Last month, Rajesh Agrawal, Deputy Mayor of London for Business opened the first event of The Scale Factor, citing the importance of Scale Space White City in strengthening the area as a key innovation hub. We caught up with Rajesh to hear his thoughts on the importance of the tech sector, the role of innovation hubs and the crucial role that workspaces have in driving London’s entrepreneurial society forward.
How important is the tech sector to London’s economy?
The tech sector, in all its diversity and dynamism, is a vital part of the London economy. It is one of the fastest growing sectors in London and has proven itself to be one of the most resilient industries, able to act fast to propose solutions to the significant challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The transformational impact of technology is not just limited to the sector itself but can be seen across all sectors of the economy, and I am committed to making sure that London continues to be a global leader in tech innovation and growth.
Why are innovation hubs, like White City, becoming more important for London?
London is already one of the world’s leading hubs for technology, and innovation hubs like White City, have the potential to help us realise our vision for London to drive global innovation. Hubs like White City are crucial for helping businesses grow at pace. They bring the right partners together to innovate and use technology to solve some of London’s biggest challenges, not least addressing inequality and climate change, which have been exacerbated and are now even more urgent as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.
The partnership between Blenheim Chalcot and Imperial College London in creating Scale Space White City, is a brilliant initiative which will boost and diversify our economy and the growing tech sector in London.
What initiatives is the Mayor of London running to ensure young people living in the Capital are equipped with the skills needed for employment opportunities in growth industries like the tech sector?
Both businesses, academic institutions and the public must be involved in making sure that young Londoners are equipped with the skills they need to access employment in London’s growing industries, including the tech sector.
We are finding creative ways to make better use of the resources and levers at our disposal, including through the devolved Adult Education Budget, and the Reskilling the Recovery Campaign – part of the London Progression Collaboration – through which major employers have already pledged over £1m of their Apprenticeship Levy Funds to support the creation of apprenticeships in smaller businesses.
The Mayor is also dedicated to supporting disadvantaged young people throughout the coming months through the Young London Inspired grants programme. The programme has already funded 40 third sector organisations to support young carers, refugee and asylum-seeking young people and young people with disabilities to build their skills and confidence and give back to their local communities.
The London Enterprise Adviser Network has also been helping schools create careers programmes which inspire young people and connect them with mentors in London growing industries.
Our young people need to see positive role models from all backgrounds across a wider range of industries, and especially in the tech industry which will play a central role across London’s economy.
What role do workspaces have in London’s entrepreneurial society?
The costs associated with business start-ups and the diversity of London’s economy mean that workspaces play a very important role in the provision of flexible and affordable workspaces. They act as incubators for growth and provide opportunities for networking and innovation. Across London the demand for workspaces that provide shared facilities for entrepreneurs and businesses, and provide a community involving business and academia can really deliver innovative solutions for entrepreneurs and businesses that want to scale up and grow.
The availability of flexible workspace and co-working spaces are an essential element of London’s continued attractiveness for start-ups, entrepreneurs and established businesses seeking to grow and innovate.
The Mayor’s Workspace Advisory Group advises me and the LEAP on how best to support the sector. They are currently looking at actions like developing more workspaces in high streets, move on space, creating new models of affordable workspace in inner and outer London boroughs.
London has always been the home of innovation and entrepreneurial zeal. I myself am an entrepreneur and came to London 17 years ago to start a successful fintech company so I know first-hand what a great city London is to start and grow a business.
How do you think the tech sector can enable London’s successful recovery from the coronavirus crisis?
The tech sector and technology more broadly have a critical role to play in London’s successful recovery from the pandemic. We have already seen how the delays to an effective digital track and trace system in the UK has led to the need for further restrictions on London businesses and residents.
The pandemic led to a huge disruption to public services and businesses, which have only been able to resume some resemblance to normality through shifting to remote working and tech solutions for services that have ordinarily been face to face. The crisis has led to an acceleration in trends that were already happening, and not just in remote working but also in the move towards opting for digital by default ways of working.
What role can London universities play in driving forward entrepreneurship and innovation?
I am proud that London’s universities already play a significant role in driving growth and finding innovative solutions to challenges facing London’s businesses and communities through partnerships with relevant industries and the utilisation of new technologies.
London is home to some of the world’s leading universities with strong connections with businesses, often in growing industries such as AI, digital and technology. Our universities and higher education institutions drive innovation and scientific advancement, and supply London’s businesses with talent.
London is where finance meets tech, and academic research finds a business community that is hungry to take radical ideas to market. As a tech ecosystem there is nowhere to match it for variety or depth, which is why entrepreneurs from across the globe continue to make it their home.
London’s universities, particularly those able to lead industry relevant research, can promote the strength of London to businesses and investors and ensure that entrepreneurs and business have access to the skills they need to drive innovation in the tech sector and across the wider economy both today and in the coming years.