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Big Data: This MBA’s Legal Tech Startup Is Helping Businesses Get Ready For GDPR

Claire Banwell Spencer’s startup provides the software to ensure organizations comply with the EU’s new data protection laws. She's just raised $330,000 in angel investment

Thu Sep 14 2017

“Have you ever found a problem in your organization that there wasn’t a solution for?”

That was the question posed to Claire Banwell Spencer during a startup weekend at Cranfield School of Management. Four months into her full-time MBA, surrounded by budding b-school entrepreneurs, she got her light bulb moment.

A lawyer, with 15 years of experience in the corporate world, Claire was group head of compliance at a leading UK property management company when she started looking for software to help her firm deal with data privacy issues. She struggled to find one piece of software that did everything she needed.

So, Claire came up with the idea for Data Solver, an integrated privacy management software which enables organizations to comply with the privacy issues emerging from big data.

There’s a pressing need. On May 25th 2018, the new General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) will come into effect, designed to let individuals control how their data is used. The legislation will apply to any organization globally that processes or controls the personal data of European Economic Area (EEA) citizens.

The GDPR moves away from a tick-box approach to a more principled regime. Data protection will become a board level responsibility. Firms face fines of up to 4% of global annual turnover, or 20 million euros, for failure to comply. Claire’s legal technology—legal tech—startup provides the software to help companies make sure they comply with the new legislation.

Claire pitched her idea for Data Solver at Cranfield’s startup weekend and got to the final. She met her co-founder on the Cranfield MBA. Now, she’s based in Cranfield’s Business Incubation Centre (CUBIC). She’s just raised £250,000 ($330,000) in angel funding for her business. She’s looking to expand, touring Silicon Valley, and aiming for $1million in investment.

Where are you at right now with your business?

We have our software going out to our beta testers, and due to launch in the open market in November. We’ve had a huge amount of interest from organizations. In five years, we’d like to be the premier choice for privacy management software globally.

We had quite a lot of issues around data protection in my old organization. With the GDPR coming through, I knew it was going to get worse. I see it as the perfect opportunity.

Why is the GDPR important?

By 2015, 7.9 zettabytes of info were stored electronically—that’s the equivalent of 271 billion iPhone 7s filled to capacity. By 2020, that’s expected to grow by a further 4,300%.

The growth of data has huge business advantages, but we’ve also got a very big data sharing tension, where only one in four adults trust organizations with their personal data. We’re in a situation where we’ve got the growth of big data and the Internet of Things (IoT), but people are starting to hide their data—everyone I know has a spam email account.

To actually take advantage of the technology and the data, we have to get consumers to trust organizations with their data—this is where the GDPR has a real place to play. I see it not just about risk avoidance, but about improved data quality and consumer trust.

Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at Cranfield?

Prior to doing the MBA, I was a lawyer and head of compliance for a large property company. I’d reached head of legal when I was 29, and I got to a point five years later when I was thinking about what to do next.

Do you just move from job to job in different companies? Or, do you do something more? I’ve always enjoyed a challenge, so I decided to do an MBA. Cranfield had a much greater focus on organizational behavior than I had found in other MBA schools. It’s focus on leadership and understanding your impact in organizations really stood out.

Why should entrepreneurs do an MBA?

I’m also part of the Entrepreneurial Spark program—the biggest business incubator in the UK. Most people coming through that don’t have MBAs. I think the difference with MBA holders is the level of confidence when it comes to taking a risk. The commercial awareness of MBAs is so much higher, and having that business school support network behind you makes a huge difference.

If I hadn’t gone to Cranfield, I wouldn’t have gone to the startup weekend in the first place. I would never have met my co-founder, and I don’t think I would have done this on my own.

Cranfield gave us a huge amount of mentorship and support. The Cranfield seed fund invested £15,000 ($20,000) in our business idea, which allowed us to develop our MVP. Cranfield put us in front of known investors, and one of our three business angels is a Cranfield MBA alum.