IDEALondon, a new incubator space in London’s Tech City, opens this month (Dec 2012), an unlikely alliance between Cisco, DC Thomson and University College London, which furthers UCL’s far-sighted objectives and strengths – – in entrepreneurship. (For comparisons, see final para.)
IDEALondon enables twenty early-stage businesses to be co-located for up to nine months – primarily for launch and trials, as pre-cursor to seeking investment etc. (early-stage businesses are nowadays more often looking less to build something – the means of creating a website or an app are relatively easy to come by – than for customer validation and trials, which IDEALondon can help facilitate). Candidates must be championed by any of the three partners; and their progress must be justified to a quarterly board meeting.
Completed almost a year to the day after it was announced by the Prime Minister in 2012, it is a significant outcome of UCL’s 2005 decision to establish the department UCL Enterprise with the aim of suffusing enterprise throughout the whole university as well as extending its knowledge and expertise to all its collaborations.
Occupants of IDEALondon have a less tightly determined regime in terms of time and objectives than in classic Accelerators, and are less fulsomely supported with mentors, though with almost every imaginable form of support available somewhere in UCL. Mentoring support is provided on a one-to-one basis with three or four meetings per month, and there is a small amount of ‘education’, for example in marketing, though not in entrepreneurship as such. And there are a small number of specialists-in-residence including designers, developers and entrepreneurs.
More specialised support is also available in the form of commercial testing and concept validation. Cisco provides mentors for CTOs in SMEs in the incubator; and it has its own forms of bespoke support. It also has a leadership programme. UCL intends to offer several other specialist courses such as in machine learning and mobile technologies.
The alliance has also opened a facility in Scotland to support Abertay and Dundee University in their collaboration with DC Thomson. (http://www/idea.scotland.co.uk)
For UCL, candidates would be businesses in areas such as Future Media (one project is with Atos and the BBC), Healthcare or Mobile, that also need specialist support from elsewhere in the university (such as clinical trials or ethical approvals), and that might need several commercial contracts to put a demonstrator into place or more than nine months in the incubator. For UCL’s partners, candidates will be relevant to their businesses, and in Cisco’s case companies include BIG Award Winners. Eight places out of the twenty are already filled.
UCL also operates jointly with Mobile Monday London the ‘Mobile Academy’, a pre-accelerator network in the form of 12-week programmes of twice weekly evening classes, 40 per cohort– for SMEs, start-ups, would-be entrepreneurs and enthusiasts – for the many potential students who are not necessarily at university (http://themobileacademy.co.uk). UCL also operates several other programmes relating to entrepreneurship. For example on behalf of Goldman Sachs, it runs their 10,000 Small Businesses programme (http://www.10ksb.co.uk) ; it runs internship programmes, and knowledge transfer programmes, eg in support of post-docs providing specialist knowledge for relevant companies. (UCL works with up to 500 companies annually.) IDEALondon also provides space pro bono for community events.
With its 20 places and 9-month+ duration, UCL’s new Tech City facility is more of an incubator than a classic ‘accelerator’ (like Springboard http://wp.me/p3beJt-z or Bethnal Green Ventures http://wp.me/p3beJt-V), and has a less formal supervisory regime and provides less specific support. And it is unique in being an alliance with its industry partners. It is more oriented to UCL itself than Cass University’s (http://wp.me/p3beJt-6o) – which is oriented to local Tech City businesses, or than the Royal College of Art’s (http://wp.me/p3beJt-k) – which is both longer (at 2-years), and tackles different kinds of problems (engineering and design, and the building of its teams).