Former Cameron adviser launches scheme to get tech start-ups into Whitehall with big-name backers

Written by Rebecca Hill on 4 April 2017 in News

GovStart programme gives small companies the chance to learn from GDS leaders past and present and access part of £320bn global market

GovStart aims to help start-ups work with Whitehall - Photo credit: PA

Daniel Korski, the former deputy head of policy at No10 has teamed up with government, technology and finance experts to launch a programme to help start-ups access the £320bn global govtech market.

The organisation,, launched yesterday, and its team includes ex-Tech City UK director of strategy Caroline Makepeace, former Google and DWP data scientist Calvin Dudek as technology adviser and Camden councillor and digital proponent Theo Blackwell as a policy fellow.

On its website, says that govtech is a “great opportunity” with a global market worth £320bn, a UK procurement spend of £45bn in 2015 and a £5.3bn local government spend on IT, and states its aim as helping start-ups access this.

Its first growth programme, GovStart, offers small businesses guidance in developing their strategy, meeting standards, identifying contacts and bid-writing, with the idea being to increase innovation in the public sector at the same time.

“During my time in No 10, I saw first-hand how much money was wasted on large IT contracts,” Korski said in an interview with trade title TechCrunch.

“Getting more start-ups to solve public problems will make a real difference by allowing new technologies into the public sector to deliver better, cheaper and more easy-to-use public services.”

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The GovStart scheme, which is open for applications now, will see develop an individual growth programme with the start-up in return for 3% equity in the company.

Applicants can work in a range of technology areas, including cloud, legacy modernisation and data analytics, and in any field, and the programme will take place over six months, starting in June. stressed that this is not an accelerator programme, but was “100% focused on helping you do business with the public sector”, and that the scheme would not take two start-ups in the same class.

The start-ups will also receive guidance from experts in government digital, and the website boasts a list of big names in govtech, including two leaders of the Government Digital Service, Kevin Cunnington and Mike Bracken, the Department for Work and Pensions’ chief digital officer Mayank Prakash and the former government chief procurement officer Bill Crothers.

Crothers is also on’s all-star advisory board, which also includes former HMRC digital chief Mark Dearnley, the founder of Google’s artificial intelligence company DeepMind and former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown.

Whitehall has come under increasing pressure to improve its procurement methods, ensure procurement staff understand digital ways of working and help smaller, innovative companies to access the public sector.

And, although the government has pledged that, by 2020, £1 in every £3 spent on procurement will be spent on SMEs, those who supply government with IT solutions remain sceptical - Tim Barnes, the founder of Rain Gods, an incubator for SMEs that want to work with government, recently told a conference that there was “no chance on earth” of hitting this target.

Others have urged the government to focus on making sure its procurement platforms, such as the Digital Marketplace, are fit for purpose.

For instance, many commentators have picked up on tender notices with budgets in excess of £20m, that require companies to provide accounts for the past three years or that ask for experience using PRINCE2.

Daniel Thornton, programme director at the Institute for Government, has said the Digital Marketplace is a “welcome innovation” but that it was “clear it isn’t being used in the right way”.

He suggested that the government needs to work harder on getting departments and agencies to understand and comply with the standards GDS sets.

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Chris Keeler (not verified)

Submitted on 4 April, 2017 - 15:13
How can it possibly be acceptable that the serving leader of the Government Digital Service and the serving CIO of the DWP have committed to support a private company whose sole function is to help companies in which it has an equity stake to win contracts from public bodies? How is this not a conflict of interest for these people? Public procurement is based on the principle of equal treatment. Are Cunnington and Prakash going to provide the same support to any organisation bidding for government contracts as they provide to Korski's stable?

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