I remember going to Canary Wharf in the early 90’s and thinking that there was not a lot there. In fact, in 1991, there were only 6 shops. Now there are some 200 shops in 60 odd very big buildings, housing some very big companies. I remember really wanting to work in one of those buildings; it was like something you saw in the movies. I went to New York instead.
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting Eric Van de Kliej, whom I had met previously through mentoring at Tech City. To say that I was impressed by him telling me about what’s currently happening and the plans for the future of Level 39 at One Canada Square would be an understatement.
First of all, the Level 39 accelerator is about complimenting Tech City, not trying to compete with it. Van de Kliej, who is leading the Level 39 project, speaks very fondly of the work happening at Tech City or Tech City 2.0 (as he calls it) and its next phase with Joanna Shields taking the helm.
I have always thought that the tech world needed a Shoreditch House type solution. The plan for Level 39 at One Canada Square is to turn 29,000 square feet into “Europe’s biggest financial services technology space” with some of Shoreditch’s flare and general coolness.
I stood by one of the windows looking out onto the capital and thought to myself, that this is a place, whether you are working with a start-up or growing business, where you are going to love turning up to work. It reminded me of when I lived in Battery Park City in New York; I was a tech geek wearing jeans and a Rally jacket, walking around Wall Street and the World Trade Center, thinking that I want a piece of this. But I also wanted individuality.
Looking at the plans, there is so much on offer at Level 39. A 200-seat auditorium that can be used by any business who has a membership. A boardroom and hot desk areas where the ceilings have been taken down to give them an urban feel. There is also going to be a ‘Virgin Clubhouse’ area and sandbox areas for testing technology in a secure environment. Architects Gensier who worked on workspaces for both and Facebook and Google have been involved in the design of the 39th floor.
The technology infrastructure for the whole 29,000 square feet is very impressive and will enable companies raising cash or working to tight budgets to expand by eliminating some of the typically associated high costs. One of my suggestions was to create an ecosystem of people’s skills. For example, if you need a project manager for a couple of days or a Cisco specialist, people could swap time and not pay for it.
Mentoring will take place at agreed times during the week to further encourage business development. There is already an impressive list of mentors that are likely to take part in this initiative who all carry some extremely inspiring track records.
The list of supporting accelerator funds that are also coming into Level 39 is pretty impressive. Obviously with focus on the ‘Fintech’ space, you won’t be surprised to see the list includes big names from the Finance world.
No doubt people will be sceptical. There may also be those that feel threatened. For me, personally, I see an opportunity for Tech City, the M4 Corridor and the UK to be strengthened and for us to start creating a stronger message and perception to the world - we do not just aspire to be a Silicon Valley.