Cisco chairman and CEO John Chambers met UK Prime minister David Cameron yesterday, pledging half a billion dollars over five years to help the UK private sector solve the unemployment problem, and avoid the Olympic legacy being more about white elephants than east London renewal.
The investment comes in the form of the British Innovation Gateway (BIG). This will involve two networked innovation centres, one in Shoreditch and the other at the Olympic Park. The Shoreditch one will be developed, it's said, in partnership with the local small and medium business (SME) community, while the Olympic Park one is going to be pretty much a Cisco demo centre "providing a 'state of the art connected community' with special focus on developing and demonstrating a new wave of solutions for London and other cities," says the company.
"Orchestrated by Cisco, these centres will be underpinned by state-of-the-art networked collaboration technologies linking innovation and technology centres across the UK and other global hubs of innovation."
Cisco's 2011 pitch is that the UK is moving from an "information economy" to a "networked economy" – and the UK government is supportive of that, taking Cisco's pump-priming dollars to hopefully drag the deprived Shoreditch and Olympic Park areas into the modern age. For its half billion commitment, which doesn't necessarily mean hard cash as Cisco equipment and services could be provided at less than list price, Cisco gets a huge amount of pre-sales opportunities coming to its UK door.
There will be "five annual competitions called the BIG Awards: Powered by Cisco I-PRIZE", for SMEs in targeted growth areas. Cisco will also provide "mentoring, training and access to top in-house expertise from Cisco to assist BIG Awards winners and other UK innovators to develop, test and pilot new technologies in order to accelerate their market entry in support of fresh economic growth."
Cisco will also get its networking hooks deeper into the UK through "expanding collaboration technologies and business networks that link to other important innovation clusters in East London such as the Digital Peninsula in Greenwich, and increasing the range of users and partners, including technology innovation centres across the UK and abroad. Early efforts will focus on working with the Birmingham Science Park Aston to build BIG linkages to its iCentrum "Science Park Without Walls".
Cameron has drunk deep from the Kool Aid known once known as the White Heat of Technology ever since a previous UK prime minister called Harold Wilson jumped on that bandwagon.
He says: "I welcome this major statement of support from Cisco. This will help create many new jobs and opportunities, and support our drive to diversify our economy and generate sustainable economic growth ... We want to bring together the energy and innovation of Shoreditch and the incredible potential of the Olympic Park to help make East London one of the world's great technology centres ... Cisco's goal is a fantastic example of how business is turning this vision into reality, with East London set to become a leading Tech City."
Cisco sees its commitment as a business-generating opportunity. John "When I was at Davos" Chambers said: "The Prime Minister's Tech City Initiative is an excellent example of how government agencies can spur innovation and growth."
Cisco has invested, it says, "substantial sums in providing state-of-the-art technology for the London 2012 Olympic Games, operating 600 Networking Academies, and in M&A activity with high potential technology companies and Venture Capital funds totalling over $200m." The company added that it "anticipates that the BIG initiative will both support and sharpen Cisco's future capacity to make such investments in the UK over the next five years, and stimulate UK hi-tech innovation and growth."
Ah, you can imagine Cisco saying to David Cameron: "Support us here and we will invest more in the UK." What prime minister, desperate for private sector growth to take up the public sector unemployment slack, could resist such a siren call? Lucky, lucky Cameron. Clever, clever Cisco. ®