London’s Olympic legacy is set to provide a boost to the Tech start-up community, as plans have been announced by the Government and Mayor of London to convert the former Olympic Press and Broadcast Centre in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, into a new Tech Hub.
The project, formerly known as iCITY and first mooted in 2010, is intended to leverage the entrepreneurial and creative spirit of nearby artist’s community Hackney Wick, as well as providing a resource for smaller tech start-ups that have been struggling with spiralling rents around the “Silicon roundabout” area of Old Street and Shoreditch.
The Mayor of London’s office say the facility will provide more than 7,500 jobs on site and in the local community, and will benefit from one of the most advanced digital infrastructures in Europe, including London’s largest data centre, created by Infinity SDC.
BT sport, who moved into 80,000 sq. ft. of state of the art offices in August 2013, is the first major occupant of the site, which will also provide commercial spaces of all sizes at low cost and with facilities on hand to aid the growth of companies, such as incubators and accelerator space.
With a view to developing future talent, Here East has teamed up with Hackney Community College and Loughborough University, who will run a 6,000 sq. ft. digital academy, providing education and training through an extension of the Tech City Apprenticeship scheme.
The Infinity Data Centre will take up 240,000 sq. ft. and will represent the IT hub which will be expected to drive the UK’s contribution to the Global Digital Economy. The data centre will be operated by Infinity SDC, an award winning data centre operator and one of the Sunday Times Tech Track 100 fastest growing TMT companies.
Other features include a 1,045 seater auditorium, a 300,000 sq. ft. innovation centre, and an 850,000 sq. ft. building comprising educational, broadcast, and office spaces.
Here East is expected to be fully operational by 2018, with full planning proposals already submitted, and construction pencilled in to begin this summer. London mayor Boris Johnson says: ““Here East will provide thousands of high quality jobs and be a real jewel in the crown of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.”
Here East will be celebrated as a victory for the UK’s Tech sector, entrusted with providing a sustainable future for the Olympic Park, while the rest of the world looks on, but this in itself is no guarantee of success. Will the project provide impetus similar to the regeneration of Barcelona after the games of ’92, or mirror the failure of Athens 2004, where 6.2 million sq. meters of real estate still lies unloved and unused?
The “Silicon Roundabout” has received as much criticism as it has praise since it was first trumpeted loudly by politicians back in 2010. True, there are 1,300 digital companies now operating in the area, but none has delivered the holy grail of a £1 billion flotation, or buyout, that would silence the doubters, and justify the hype.
That is not to say the project has been a failure, and one could certainly argue that global pre-eminence is not a necessary pre-requisite for starting a Digital Company at all; as the marketing material for Here East puts it, “Here East is a meeting point, where creative businesses growing in scale join businesses of scale growing in creativity.”
There is a fear however, that as smaller revenue growing Companies are pushed out of Shoreditch by more established but less creatively minded enterprises, who have no trouble paying the bills, and see the area as a conduit to the far larger Financial Centres of the City and Canary Wharf, that the “roundabout” may have come full circle, and the UK Tech community’s wheel of fortune stopped spinning.
Can Here East revive the East of London’s hopes again? It’s a bullish statement of intent, but as any start up entrepreneur will tell you, the devil is in the detail, content is king, and it can be better to under promise, and over deliver.