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Cisco turns mentor in boost for UK start-up scene

Analysis: CBR spoke to Phil Smith, CEO, Cisco UKI, Alison Vincent, CTO, Cisco UKI and Tom Kneen, Head of the BIG Awards about the challenges facing the UK start-up scene.

By James Nunns

Start-ups in the UK are thriving, survival rates are at their highest in three years and part of that is due to support from the likes of Cisco.

Barclays and the Business Growth Fund’s bi-annual report found that the number of active companies in the UK has risen from 3,139,630 in December 2014 to 3,260,879 in June 2015.

Cisco’s involvement in incubating start-ups has seen the company recently invest $150m into the Internet of Everything start-ups of the UK, the creation of IDEA London, apprenticeship programmes, plus a developer and partnership programme.

Recently the company held the final of its BIG awards (British Innovation Gateway), which saw Nwave Technologies winning and walking away with a $220,000 prize package.

Nwave, a wireless long-range network provider, has the potential to provide connectivity to apps and devices which can’t get internet access.

Phil Smith, Chief Executive of Cisco UK&I, told CBR that one of the reasons the UK has a strong start-up scene is that it has the: "Best science base in the world."

Despite this he said that some do have to go abroad to get the funding that they need and in some cases it’s easier to develop in the US.

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"In the US they have the whole US market to roam in, in Europe it’s different," said Smith. Overcoming the challenges posed by borders and different regulatory requirements across Europe can be a struggle.

The creation of start-ups is one step, following this is the need to scale up, something that Cisco can lend a helping hand with, although Smith says: "It doesn’t necessary mean scaling technology skills."

Smith says the company offers support through building a partner model, while "some benefit from going to market assistance."

Getting the messaging right and the general business proposition in line is important, Smith said: "It’s important to show how you fit in the chain."

Speed is of the essence, as the fast moving tech industry can quickly swallow innovative ideas.

Tom Kneen, Head of the BIG Awards, told CBR: "The truth is that you can probably do that in an 18 month window and that window is closing."

Cisco has helped previous winners such as Snap Fashion and Digital Shadows to make good progress, but it won’t support every idea and is willing to call it quits when it doesn’t always fit.

"We quite often don’t take things forward." Kneen said.

Speed and getting the business model right is one challenge, more come in the form of issues such as trust. The question being if you can trust a start-up security firm?

Alison Vincent, CTO of Cisco UKI, told CBR: "That’s where having a relationship with a more trusted provider or certainly a provider like Cisco, which has its own security solutions, that gives them the credibility because they can say look at the backing I have behind me."

Continuing to foster tech growth in the UK requires a strong education backbone that both educates appropriately, but also informs students of potential career paths.

Inspiring innovative start-ups is something that comes from the earliest stages in our development, through education.

Asked if education is offering enough support, Vincent said: "No."

"There isn’t enough in terms of visibility in terms of what’s possible for a career path and there certainly isn’t enough."

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