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Exploring the Greenwich Digital Peninsula

August 31, 2012 - 3 Comments

How do you go about building the foundation for an emerging new digital business district in an established urban area, and thereby create an influx of over 100 growing technology or creative media companies? That’s a question that I pondered as I visited the Greenwich Digital Peninsula in London, earlier this year.

You may recall that I’ve previously described the significance of Digital Business Ecosystems; how they have proven to be instrumental in enabling tech business clusters to reach their full potential. But perhaps you’re wondering, in practice, what does that process really entail?

Here’s how a British local government organization — Digital Enterprise Greenwich — is partnering with nearby academic institutions and various commercial business partners in a forward-looking community regeneration project.

This is a place that went through a major transformation – the location was previously used as Europe’s largest inner-city gasworks. The reclaimed land is perhaps now best known as the home of the North Greenwich Arena (The O2). The Royal Borough of Greenwich hosted some of the recent London 2012 Olympic Game events on the peninsula and within the surrounding borough.

Historically, the area was dependent upon the river Thames for economic activity, and the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich — which at the height of its existence employed upward of 70,000 people.  The area once supported 150,000 manufacturing jobs, but today it’s estimated to be fewer than 5,000. The slow decline of the industrial base occurred over three-quarters of a century. Today, it’s a different story.

Building the Foundation for a Growing Ecosystem

Part of an economic redevelopment master plan that started two decades ago, the revitalized area will eventually include 3.5 million square feet of commercial floor space and support an estimated 25,000 new jobs. An important part of the strategy was the relocation of the highly regarded Ravensbourne College to the peninsula. This higher education institution acted like a keystone component to the forward-looking plan.

Their reputation as a specialized school for the digital media and design sector enabled the local government authority to build a business case to attract companies to this emerging tech hub and surrounding commercial district. In fact, the plan also includes residential development — creating a thriving community of creative digital practitioners.

The initial tech innovators that chose to move to the peninsula have already dialogued with the property developers, offering suggestions about how to create the most conducive working and living environment. The digital district will also offer government services that are somewhat tailored to this group of new residents.

Some entrepreneurs have launched their new start-up venture by utilizing the facilities of the Ravensbourne Digital Incubator, and it has already produced 120 new small businesses that were founded with their support. As they grow, those start-ups may choose to migrate over to the shared office space within the Digital Enterprise Greenwich facility at Mitre Passage. About twenty digital businesses are now located in that building.

Students that graduate from Ravensbourne are closely aligned with the digital media and design-related industries. Other local universities can provide the technical software or hardware engineering talent with complementary skills. As a whole, London is a very dynamic labor market, whereby growing companies will be able to source all the experienced talent they need to prosper.

At the other end of the talent chain, these same universities are actively reaching out to the earlier stages of the education system, providing facility tours and beginner workshops for younger students, since the local secondary schools or trade schools will become a source of aspiring digital technology practitioners.

I was able to spend several hours visiting with the Digital Enterprise Greenwich team. They briefed me on their goals and objectives and gave me a guided tour of Ravensbourne – for which I’m very grateful. There are few places across the globe that can truly combine and orchestrate these unique community resources. I was both impressed and encouraged by what I experienced during my visit to Greenwich.

National Virtual Incubator Node

The Digital Enterprise Greenwich facility is also where Cisco placed one of the first two nodes (the other is located in Birmingham) for the NVI initiative, which I’ve introduced before as an exciting part of the British Innovation Gateway program that was announced at the beginning of last year.

The Cisco TelePresence platform is an essential ingredient to facilitate borderless collaboration between a network of NVI stakeholders, to provide links to other innovation clusters, or enable the initial introduction of local entrepreneurs to remote Angel investors and the ongoing interaction with more traditional sources of venture capital – wherever they may reside.

For those of our readers who are curious, in addition to the above photo, I’ve uploaded the whole series from my Greenwich visit – located here on Flickr. As always, I welcome your comments. What are your thoughts about digital business ecosystem development?

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  1. Here's a brief video about The Digital Peninsula - a place for new ideas, collaboration and innovation

  2. Sometime in the future, growing London-based startups may find all the capital they need locally -- until then, they'll continue to explore Silicon Valley sources. Here's an insightful NYTimes story about the evolving VC landscape in the valley

  3. Here's a related editorial in the WSJ that's entitled "The Joys of Urban Tech" - Richard Florida explains why more digital business ecosystems will flourish within major metropolitan areas around the world.