach to environmental and financial challenges. From innovative climate risk assessment tools to biodiversity monitoring technologies and nature-based solutions, their goals are as diverse as they are inspiring.

Ignite Labs Ecosystem

  • Overview

    Innovations supporting the identification, monitoring, reporting and verification of biodiversity gains due to the new Biodiversity Net Gain regulations in England.

  • Overview

    Innovations that support the development of voluntary credits akin to carbon credits.

  • Overview

    Innovations that help to identify, monitor and verify the development of nature based solutions, such as forestry and peatland restoration projects.

  • Overview

    Innovations supporting nature and biodiversity positive agricultural practices, including monitoring and innovative financial tools.

  • Overview

    Innovative tools that measure the changes in the stock and condition of ecosystems.

  • Overview

    Innovations that support the needs of corporates and financial services to report against frameworks such as Taskforce for Nature Related Financial Disclosures (TNFD).

  • Overview

    Innovations that measure the direct or indirect risks and benefits of products on biodiversity.

Creativity and innovation

Gentian, the winner of the pitch competition, uses a machine learning algorithm and remote sensing data to accurately monitor biodiversity for climate adaptation, green infrastructure, and tracking and reporting land use change. With a focus on infrastructure developers, landowners, real estate, Gentian’s solution is particularly relevant in England with the need to deliver and measure Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG).

Watermarq, on the other hand, has helped developed a novel framework for valuing water. Critical to human wellbeing, ecosystems, and economic development, water is chronically undervalued across the world. To achieve this goal, Watermarq generates decision-useful intelligence on water availability, quality, access, and pricing to support investment and collective action for water security.

These are just two examples of the many solutions that were pitched on the day. Creativity was a standout for me with a couple of mentions going to CreditNature, which is aiming to build a completely new asset class based on nature recovery powered by their proprietary Natural Asset Recovery Investment Analytics framework, and TerraGrid, a risk management platform for wildfire monitoring aimed at insurance, financial markets, corporates, landowners and governments.

Daniel Gibbs, Climate Propositions Manager at NatWest, well describes the programme:

It’s exciting and boundary-pushing innovators, which has helped us understand some of the possibilities for the short and medium-term around Nature and Biodiversity. We are looking forward to conversations with Gentian as the winner of the Lab, and what opportunities that will open.

Participant perspectives

Hearing from the participants themselves, it’s clear that the Ignite Lab wasn’t just about developing a pitch for the financial sector. It was a platform to develop a mindset rooted in system thinking and end-users’ design.

A space to understand the complexity of the socio-economic system and experiment with new value propositions. The true challenge is in crafting user-focused products that scale to customer needs. Testament for the value of the programme comes from our cohort of innovators.

Ian Gardiner and James Cryer from Aequatic shared their experience with Ignite Labs, emphasising how the programme refined their critical approach to problem-solving:

The Ignite Labs programme was helpful for us to frame the way we thought critically about the problems that we were trying to address and for whom. So much so, by incorporating stakeholder feedback and the Ignite Labs sessions, we shifted our focus towards collaborating directly with companies to tackle their nature and Scope 3 challenges. The programme was well-timed for the current stage of our development.

Thomas Fenal and Jamie Rhodes from Gentian the Ignite Lab was transformative:

The focus on user-centred design in the application of satellite imagery and AI for biodiversity monitoring struck a deep chord with us. It highlighted the importance of designing solutions that are not only technologically advanced but also accessible and meaningful to our users, policymakers and various other stakeholders. It was a powerful reminder that at the heart of technological innovation lies the potential to connect people more closely with the natural world.

Ciaran Raymer from Neural Alpha reflected positively on the process, noting that

We greatly appreciated the diverse workshops and networking events provided in the Space for Nature & Biodiversity series. For us, it was an outstanding chance to connect with potential future partners – organisations whose complementary and synergistic contributions could eventually align with our increasingly ambitious projects.

The role of EO in Finance

At Innovate UK Business Connect, we champion innovation, supporting companies to connect, collaborate, launch and scale. We understand that the success of technology adoption is rooted in designing solutions that meet the needs of end-users.

EO data alone isn’t a complete solution; it’s a critical layer for understanding climate and nature risks. The true test is crafting products that address real pain points, ready for customers to use meaningfully. It’s about transforming our insights into the planet’s health into smarter, sustainable financial strategies.

For funding opportunities, read: Funding for Nature Finance (using earth observation)

Reflecting on the event, we’re inspired by the collective drive towards innovation. The financial sector stands on the brink of a transformative era, with new regulations catalysing new markets for sustainable finance. Integrating spatial intelligence is There’s a readiness for change, and now we need the collaborative space to bring these innovations to life.

Ignite Labs stands as a testament to what can be achieved when tech innovators and the financial sector collaborate on tackling nature finance. We are committed to evolving this initiative into a full-scale accelerator.

If you work in the financial sector and looking to solve problems in nature and climate finance, or if you’re an innovator seeking to scale your tech solution, connect with us to discuss how we can support accelerating your innovation journey.

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