Keeping on track – but not a train in sight

Vehicle-based satellite navigations systems (Sat Nav), which first started to emerge in the early 1980s, now represent a huge global market. In Europe alone sales in 2009 exceeded €1.5 billion. Many of the leading brands have become household names. For example, Garmin with global sales of $3.5 billion (www.garmin.com) and TomTom with global sales of $1.5 billion, in 2009 (www.tomtom.com). Not surprisingly, as the market grew so did both the number and size of suppliers – competition was very intense.

The systems rely on a Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking device, which can determine the location of a vehicle, person or anything else for that matter! The location is regularly recorded and transmitted to a central database using mobile cellular, radio, or satellite technologies. The position of a device can be displayed on a map in real-time or recorded to identify movements or routes. Whilst, we are familiar with car-based Sat Nav systems they have many other applications. From surveying to monitoring and from climbing to tourism.

The market for personal tracking has also begun to emerge particularly as a result of increased functionality of mobile phones. Such as, the Nokia N95 and Apple iPhone.  Specialist phone applications became available to take advantage of these new GPS-based features. For example, the LocoBlog mobile phone application and web site supported location-based mobile photo blogging. As users blog and upload images their location is tracked and displayed on website (www.locoblog.com).

The Apple iPhone 3GS, launched in 2009, provided a built-in digital compass with GPS technologies to find the direction of travel to orientate of maps. This service used GPS, Wi-Fi and mobile network masts to identify the exact location of mobile devices. This high-level functionality was incorporated into new iPhone Apps, many of which were developed independently. By March 2010 over 2,600 iPhones Apps that used GPS were available.

With so much competition surely gaps in the market wouldn’t go unnoticed by the larger players for long. They could expect to indentify an unmet consumer need and use their considerable resources to address it quickly. Perhaps this is why it was so surprising that Sara Murray was able to develop and launch her ‘buddi’ product and service under their radar (www.buddi.co.uk). Sara developed the ‘buddi’ after her daughter went missing in a supermarket and she had no way of knowing where she had gone. Sara could not find any product on the market that provided a discrete way of tracking vulnerable children. She developed a new device which was small enough to be worn discretely yet powerful enough to provide reassurance.

Like Sat Nav systems and mobile phones the ‘buddi’ used GPS technology to track people and combine this with emergency support. This kind of tracking device may be equally useful for vulnerable elderly people or lone workers as it is for children. Sara Murray was awarded Best Female Entrepreneur 2009 by the BT Business Essence of the Entrepreneur awards (www.essenceoftheentrepreneur.co.uk).

I think Sara has got that entrepreneurial ability to spot a good idea through having a personal experience. But, what makes her different from most people is realising that this was a real opportunity and then obtaining the resources to take it to market. I can’t help thinking that this won’t be her only enterprise!

Dr Nigel Lockett
Director of Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management (CEIM)
www.bradford.ac.uk/ceim
www.nigellockett.com