The Rail Innovation Group is an independent not-for-profit community.
The Group has 3 roles:
1. Providing a neutral space for cross industry collaboration
– our Meet Ups.
2. Helping rail adapt & prepare for future mobility services
– our Recognised Innovation Scheme.
3. Finding & promoting new types of suppliers
The rail industry is complex...
We don’t believe that tech innovators should be expected to understand & overcome the industry’s structure & varied processes to develop new products & solutions. There is a pool of rail professionals & small companies who have successfully navigated the industry’s barriers to deliver past & future projects. With their experience, network & knowledge of how the rail industry works, we can help tech companies in their early steps into the industry. There’s always a risk that people within established industries start to think that ‘Innovation’ is being done to them not for them.
The role of organisations & communities such as The Rail Innovation Group is to build an understanding of how new tech can be an enabler to offer a better service & to bring the industry along the journey – that’s why we focus on bringing people together at our events: to facilitate knowledge sharing, network building & understanding.
One Big Circle first joined Rail Innovation Group in July 2019 to become involved with the innovators and explorers of the rail industry, to engage with and learn from them. Within weeks we were presenting at the Start Up Rail event in Bristol. We made excellent contacts from there resulting in a live trial for AIVR with a train operator and are having further exploratory conversations as a result. We have also been awarded a spot in the ‘Recognised Innovation Scheme’ – a great endorsement of the work we are doing with intelligent video in rail. Being part of Rail Innovation Group has helped accelerate our work within the rail industry and we are delighted to be part of such a dynamic and exciting group.
Emily Kent, Founder, One Big Circle.
2016 – Our Origin
The Rail Innovation Group began as a small group of people from the rail & tech sector keen to see change happen on rail. After a few ad hoc conversations (rants/moans) we thought we should do something to help make change so we began with a workshop to ask, ‘what can we do to improve rail’. We realised that we should embrace culture change within rail & provide a welcoming first contact for start ups looking to supply to rail.
We met over a few months to workshop the challenge we all faced to deliver innovation within our work. This naturally this lead to our monthly Meet Ups as we became a community that looked forward to meeting up regularly.
We met monthly throughout 2017 regularly welcoming members from the Young Rail Professionals to make sure we bought rail’s young talent along the journey. Our numbers grew & we realised that rather than work through our current constraints, the Group needed to hear inspiring stories of how people had succeeded in bringing change or new products into the sector.
The knowledge & insight provided by the Meet Ups has been transformational for both rail & tech people who’ve attended – we’ve even seen some great business partnerships develop at the events.
By 2018 we were ready to go BIG with our vision so we arranged The Rail Innovation Group Forum where we bought 20 start up companies & invited people from across the rail industry to come & see what their tech had to offer. For us, this was a massive event where we got to show a huge rail audience the amazing companies that had joined our community.
The momentum grew throughout 2018 with our Meet Ups growing ever more popular. We made new friends along the way & could see the impact our neutral space was having to bring the two industries together.
In 2019 we decided to build on our presence within the sector to formally endorse people or products that had the potential to help in the development of new solutions for rail’s future so we introduced our Recognised Innovation Scheme.
We also partnered with Hitachi to create the first Start Up Rail event in Newcastle. This was our first outreach day where we visited a tech community to provide an insight on the opportunities available in the rail sector & allow potential start up entrants to make contacts amongst our invited rail colleagues.
We started 2020 with a high-profile launch of our Start Up Rail national tour to discover new start up talent in hubs across the UK. Just days before our first stop in Glasgow all our in person events had to be cancelled. We paused that programme for the duration of Covid and had a big sigh over a lot of abandoned work. Like other organisations we moved online, developing our Munch & Learn virtual meet ups; however, we see that networking is so key to establishing connections & making progress in the sector that we arranged in person events whenever guidance would allow. Following a few stops & starts, we were able to re-start our main Meet Up model in September 2021.
Our membership actually grew over the Covid period as media & government actions reinforced the essential role that the rail & the mobility sector had in maintaining both the passenger & freight distribution systems. Building on this interest, we undertook our study into the role of the rail network in the distribution of all types of items, leading to the publication in May 2021 of our Parcels as Passengers report.
2022 saw a full line up of Meet Ups, with a notable visit to our friends in Bristol as well as travelling to trade fairs across Europe to support our members in their export journey. Our conversations at these events identified the challenge of innovating within different industry structures across different countries - there's always more to do! With some new international members & a newly identified need to help members prepare for a world of data, we entered 2023 with a buzz in our step. Through detailed engagement with our members, we published our report Improving the Innovation Funding Ecosystem in April 2023, designed to kick-start a wider discussion of how funders might target their support to deliver more dynamic & responsive innovation cycles.
Through this journey, one thing has remained constant – the Monster Munch!
“The Rail Innovation Group offers a fun, friendly network of like-minded companies and professionals. Since joining as a Founding Member it’s been amazing for our company, supporting us to expand and find new opportunities within and outside the railway.
Ben Craze, CEO & Co-Founder, Infinitive Group