Norfolk Network stories

The man behind the mobile

Jane Chittenden
Format Words

It’s not often that Neil Garner talks about himself rather than Proxama and the Next Big Thing in mobile tech, so we’re privileged to get a private peek at the ‘Man behind the Mobile’. Here’s his story of the journey from schoolboy geek to CEO of a public listed company. “I was in the right place at the right time, born in the 1970s and learning to use machine code on pioneering computers like the Sinclair,” says Neil. That gave him a solid foundation in computing that would stand him in good stead later.

Neil wasn’t your average nerdy backroom boy. He loved sports and at uni spent around three hours a day on exercise. But then he broke his knee, finishing any hopes of a sporting career. He turned to business instead.

A sponsored business course at BT led to a PhD, which got him into mobile phones by the back door. Consulting work followed on from that, including telecoms planning for big government projects. One of Neil’s first projects was SMS messaging for railways and internet mapping systems for air travel; this was sophisticated tech that got him hooked on the internet and e-commerce.

Then he joined Consult Hyperion in Guildford, pioneering e-commerce. These were exciting times, working for some amazing clients on tech such as chip and pin and the first payment terminals. Neil was doing well in the company; he became a board director.

Neil Garner, founder and CEO of Proxama
“It’s taken a long time to get to where we are now, a little company working alongside multibillion dollar companies."

Then he joined Consult Hyperion in Guildford, pioneering e-commerce. These were exciting times, working for some amazing clients on tech such as chip and pin and the first payment terminals. Neil was doing well in the company; he became a board director.

But wouldn’t it be nice to do things that were repeatable rather than always coming up with something new? So Neil gave up his well-paid job, sold his shares and set up his own company in Norwich – his wife’s home city. Proxama rapidly made a name for itself with NFC prototypes and card tech for clients like Mastercard.  That attracted the American giant ABnote, who decided to invest in the company. Things were getting better and better for Neil, growing the business within ABnote.

Then the recession hit. It was the worst of times; he’d had to make most of his team redundant and things were looking bleak. But Neil’s a resourceful man. He found a way to buy Proxama back from ABnote, get back on track and close a global licence agreement with Nokia for NFC tech: “A pretty amazing low to high year.” And in 2013 Proxama became a public listed company.

“It’s taken a long time to get to where we are now, a little company working alongside multibillion dollar companies. Now we’re 86 people, including offices in London, New York and San Francisco – we’re laying the foundations for the brave new world of tappable phones.”

What’s next? Neil wants to help revitalise the high street by connecting physical experiences to mobile tech. So Proxama’s working with Foolproof, Norwich BID and the Association of Town Centres Management on a Norwich pilot project to help smaller businesses provide a slick service in the city centre. Watch this space…