29 November 2017 Startup 2018: The companies and issues to watch

Camden: Creating a hyperconnected district

Startup 2018: A company has bought 16 acres of Camden and is, somewhat controversially, transforming it into a highly ‘connected’ neighbourhood.

Camden isn’t like it used to be. In 2014 the Israeli billionaire Teddy Sagi bought the famous Camden Stables Market. He then bought Camden Wharf, Camden Lock Village, and several buildings on Camden High Street, and has plans to buy remaining shares in the rest of the development. His company, Market Tech, now owns 16 acres of real estate in Camden – and a further four in Holborn.

Market Tech is a new breed of property developer: Sagi isn’t just building shiny co-working spaces and revamping rotting markets. He’s building a small and private city state – a hyper-connected network of businesses, offices, shops, workers, tourists and residents, fuelled and tracked by their landlord.

The clue’s in the name

On Sagi’s Monopoly board is co-working space Labs, whose members can pick up lunch at nearby market stalls run by street food operator Kerb, and go for after-work drinks at cool restaurants that have been encouraged to set-up shop in Camden with reduced rents. Market Tech is responsible for bringing all of these businesses to the area.

Soon, when the neighbouring Hawley’s Wharf development is completed in 2018, people will also be able to go to a cinema and shopping area provided by Sagi. They will even be able to rent a flat from him.

Technology ties all of these elements together. In the co-working spaces, Market Tech’s Labs app lets members book meeting rooms, click-and-collect their online shopping, and order lunch from a nearby restaurant or market stall. In the markets, restaurants and shop owners are encouraged to use the same sales tablets, which can help boost their businesses – and also let Market Tech know how they’re doing on a granular level.

Market Tech is also in talks with data analytics company Minodes about how it can use push notifications and beacon technology to direct people around Camden via its free wifi – highlighting for example, a sale at one retailer, or an offer at a food stall.

Plans to gain such wide-spanning insight into people’s lifestyles might seem Orwellian, but it’s still several levels of data behind what Google and Facebook have on us. ‘People don’t have to use [the Labs app],’ says Catherine Robinson, head of communications at Labs. ‘But it’s designed to make your life and workday easier. It’s better if you do use it. We want it eventually to become a lifestyle app.’

Growing the web

Unlike a typical co-working enterprise, Market Tech also invests in its tenants, which to date includes event app Fever and click-and-collect service Redi. The latter has already been incorporated into the Labs app, and it’s easy to see how Fever might follow suit – helping Market Tech understand what people want from events, as well as food and retail.

It helps that it quite literally has ears on the ground. ‘Our community managers hear about everything going on, like companies looking for investment, and then feed it back,’ says Robinson. They can also see how fast companies are growing, and pick up on the soft stuff that other investors would love to know, like a company’s culture.

The same network also highlights what consumers want. The food market was lacking a good pizza offering, says Robinson. ‘Then the Camden Pizza Co just miraculously appeared. We can do that.’

Cult vegan restaurant Temple of Seitan has recently been lured to Camden to open a second site, joining fellow food startups Voodoo Rays and The Cheese Bar as part of a scheme to bring more Londoners as well as tourists to the area.

‘It’s a no-brainer for [Sagi]. It’s all connected via this web which all works together,’ says Robinson.