It was while buying his house in Stamford Brook nine years ago that tech entrepreneur Nigel Walley had his ‘Eureka!’ moment.
His filing cabinet was filling up with plans, reports, utility bills, letters and solicitors’ documents. What, he asked himself, had become of the new paperless age?
Chimni was born - a secure online digital ‘dashboard’ for every home and neighbourhood in the land.
Like all good ideas, the concept is simple. Chimni aims to free householders from the need to store mountains of paperwork, while in the process creating a fascinating historical archive for each house and flat.
It’s one of the most exciting new tech start-ups in Hammersmith & Fulham, and the council is now exploring ways to support it, such as supplying information on bin collections, streamlining payments of council tax and providing easy routes to report fly-tipping.
Chimni is the latest addition to the borough’s booming tech district which includes the likes of Novartis, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies and the Nasdaq-listed Autolus.
“It’s a very exciting prospect, and we’re proud to see a local resident contributing to the wave of tech innovation taking place in the borough,” said Cllr Andrew Jones, H&F Cabinet Member for the Economy and the Arts.
“Local entrepreneurs like Nigel are helping to establish H&F as one of the leading destinations in the country for the bio-tech, digital and creative industries.”
Chimni is an example of the council’s Industrial Strategy (pdf 2.57MB) which aims to make H&F the best place to live, work and play in Europe.
The council’s Industrial Strategy is designed to harness the opportunities unlocked by the growth and development in the borough so all residents share in the prosperity of a booming H&F.
“Every utility company and insurance firm wants to have a digital relationship with householders, so there’s a real need for an easy-to-use online dashboard and toolkit to handle the chaotic mess of apps, passwords and competing services,” said Nigel, 55, who has run a digital media consultancy in west London for 20 years.
He sees ‘going paperless’ as just the first step, with boundless potential further down the line for Chimni’s use as a tool to revolutionise the way we run our homes.
“We bought this place eight or nine years ago,” said Nigel, in the kitchen of his home in Emlyn Road, Stamford Brook. “Everyone is moving away from having filing cabinets full of paper, but the big moment when you realise the need is when you’re buying or selling a house, or having significant building work done.”
Different local authorities provide access to their planning data in different ways. Add in all the utilities and service providers, the Post Office and Ordnance Survey, and you end up with a welter of complicated and confusing digital routes to the information about your home.
“One man I know has 23 different apps,” said Nigel, who says that the need to simplify is becoming more urgent by the day.
Chimni collates the data relating to each home. A trial involving 500 volunteer households in H&F is well underway, unearthing fresh benefits for the use of streamlined house information. By the summer, 5,000 households will be testing the software.
“Mark Zuckerberg (the Facebook co-founder) got started with one university, then a second,” said Nigel. “We’re doing the same with residents groups and local councils! Hammermsith & Fulham is the starting point.”
The start-up is also working with local estate agents and residents’ associations, with shareable local information made widely accessible, while the viewing of digitised private and personal papers is restricted to individual householders.
“I’m a historian at heart,” said Nigel, demonstrating the way the life of his own home can be charted on digitised maps and its history celebrated with photos of the neighbourhood, information on previous owners and occupants, environmental data and Land Registry details.
The Chimni website team currently consists of Nigel, two UK developers and seven other developers, but he is one of a handful of start-up firms working with the Land Registry to roll out digital house profiles across the UK.
Nigel sees potential to monetise his online house management tool by, for instance, enabling householders to switch utility suppliers by comparing energy prices, or by introducing homeowners to trusted local traders and suppliers.
Nigel, who used his own house as a guinea pig to explore the information agencies stored, believes regular ‘innovation afternoons’ at the town hall would nurture and encourage other start-ups. “Concepts like ours are pushing councils to innovate quicker,” he said.
You can find out more on the Chimni website.
Are you a local entrepreneur?
H&F Council is running its regular Hammersmith & Fulham Means Business event on Wednesday 3 April at Hammersmith Town Hall in King Street from 9am to 5pm. On offer is one-to-one advice on sales, funding, marketing, accountancy and law, as well as networking and seminars.
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