April 4, 2019

Four British startups graduate from GCHQ’s “secret” spy school

First ever cohort of GCHQ's Manchester startup programme tackle social isolation, recruitment, shopping behaviour and gadget automation.

Carly Minsky

3 min read

GCHQ Wayra accelerator demo day (credit: Wayra)

Four UK startups have just graduated from GCHQ’s first ever engineering accelerator, with one closing a six-figure deal during the programme.

The UK’s national intelligence agency incubated the startups at “an undisclosed location” in Manchester, providing them with rare access to top-secret security expertise and technological resources.

None of the four startups in the accelerator, run jointly with telecommunications company O2’s innovation arm Wayra, work specifically on security or intelligence, instead covering recruitment, consumer gadgets, shopper behaviour and social isolation.

This accelerator has brought new thinking to our engineering team and new minds into our national security community.

GCHQ director general for technology, who cannot be named for security reasons, said that the intelligence agency’s software engineers had hugely benefited from working alongside Jobseekrs, Locometric, PlaceDashboard and Y?Not.

“This accelerator has brought new thinking to our engineering team and new minds into our national security community. And it has shown that we can deliver more for our mission if we work this way.”

“[The startups] have helped us tap into a new seam of ingenuity. There is a thriving ecosystem around us here and it is great to be a growing part of it. We will see more of that in action as GCHQ starts to expand here this year.”

Big data startup PlaceDashboard raised significant investment during the three-month programme and aims to increase the number of city councils using its retail behaviour insight platform from 20 to 50 by the end of the year.

Technical director Paul Sanders said: “Working with GCHQ experts has enabled us to transform the relationships we have with our clients and unlocked endless possibilities in how we can apply new technologies including AI and machine learning, which will lead to the roll out of a new product range in the next 12 months.”

Jobseekrs, which claims to be “the world’s first video interactive job-site using psychometric culture-fit”, onboarded 10 new strategic partners, boosted its valuation to £1m and launched a beta product with more than 15 companies in Manchester.

Home gadget automation startup Locometric, whose founder Max Christian previously created a successful home-scanning floorplan generator app, tightened its relationship with Apple and launched its 3D home gadget control app Cabin in the US.

Cofounder of meetup app Y?Not, Richard Tate, said the accelerator helped the team validate their concept for a secure service helping people make new social connections in person.

“During the Wayra UK & GCHQ programme we had some absolutely wonderful support and advice from some of the very best in the industry,” he said.

“We were introduced to a number of strategic partners that we are building relationships with, some of which may lead to long-term collaborations that will benefit the Y?Not business and our future customers.”


Since partnering with Wayra and security company Cisco, GCHQ has expanded the focus of its startup programmes from security problems to commercial products across many more applications.

The Manchester engineering accelerator is GCHQ’s second startup programme, following the cybersecurity accelerator, split between the London-based National Cyber Security Centre and and GCHQ’s headquarters in Cheltenham.