Cisco incubator to connect UK startup clusters

Cisco is launching its National Virtual Incubator to harness innovation and incubation across the UK.

Cisco is launching a National Virtual Incubator which aims to harness innovation and incubation happening around the UK.

The programme will collaborate with other startup clusters around the UK, using Cisco’s networking technology.

It will be a part of the vendor’s innovation centre, IDEALondon, that will open in September and will be situated in London’s Tech City, in Shoreditch.

Cisco has partnered with UCL and DC Thompson to create the IDEALondon which will champion several early stage startups which will be supported by the accelerator for six to nine months at a time.

“Our new centre is connecting dozens of clusters in the UK via video collaboration technology,” said Tom Kneen, lead of the Big Awards programme, and head of business development at Cisco.

The National Virtual Incubator will provide communication between incubators, science parks, and universities that are working on different projects across the UK.

“The idea is to provide coverage around the country, but specialise in areas,” said Kneen. “ But if you’re in Sunderland, you won’t be disadvantaged as you can connect to London.”

Different areas of the UK are known for producing different types of technology. Kneen described Dundee University which has specialised in gaming; Strathclyde University for renewable energies and sensors; Swansea for health; and Manchester for media. The virtual incubator will also connect with innovation clusters in Birmingham, Cambridge, Conventry and Greenwich. All of these areas will be connected back to Tech City in London which - thanks to the government – has grown into a centralised area for technology innovation in the UK.

“Early on, the government was criticized that all the noise was about Tech City in London, but we have interesting developers and research all over country,” said Kneen. “It’s good that we can offer something to support Tech City, but Tech City will also have a window to other places as well.”

“When we open the innovation centre, we don’t want to compete, we’re not in that area for commercial reasons. We wanted to have something that’s completely different niche around connectivity,” said Kneen.

Kneen said that Cisco’s ecosystem has allowed the networking vendor to implement the project. “We’re well connected  in the VC investment space, and we’d be able to connect startups to the right type of customers ,” said Kneen. “These will be long term relationships, we’re not trying to pull them away from anyone else.”

One of the ways Cisco will find startups to work with is through its British Innovation Gateway (Big) Awards. The Big Awards is a competition for small businesses to show their technology innovation offerings, and is currently in the middle of its second year.

The awards is heading towards its semi-finals where 20 innovative businesses will go head-to-head to be chosen for a Dragon’s Den style pitch final in November.

Last year, the competition awarded retail app SnapFashion with a $100,000 cash prize, in addition to winning a prize package which includes $30,000 of marketing support, $30,000 of PR and $15,000 in legal support.

The digital security company, Digital Shadows came in second place winning $25,000 and Six3 won $10,000 in third place.

The winners made it through rounds with 300 companies. From the semi-finals, six companies were chosen to battle it out in front of a group of Cisco “dragons” – CEOs, CTOs, and senior customers – who whittled down to the winners.

“Last year, we ran the competition spread around the Olympics for six months,” said Kneen. “We had hundreds of entries from early stage startups, businesses formed by students and post-graduates, or more mature people who wanted to sell their own business.”

“The UK should be able to grow the next Google or Amazon, but it doesn’t,” said Kneen.

The competition focuses on the “mega trends” in tech including: internet of things, big data, mobility and collaboration. Kneen said that they may ultimately come across technologies that would be interesting to Cisco, while proving to be a good partner to the government’s active interest in small businesses.

“Cisco was a startup,” he said. “And the culture internally is startup orientated. It’s a benefit to our staff – mentoring and supporting startups brings an entrepreneurial spirit back into Cisco. We’re motivated and inspired be working with these organisations.”

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