Cisco’s Olympic ambitions for London’s next entrepreneurs

Philip Salter
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THE British Innovation Gateway (Big) is Cisco’s programme to support hi-tech business and innovation, and is a major part of its Olympic involvement as the official network infrastructure supporter for London 2012.

Phil Smith, the chief executive of Cisco UK, explains that “Cisco wanted to be at the heart of London 2012”, but the company was keen to make sure that the huge momentum didn’t peter out when the event finishes. Cisco’s technical legacy was assured in its commitment to contribute to, among other things, the transformation of the Olympic Park. But the company wanted to do more.

Cisco is engaging with entrepreneurs. Smith says the company has a natural empathy with them because of its own rapid rise. Smith started his career with Cisco 19 year ago, when the company had only 10 people in the UK and a few hundred worldwide (it now employs over 70,000 people). He says Cisco has close contact with entrepreneurs, not least through acquiring 150 small companies.

There are three core strands to Cisco’s entrepreneurial activities:

The Open Innovation Centre in Shoreditch has been developed in partnership with the local business community. It enables collaboration between businesses, academics and start-ups. In the Olympic Park, an Innovation and Incubation Centre will provide a state-of-the-art connected community.

The National Virtual Incubator (NVI) network connects physical entrepreneurial hubs through IT infrastructure. It spans the UK and consists of a series of “nodes” connected to research clusters, higher education establishments and science parks over the JANET network. After the Games, the NVI will be linked to other leading innovation clusters and organisations around the world.

The NVI is the embodiment of what excites theorists of entrepreneurial clusters. It will join up the dots of the world’s most entrepreneurial locations across the globe. “It is the network that lies at the heart of it all and it can really transform the way these organisations interact and ultimately flourish”, says Smith.

Cisco’s Big Awards aim to recognise and support up-and-coming innovators, entrepreneurs and early-stage start-up businesses. The semi-finalists have just been announced, from which six ideas will proceed into the finals. Five will be picked by the judging panel and one will be picked through the Idea Market (an innovative feature allowing community members to trade the ideas of the 20 semi-finalist). There is over $250,000 (£160,000) in prizes to be won, including $100,000 in cash for the winner.

The Olympics is full of projects designed to raise companys’ profiles. Cisco’s Big will certainly do this, but it will also make a substantial economic difference, unleashing more ideas, innovation and wealth.