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Behind the brand: OnePlan, the British firm mapping Paris 2024 Olympics

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OnePlan became the first ever start-up to sign as an International Olympic Committee partner.
OnePlan became the first ever start-up to sign as an International Olympic Committee partner. Photo: OnePlan

When athletes disembark from boats at Paris 2024’s innovative Olympic opening ceremony next summer, one Briton will have a close up vantage point by the River Seine, having helped organisers map out sport’s biggest jamboree.

Paul Foster’s event planning tool OnePlan is the official digital twin and mapping partner for Paris 2024 after the British company became the first ever start-up to sign as an International Olympic Committee partner.

Its digital twin technology provides interactive, hyper-realistic versions of events that enable planners from Christmas markets to road events and festivals to visualise and plan without the need for on-site visits, thus reducing carbon footprints.

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It now has 30,000 events on its platform in 110 countries and also caters for events from weddings for 50 people to the United Nations planning refugee camps.

Foster has effectively changed the nature of event planning, having worked on multiple Olympic Games planned in PowerPoint, cutting and pasting from Google Maps and with little security and permissions.

At London 2012, Foster was responsible for "people movement" in and out of the Olympic Park. Westfield Shopping Centre had opened the year before and ticket holders found themselves lost in the Stratford complex.

OnePlan CEO Paul Foster founded the business six months before the pandemic. Photo: OnePlan
OnePlan CEO Paul Foster founded the business six months before the pandemic. Photo: OnePlan

After the Games test events, 10,000 foam hands were handed out to smiling volunteers which became a hit during the Olympics itself. As the instigator of the idea, Foster had an emotional moment a few years ago in Lausanne when he happened upon a framed foam hand on show in the Olympic museum.

Nearly a decade on in his new founding role, there was “a bit of panic” when COVID hit, but OnePlan quickly found a solution by adding social distancing tools to its software and gave free webinars to over 4,500 people. Hamleys used One Plan for its queuing system before Westminster Council picked up on it to use within their COVID guidance.

As momentum gathered, so the client base has grown as OnePlan stamped a niche within the sports and entertainment sectors. It now works with arenas such LA Clippers’ home and the likes of World Triathlon, Silverstone GP and the Tour of Britain to plan safer and more efficient events. The latter’s calculations show that with 75% fewer site visits needed, it has cut the Tour’s CO2 emissions by 2.2 tonnes per year.

For Paris, OnePlan is being used for operational planning and workforce training while all the National Olympic Committees and Olympic broadcasters now have access.

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“There is a big carbon footprint benefit but the big benefit will be for Los Angeles and Brisbane [the next two Olympic host cities] where everyone has to fly to. That’s where the impact will be.”

Foster cites 2023 as a benchmark year with a 25% reduction for site visits in the offing. “The IOC are watching it closely,” he says.

Given OnePlan is now partnered with the Olympics, the company has had to beef up its cyber security services and instil strict permissions.

“It brings a whole new level of security to how Games are planned,” adds Foster.

OnePlan's tool gives customers 2D and 3D scope to plan events at stadiums and street locations across the globe.
OnePlan's tool gives customers 2D and 3D scope to plan events at stadiums and street locations across the globe. Photo: OnePlan

Despite its IOC tie-up, Foster is not getting ahead of himself. “The biggest moment still is when we first launched the platform and a customer put their credit card details in and paid after ten weeks,” he admits.

“That was exciting. If we lose that, we lose sight of things. It’s about that person: why did they do that? Why did they feel they needed to pay at that moment in time? You have to tap into that emotional response.

“As you get bigger it can be easy to lose that, especially with investors, and that we should be going into airports and shopping malls and so keeping focus is one of the hard things. There are 101 cool things we could do but it’s got to ‘why?’”

Foster says he has spoken to 400 investors since beginning the OnePlan concept and has secured £12m in funding after launching six months before the pandemic. It is now nearing a 50-strong global workforce.

OnePlan founder Paul Foster posing with the foam hands which proved pivotal for the London 2012 Olympics.
OnePlan founder Paul Foster posing with the foam hands which proved pivotal for the London 2012 Olympics. Photo: Paul Foster

The business took a “bold approach” with a freemium model for customers before a cap. Now with the data it has garnered, OnePlan has nearly 100 sign ups a day.

“There is blind optimism to keep going,” Foster says of navigating the early days. “Part of it is building the system. The big thing is adoption and could we get people to use it and build it into their workflows.

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“Now it’s about having a real purpose, that's the real difference and that’s what we are really focused on.”

Behind the brand: OnePlan’s founder

On business planning…

“There is always noise about business and Brexit but there is a way through things. You have to be resilient and have thick skin. British businesses get a lot of support compared to other countries. We have been on trade missions to the USA, Australia and Saudi Arabia to get through to the right people. I would stress to really understand what problem you are trying to solve as a business."

On business ideas…

“If someone presented the idea of becoming the biggest taxi company in the world 10 years ago — Uber (UBER) — or someone presented the idea of Airbnb (ABNB) we would have laughed. If everybody laughs at your idea and thinks it’s ridiculous it’s probably worth looking into a bit further."

Watch: Paris starts one-year count down to 2024 Olympics

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