The government is encouraging enterprises to partner with startups. IBM listened and asked Plexal to help them get it right. Here’s what happened next…

The government knows that small companies can create jobs and solve the big challenges faced by society and business.

Its Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy says that regaining technological advantage is a top priority.

And unlocking startup innovation at home is the answer.

In fact, it wants to direct 33% of central government procurement to startups, whether directly or indirectly, by 2022.

But enabling startups to become a direct supplier to the public sector is only part of the answer – especially since smaller firms struggle to meet the requirements of government procurement processes.


So how can we encourage large enterprises to collaborate with smaller firms, while protecting all parties?





IBM wanted to identify commercial ways of engaging with startups outside of its network.

We worked with IBM to identify challenges that both mattered to the company and aligned with the technology challenges the government is prioritising.

We identified a startup partner, designed a programme, managed the contracts and developed a proof of concept.

Our first challenge has ended, and we’re now working on the second of four challenges.




We worked closely with IBM to understand the policy landscape, its objectives and where the market was going.

We identified four challenge areas, which helped us define:

– what kind of startups we wanted to work with

– the parameters of the partnership

– the goals and key performance indicators



Our first challenge lasted eight weeks and was aimed at developing a solution that can create automated human and machine-readable reports of events captured by video feeds.

The public sector’s need to keep people safe using CCTV is challenging because video feeds can’t be monitored 24/7. Teams use the human resources and devices at their disposal to catch, interpret and act on threats quickly – but they don’t catch everything.

IBM wanted to find out if there was an opportunity to build on or adapt game-changing technology from the startup ecosystem. It also wanted to explore the potential of training a model using the metadata from a feed.

“Our business development teams have thoroughly enjoyed working with Plexal on all of the proofs of value and we’ve learned a lot about a market we thought we knew quite well but have realised we don’t. Our technical teams have welcomed the chance to have the freedom to think, discuss, interact and work with new, like-minded and highly motivated startups. We have been hugely impressed with who they have met and what has been produced in compressed timescales.

We have reached agreement on all technical problems, encountered no commercial or financial issues and together feel very positive about the next phases for each proof of value.”

– Ed Gillett, client partner, IBM


We scanned the startup ecosystem – including the startups in Plexal’s network – and identified a longlist of 29 companies that could feasibly address our first challenge.

We engaged with those companies to determine whether they were ready and willing to embark on an innovation programme with IBM.

Using a scoring system that we created specifically for the programme, we narrowed our list down to two companies.

Together with IBM, we selected UK-based computer vision startup Pimloc. We designed a programme that would help Pimloc and IBM explore how they could combine their technologies and test potential solutions in live environments.

“Plexal allowed us to move quickly to contractual terms so we could focus our efforts on the collaborative development project  with IBM. It was a great way of bringing together different players in the ecosystem to create new solutions – with appropriate IP protections in place and ongoing support with joint business development activities.”

– Simon Randall, CEO and co-founder, Pimloc


We managed the contracting and onboarding process to make it possible for Pimloc to be paid for its proof of concept, which reduced one of the biggest risks startups face. We will do the same for the startups addressing IBM’s remaining three challenges.

We worked closely with Pimloc, advising the team on intellectual property issues. We closely guided them through the client’s procurement process and legal requirements so there were no surprises.

Plexal takes no equity or IP from either IBM or the startups taking part.


The proof of concept the teams developed will be presented to the government. IBM and Pimloc can also use it as a business development tool. They can use it together or solo, that’s up to them. They are also exploring opportunities for more collaboration in the future, whether that’s by including the startup in IBM’s supply chain or exploring more opportunities for technology co-creation.

Plexal is currently working with IBM on identifying partners for our second challenge, which will focus on using AI and automation for surveillance and anomaly detection.


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Plexal’s based at Here East: a tech campus in east London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. We’re a five-minute walk from Hackney Wick train station, or you can catch the free shuttle bus from Stratford train, underground and bus stations.


14 East Bay Lane, The Press Centre, Here East, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London, E20 3BS


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