A Tech City startup that brought digital adverts to taxi rooftops in cities across the world is set to invest in a research and development hub in London, now it has outgrown its Google Campus home.

Eyetease’s founder and CEO, Richard Corbett, is famed for changing UK law to accommodate his business plans. It took Corbett almost five years, but in 2012 he was given the green light to place digital adverts on the top of London’s black cabs.  

Eyetease can be seen on top of black cabs zipping around London streets

Eyetease now holds contracts with some of the largest digital advertising suppliers, including US tech giant Verifone, and boasts a turnover of $4.5 million a year.

Now, Eyetease wants to bring the technology underpinning its free cab wifi and digital advertising business back in-house.

Corbett told Techworld the startup will move from its Google Campus home to a larger hub in Bethnal Green, East London. 

Google Campus

Google Campuslaunched in April 2012, now has more than tens of thousands of members from over 60 countries. In 2013, it revealed that its startups had raised £34 million in funding altogether.  Eyetease set up shop at the Silicon Roundabout campus in 2012, when the business was turning over a little over $30,000. 

"Over the past 3 years we have worked closely with Google members on a number of initiatives which have helped us grow to the business we are today," Corbett said.

"Its not just a shared office space but a community of entrepreneurs, investors and media folk which helps promote growth internally."

New R&D hub

Eyetease is investing a “six figure” sum on the R&D facility alone, and hopes to hire five engineers who can bring “at least one new product a year” to market, Corbett said.

“We are accelerating new product development and innovation. You can’t preach it without investing more in it. We want to own all the development side of things including hardware and software, mechanical and electrical design work.

"Now we are self-sufficient, debt-free and profitable we want a team of engineers who work day-in and day-out building a new product every year,” Corbett said.

Eyetease’s wifi and advertising products, dubbed CabWifi and iTaxitop, were funded through money borrowed from friends and family, rather than venture capital and were built “on a shoestring,” Corbett told Techworld. The firm can now afford to bring its technology and hardware in house so it can benefit from owning the IP.

The iTaxitop that can be seen zipping around London roads currently provides location, time, demographic and weather sensitive adverts to cities.

The iTaxitop ©Eyetease

Do you need IP to succeed?

Corbett said any fledgling startups should consider the importance of intellectual property (IP) especially in the technology industry.

“Having IP is really, really important. If you don’t own it, it is easy to manufacture or you don’t have contracts with the largest suppliers someone could easily steal your thunder, spend more on marketing and trump you.”

Lack of engineers

Eyetease, which just picked up the HP Go Global exporter of the year award, says recruiting in the UK can be difficult.

“There are good engineers in the UK, but we don’t have good managers or processes like in Japan and Germany. They are more expensive economies to manufacture in, but they compete on the global market.”

Google’s driverless cars

The future of advert-funded taxi journeys is an exciting prospect. Google, whose bread and butter is digital advertising, was granted a patent for the idea last year. Now that Google Ventures is in talks with taxi disruptor Uber, it is conceivable that taxis may be about to get a lot cheaper for city dwellers.

Corbett said that Google’s movements into the driverless car space didn’t pose a threat to Eyetease, "but an opportunity."

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