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Silva lining for Tech City’s future

Stephen Caddick

Stephen Caddick asks what the future holds for Tech City

In 10 Downing Street’s Rose Garden a few weeks ago, Rohan Silva, the architect of Tech City, said goodbye to his formal role in Government and, with that, an extraordinary period in the development of East London.

Watershed moment

As I looked round the assembled great and the good from the tech world – and there were plenty of them there – it struck me that Tech City was, and is, at a watershed moment.

There is no doubt that Silva’s departure from No. 10 will have an impact. I first got involved in Tech City around 2010 just prior to the PM’s landmark announcement of the Government’s support for developing a start-up hub there.

The Government – or perhaps more accurately Rohan Silva and his policy colleagues – knew that a healthy tech ecosystem needed a combination of serious Government backing, fertile business conditions for tech start-ups, and the involvement of large corporations and, critically, universities.

Education will be at the heart of our future

Despite this, a common criticism I hear is that unlike Silicon Valley, there is no major world-class university on Tech City’s doorstep. Yet London’s computer science community – especially at UCL and Imperial College – is superb, with experts across a wide range of hard core tech research disciplines. Both universities are already making serious attempts to embed themselves in the heart of Tech City.

Only last December, for example, UCL – in partnership with DC Thomson and Cisco – announced their collaboration on a new innovation hothouse, IDEALondon, in Shoreditch. We want to bring our academic expertise and business support programmes to the heart of Tech City, and provide a seamless package of support to enable start-ups to grow significantly and to access academic expertise which will boost further growth in the long-term.

It will be an innovation centre unlike any other, because it will use the UCL community to market test and validate new products from creative companies. In the future, Tech City will need to grow to deliver on its early potential – and to get more tech there, there will need to be much broader engagement with the university community through these initiatives and through closer working between academic staff and the start-up community.

Euston’s Med City

Done right, in the longer-term there will be more opportunities for Tech City to become part of a wider entrepreneurial network including the proposed Med City around Euston. The potential for building strong links between tech and healthcare – again, an area in which London’s universities and teaching hospitals are preeminent – will be vital in an age which is seeing increasing moves towards personalised medicine.

As for the wider future of Tech City, I’m glad to see the Government’s involvement hasn’t stopped. Chris Lockwood and Daniel Korski are picking up the policy brief, and of course Joanna Shields’ move from Facebook to the Tech City Investment Organisation was a master stroke.

As for Rohan Silva’s influence – we are losing a Government advisor who’s serious about tech, yes, but also gaining an entrepreneur. To my mind, there couldn’t be a greater vote of confidence in the success of Tech City than that.

Professor Stephen Caddick is Vice Provost for Enterprise at UCL and a member of the Government’s Tech City Advisory Group.

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