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September 25, 2017updated 26 Sep 2017 10:19am

Cisco UK CEO on the only place to bee in Manchester

Will Cisco's Mi-IDEA innovation centre take off in the world of technology start-ups?

By April Slattery

Cisco has opened its new innovation centre in Manchester, dubbed Mi-IDEA, aiming to help start-ups to innovate and develop their businesses in the fast moving technology industry.

The Mi-IDEA innovation hub is a collaborative partnership between Cisco and Manchester Science Partnership (MSP) and aims to give students and start-ups opportunities to work collaboratively to create the next generation of innovation.

Located in the new Bright Building, across from the University of Manchester science campus in the innovation district of Manchester, students are welcomed with open doors to develop their ideas of the future.

Speaking to CBR, Scot Gardner, Cisco UKI CEO, highlighted how important the relationship with Manchester and partners have been in choosing and establishing the new centre  in the North West.

“We have a strong long-term relationship with the Manchester Science Partnership and we [both] look at innovation and the opportunities innovation represents in similar ways,” said Gardner.

“If you’ve got someone with similar outlooks and ideas, it allows you to drive what’s next together much more easily. Even more, Manchester has a strong start-up and innovation scene, which is important to us.”

Mi-IDEA currently homes a total of six start-ups spanning industries such as healthcare, transport and housing. Start-up’s include Hark, an IoT data capture, monitor and analysis start-up and Wattl, a video platform that finds new ways to discover new content.

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Mi-IDEA, Cisco’s place to bee opens in Manchester.

Bee with RFID backpack

One of the great initiatives Cisco has been working on is the Bee initiative, alongside CSIRO. Using trackable RFID backpacks on around 100,000 bees, scientists can monitor their behaviour and help solve the growing issue of honeybee health. The project demonstrates the importance of bees and how pollinating insects are crucial to the survival of the human race.

By creating the innovation centre, Cisco and MSP want to ‘develop today’s start-ups into tomorrow’s scale ups’.

Gardner told CBR: “As a company our aim is to look at start-ups and ask what do you need to do to take the next step? Who can we introduce to make better solutions? With this, it creates a very effective opportunity that helps their business and ours.”

The 70,000 sq ft development not only acts as a collaborative environment for start-ups, but also houses the Cisco UK and Ireland Innovation team with the new space specially designed to foster a collaborative mind-set. The big open plan spaces are a perfect design for a hub aiming to enable start-ups and individuals to connect, network and innovate.

Gardner emphasised the importance of the space, and how it allows everyone to work together to benefit each individual, saying: “Innovation is a networking industry, this hub is part of a global programme that works with 14 sites around the world. We provide direct links to them, opportunities for them to meet and share ideas, as well as video screens connected to other sites around the world, to connect and talk to.

“Digitising is not going to be done by one company. It’s going to be done by people working together,” Gardner told CBR.

Mi-IDEA, Cisco’s place to bee opens in Manchester.

Home for the start-ups in the Mi-IDEA hub.

Gardner outlined how Cisco hopes the collaborative hub will allow the networking giant to mentor and guide start-ups in the industry, using their expertise alongside the support of MSP. Having invested in previous businesses from their London hub, Gardner said there’s no reason why they wouldn’t again if a suitable start-up came along that worked effectively with Cisco.

Gardner said: “Personally I want to see great companies coming out, that we all eventually know the names of.

“We don’t want this to be another innovation centre, not a traditional accelerator, but one that can create those scale-up businesses, because that’s what creates economic growth. By people working together and how you bring that together is really the secret.”

On display at the launch event was CityVerve, the IoT smart city demonstrator project, created by Cisco and 21 partners and built into the Mi-IDEA centre. Its purpose is to collate data from across the City of Manchester, to allow users to better connect with one another and the city using its interactive features.

The interactive element of CityVerve enables users to touch a location, giving them history of the area or check in on transport links and times across the City. CityVerve was in operation at the launch, allowing guests to interact with the model.

A partner creator of CityVerve, Click and Links Ltd, demonstrated how they have used the original model of CityVerve and integrated virtual reality, creating a VR experience around the City of Manchester.

Clicks and Links bring the experience to life using a bike, for users to cycle around the city. CBR tested out the creation, which left us fascinated by the experience as it took us to a whole new world, completely different from the reception area of the Mi-IDEA hub we were sat in.

Cycling at full speed ahead proved somewhat more difficult than anticipated, before we got the hang of it turning and discovering elements of Manchester from a different perspective. As part of an initiative to introduce VR publicly, Clicks and Links hope to bring the experience to homes or gyms in the future.

Mi-IDEA, Cisco’s place to bee opens in Manchester.

CBR took to the pedals of Clicks & Links VR experience.

Gardner got particularly excited talking about CityVerve explaining one example he loves the most, the bus stop and how it uses data to help users across the City. He said: “If you walk to your smart bus stop and it knows your bus is further away than it will take you to walk to the next stop, it will offer you the chance to walk to the next stop at a reduced ticket price.

“Due to health and well-being value in the city, this encourages more active citizens. We’re solving real problems and that’s the key.”

Plans to build a similar model in the Manchester Library are underway, to allow the public of Manchester to learn about the city whilst using an efficient smart city route. The solution provides route information, history about an area and creates opportunity to give the public a better economic and health environment.

As demonstrated with CityVerve, Cisco has teamed up with already existing business at the hub to develop the next innovative creations in the technology world.

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Rowena Burns, Chief Executive at MSP, backs this up and explains how the innovation centre isn’t just for start-ups and that existing businesses hold as much presence as the new kids on the block, she said: “The hub is for both start-ups and existing businesses. The city is full of talent and we want to keep talent here and nurture it.

“People have the thirst to do something and feeding that thirst is and exploring possibilities is a brilliant thing. Start-ups are tomorrow’s scale-ups.”

From Cisco to start-ups and everything in between, the innovation hub will benefit all those involved to create innovative technology using the tech giants’ knowledge, partnered with start-up innovation ideas to create products that will build a digital future for Manchester and the rest of the UK.



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