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Cisco invests $1bn in UK skills and startups

Cisco commits to spending $1bn in the UK by 2020 to support the government’s digital plans following a meeting at 10 Downing Street

Cisco CEO John Chambers and his incoming replacement, Chuck Robbins, have committed to invest over $1bn in the UK’s technology industry over the next three to five years, in support of the government’s digitisation plans.

The announcement came following a high-level meeting at 10 Downing Street, between Cisco’s worldwide and UK leadership, prime minister David Cameron and business secretary Sajid Javid.

This marks Cisco's second major round of funding activity in the UK in recent years. It follows a $500m commitment in 2011, which has so far contributed $5bn or more – claims Cisco – to the UK economy, through initiatives such as the British Innovation Gateway (BIG) programme, which supports startup innovation and up-and-coming technology entrepreneurs.

Startups, skills and acquisitions

Cisco’s latest investment covers a number of areas, including $150m cash for startups involved in the internet of things (IoT) – termed the "internet of everything" by Cisco.

Specialists in connected healthcare, retail and finance, as well as smart city technologies have all been invited to apply for a grant from the funding.

An additional round of venture capital equity investments will help accelerate innovation around cyber security, said Cisco.

Cisco said that, in recognition of the productivity challenges currently faced by the UK and the need to increase the number of students choosing to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) subjects, it would also pour more money into its UK Cisco Networking Academies – building on UK-wide network of innovation centres, including IDEALondon, the National Virtual Incubator network and R&D facility Create.

The networking company said it wanted to support the government’s redress of the north-south divide – including the Northern Powerhouse – by helping to fund centres of expertise, collaborations with universities and expanded apprenticeship schemes.

Cisco committed to make capital available for UK-specific acquisitions, where a strategic case can be made; and to expand its own UK footprint, creating 200 jobs and establishing a central London office.

Cisco said the activities formed part of its “country digitisation acceleration” programme, whereby it invests strategically in selected countries in support of government technology policy. The UK is currently Cisco’s second largest worldwide market.

Long-term economic plan

John Chambers commented: “We believe the UK is well on its way to becoming one of the top digitised countries in the world, and we're proud to once again activate new programmes and continue our deep commitment to partnering with the UK government.

“Since 2011 we have delivered over and above on every objective we set with government in our prior commitments – encouraging technology, innovation and entrepreneurship. Through the British Innovation Gateway initiative, we have supported the government's ambition to create world-class technology hubs across the country, generate jobs, diversify the economy and support sustainable growth.”

Prime minister David Cameron added that the investment was a clear vote of confidence in the Conservatives’ long-term economic plan.

Digital Catapult CEO Neil Crockett said the investment reflected the strength of the UK's digital economy and the cross-sector opportunities presented by the IoT.

"We have been working with Cisco to accelerate IoT-focused SMEs in the UK for some time now and this is an exciting step forward," said Crockett.

"However this must be used as a stepping stone to make the UK the most attractive place for global innovators in the digital space, by creating an environment which demonstrates our national commitment to the IoT."

Fujitsu's newly appointed UK CEO, Regina Moran, spoke in favour of Cisco's plans, but said the supplier needed to pitch its sights at schools and not just universities.

 "We are fast progressing towards a ‘digital first’ nation and we need to ensure we are investing at the very beginning of the digital journey and developing the right skills to support the future digital economy," Moran said.

Read more on Internet of Things (IoT)