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Stephen Caddick

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A Culture of Success Will be the Olympics' Greatest Legacy

Posted: 10/08/2012 15:43

Britain's haul of gold medals in the Olympics has changed the nation's perceptions of our small island: we can emphatically be winners. Now is the time to celebrate Britain's success across more than just sport - our country, and London in particular, has quietly become one of the most amazing new hubs for digital, media and start-ups in the whole of Europe.

What's more, the big corporate players - and their money - are flowing into our capital in a big way. Recent arrivals include Amazon, planning on establishing a digital media development centre; Facebook, with an engineering team; and Vodafone, creating a technology lab in Tech City, the Government's designated digital media hub in East London. These are the latest in a series of illustrious organisations including Cisco, Google, Intel, O2 and many others who all recognise what is happening in London and want to be part of it.

The attractions are vast: London is one of the world's great cosmopolitan cities, rich in arts and heritage and with an extraordinary level of cultural diversity, exemplified by the fact that there are more than 300 languages commonly used in the city. It's a great place to live as well as to work.

London is also home to a unique business and entrepreneurial ecosystem; of advertising, architecture and design companies, technology and software, manufacturing, engineering and biotech and of course, financial powerhouses. It is this complex mix which provides an extraordinary environment for innovation and creativity across sectors. As Damian Reece wrote in the Telegraph recently, "all industry is creative". I agree - London provides the diversity of activity and experience required for a 21st century supercluster.

Another attraction is the presence of our world class universities, generating, as they do, £3.3bn towards our GDP. They are far from ivory towers any more - the people of London's universities are a fully integrated part of the city's entrepreneurial community - spinning out companies at a faster rate than our US counterparts.

People like the founders of Space Syntax, the urban planning and design company that created the great iconic map of London in the opening ceremony of the Olympics. People like the founders of Animal Systems, creators of Chirp - an exciting new technology from UCL's computer science department that allows devices to communicate by sound. The people behind businesses like MyStreet and Mapping4change, exciting social enterprises supporting the development of communities through film making and social networking.

We have a direct role, too, in ensuring our research supports the development of this cluster by working with business. UCL, along with Imperial College London, are working with Cisco and Intel on aspects of smart and future cities - setting up exciting new research institutes and collaborations that will deliver new research, new insights and new products. From Tim Bernes-Lee, the father of the World Wide Web, to Charles Kao, the grandfather of broadband who got his PhD from UCL, the UK has a tradition of global excellence in science, engineering and technology which we must build on.

Ahead of the Olympics we were bombarded with commentators expressing the worst of British characteristics; bemoaning our ability to organise an international events or compete at international level. There are those who complain, too, that we in the UK can't really compete with Silicon Valley because we don't have the attitude, the culture, the finance system, the people or the ambition to sustain a technology cluster.

But recent events in London shows that this mode of thinking is plain wrong; we can be well organised winners. London's emergence as Europe's leading digital and technology cluster is not just predicated on the engagement of software developers, engineers and entrepreneurs. It is a consequence of the diversity of London, that engenders a spirit of adventure, of creativity, of research and innovation. Long after the Olympic gold rush has faded, let's remember that we in Britain can compete with the world's best at anything we set our minds too - and that culture of self belief could yet be the greatest legacy.

 
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