Turning Geospatial Skills Into a Business

Mark Altaweel


Making maps and using geospatial skills may not bring to mind a new business or entrepreneurship for a lot of us. However, geospatial skills can be lucrative for small businesses, including geospatial specialists just starting out.

In a Mapscaping podcast, discussion focused on how geospatial specialists could be entrepreneurial in creating new business opportunities with their skills. The podcast focused on some examples and ideas that could inspire individuals in areas that may yet have a clear business niche that geospatial specialists may want to consider.

Related article: Self-employment in GIS

Listen to the Business Ideas for Geospatial People Podcast

Geography Games as a Business

One example of a successful geospatial idea that has generated a lot of interest is GeoGuessr. The site is a game that lets you guess where you are in the world. The site has more than 20,000 Twitter followers and sells products and gift cards related to the game while also being a mobile app people can download.

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While all this activity generates revenue, the site started simply as an application that used Google Maps and allowed users to guess where the image was taken from. The site was in 2013 a very simple application that was amerturish and not that appealing. However, through generating interest based on a simple game of asking users to determine where they are, user interest and investment has increased substantially over the last 9 years.

Today, the site has over 370,000 visits a month based on Ubersuggest, which is likely a conservative estimate for the true traffic to the site. While this is just one example, it shows how using simple geospatial interest in asking users to determine the location shown could generate a lot of interest that grows a company.

Making a Business out of Geospatial Education

Education can also be a powerful business opportunity. From help books, such as Dan Ford’s Map Projections for Babies,to the thousands of tutoring companies that teach geospatial methods, one can make teaching a business. It’s important to make sure the educational business offers one-to-one services or ways to vet the quality of what is taught.

A graphic with different maps in a collage with an icon of a hand holding a hovering dollar sign.
What ideas do you have to launch a geospatial business? Graphic: Caitlin Dempsey.

One possibility for a business is use your skills to vet and provide direct tutoring to teach the skills you already know by providing greater accountability to content taught.

Ideas also do not need to be complex for you to make money. Just having a newsletter that people find useful could generate income for you without much effort. Newsletters via emails or sites could be powerful ways for industries to stay in touch about recent developments, such as Python and geospatial techniques.

Newletters that inform about the use of agriculture and satellite imagery or business and space technology developments (among many geospatial examples) have thousands of followers who sometimes depend on them for timely information.

You could even create a review site, such as using the site Get More Reviews, to generate reviews for products that might be of interest for those with geospatial interests.

Predictive mapping

There is also a lot of business opportunity in making maps that people find useful, including in niche areas. For instance, one site makes maps to inform users on where to find mushrooms. Food foraging has taken off in recent years and for those interested in finding mushrooms, nothing is more powerful than an accurate map that tells them when and where mushrooms are available.

Data such as landcover can be found from Copernicus, imagery from RapidEye or Landsat, and SRTM elevation data could be combined with local weather data to enable statistically predictive maps such as those used to find mushrooms.

Much of the information is public and is brought together by a map that uses spatial statistics to make predictions. Users can simply subscribe for a small feed to get access to the predictive maps, giving them the types of benefits for foraging they are looking for.

While this is a simple example, one can extrapolate this idea to a whole host of areas, including other foods that can be foraged (e.g., wild asparagus, truffles, ginseng) or even creating predictions for seasonal natural phenomena (e.g.,   migration ofbirds).

Tourism and geospatial businesses

Businesses can even build around a website, with an example being SmokeyMountains

The site helps people find places to stay in the Smokey Mountains. However, trips can be timed based on factors such as when foliage is best viewed during the Autumn. Websites are built around this site that provide prediction or services around the Smokey Mountain region using the planning provided by the site in terms of accommodation.

In other words, people can time when they visit using these other services provided. Overall, nearly 32,000 websites link to SmokeyMountains, demonstrating how business can flourish around a specific site.

One way to think of this is if something works already, why not build a spatial business that enhances the site or information.

Other ideas for creating businesses from your geospatial skills

What about other ideas?

There is a lot of potential not only in sites that can use free, public data to create predictive maps that help others, but with the presence of drones and cameras everywhere then business ideas that create maps with street view perspectives such as for Google Maps could be easily made.

While streets are well covered, areas including indoor spaces or activity locations, such as ski resorts, could be of great interest for those wishing to visit these areas but want to see what the spaces look like before visiting. Currently, few indoor or non-street locations have something like street view.

Potentially, new, street view data can be uploaded to Google Maps as one option. Map-based content is more likely to drive viewers or interest to sites and having such data is easier than ever. Such content that builds on something already successful is also relatively less risky to do and will likely accelerate interest.

Using software such as Agisoft for photogrammetry or other open source options could allow one to make powerful 3D views of spaces that could be useful content for others. 

Starting your own geospatial business

For GIS and spatial specialists, there are a lot of career opportunities, including working for others. However, for those interested in starting their own businesses, many opportunities exist to use spatial skills to develop content others will pay for.

Whether it is creating informative maps for forages, tutoring, or even creating new street view map content that drives greater interest, a lot of options are available.

Sometimes it could be as simple as creating a newsletter that has information others want to read and learn about. Whatever the options are, marketing is likely to be an important component of one does to be successful. A truly good product is so good that it does its own marketing as others talk about it.

Before getting started, it might be important to ask who the site or information is for and what does it represent? If you can answer these questions clearly then you might just have a good business idea.  

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About the author
Mark Altaweel
Mark Altaweel is a Reader in Near Eastern Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, having held previous appointments and joint appointments at the University of Chicago, University of Alaska, and Argonne National Laboratory. Mark has an undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Masters and PhD degrees from the University of Chicago’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.