Level39, Canary Wharf – a throbbing new Innovation Centre

This unique tailor-made innovation eco-system has been carefully designed to meet the varied needs of those who are looking for innovations and those who are seeking to develop them in this part of London; and to bring them together in successful collaborations. What it does and how it does it might have some useful lessons for all those involved in innovationism.

With a simple remit – the development of the area (Canary Wharf) – Level39, 1 Canada Square, opened by Boris Johnson in March of 2013 and headed up by Eric van der Kliej – formerly CEO of Tech City, has quickly become a lightning conductor for those looking for innovations and those with innovations to offer in the kinds of businesses in this area.

Creating the connections and providing a ‘connectious’ space is what its Ideaspace is about – providing space where ideas can be found, developed and connected – without being overwhelmed by the legacy of any corporate culture.

Among its early work was the hosting of the Accenture-backed Fintech Innovation Lab London, a 13-week Accelerator in which a dozen of Canary Wharf’s big banks participated. Seven SMEs – drawn from all over the world – with innovative technologies of potential value to the banks, were housed at Level 39 and provided with a ‘chaperone’ from each of the banks to help them find their way around the labyrinth of people with buying interests and requirements in the bank.

Level39 is now hosting a number of other innovation and acceleration programmes – created by ‘Pivotal Innovations’ which provides custom-designed programmes for corporations and governments looking to innovate and grow.

One of these is the Future Cities ‘Catapult’ Centre (supported by the Technology Strategy Board), which in partnership with Pivotal Innovations is convening cross-sector dialogues (starting with executive breakfasts) with key stakeholders and thought leaders – in finance, real estate, industry and government. The debates will explore viable solutions including critical issues in financing future cities.  They will explore models (eg Rio de Janeiro, Portland Oregon, Songdo in South Korea) and will ask what will interconnected, high-tech, smart cities be like. What new kinds of partnerships might be needed? What investment models might be called into existence? And what enabling policies might make it all happen?

Dassault Systemes, Europe’s second largest software company, has chosen to partner with Level39 and Pivotal Innovations as it expands its strategic focus on financial services in the UK. Its 3D FinTech Challenge 2013 (http://www.f6s.com/3dfintechchallenge2013/info) invites startups to develop solutions for the visualisation of client data in financial services, as a way to condense and simplify such data, such as capital exposure, risk and identity, of which it is often difficult to get a clear perspective, into “single views”, which can be readily understood and acted on. This collaboration too has involved a series of breakfasts with senior executives from London’s banking and insurance industries. Dassault is also showcasing some of its current technology at Level39, such as 3D visualisations of cities like London and Paris on giant touchscreen display units, as an innovative way of presenting information

Designed by Gensler, who also designed Google’s and Facebook’s offices, Level39 has a very wide variety of spaces. It has attracted early-stage businesses eg in retail and financial technology, to take small scale spaces – both entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs – because of its unique ‘connectious’environment. It has 77 drop-in desk spaces, in all sorts of configurations – either for individuals or for startups – most of those startups already post-revenue.

It also has spaces that are specially tailored for innovationism: there are four ‘Sandboxes’ – for Hackathons, for cafeteria-style meetings, for board meetings or discussions, and for presentations, as well as a superb conference room – all with great views over Canary Wharf. Facebook recently held a 48-hr Hackathon in one Sandbox; and the local banks recently held one whose aim was to test their security systems – by trying to hack into each other’s!

It has a cafeteria area with its unique iPad controlled coffee machine; and a Club Lounge will open shortly – for meals, where you can meet and entertain guests (and where you can get a discount if you also agree to commit a certain amount of time to mentoring.)

So what is its secret? In addition to the spaces, perhaps its most valuable asset is Pivotal Innovation’s capabilities in generating and curating provocative innovation events and programmes; and its ability to bring together people with common interests and purposes but who don’t yet know one another.

Its extraordinarily rapid growth (it will shortly open more drop-in spaces on Level 42) and its vibrancy suggest that it has some magic that might be of interest to other cities, like Bristol, Manchester or Liverpool; to other retail centres like Blue Water, Brent Cross or the Airports; to other clusters like the Thames Corridor, Science Parks or Dundee as a centre of the games industry; or even to the NHS or the MoD.

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