UCL: UCL and partners launch world’s first inclusive innovation district

The new district will bring together the public and private sectors with education, local communities, innovative enterprises and tech companies. It will build on the London 2012 Olympic legacy by turning the Park into an urban testbed for new processes and technologies with the potential to improve life in cities for everyone.

UCL, UAL (University of the Arts London), Loughborough University London, Here East, Plexal, Lendlease and the London Legacy Development Corporation make up the core team behind the initiative to open up innovation opportunities to more people.

SHIFT will focus on projects that include local communities and individuals in their design, testing and delivery. It is committed to supporting entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds and providing access to training, skills programmes and job opportunities for people living locally.

The founding partners are together working with more than 250 knowledge-intensive organisations on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, including both large scale international firms and a strong start-up and entrepreneurial scene that has more than doubled in size since 2017.

Professor Paola Lettieri FREng, UCL Pro-Provost (UCL East) said: “UCL is all about driving discovery through disruptive thinking. SHIFT will give us more opportunities to bring UCL students and staff together with fearless thinkers, entrepreneurs and investors from across east London to find solutions to both local and global challenges for urban areas. We also look forward to working with our partners to create opportunities for training and apprenticeships that support new generations of talented innovators.”

The Park already has a strong culture of innovation and significant strengths in advanced mobility, inclusive design and assistive technology, cyber security, AI and digital design and e-sports. To date it has attracted in excess of £200m of investment.

The launch of SHIFT reflects the ambition to continue this success and create an inclusive innovation district bringing together business leaders, entrepreneurs, researchers and the local community to find and fund solutions to the questions around how we live together in cities of the future.

Professor Michael Stewart, academic lead for innovation and enterprise at UCL East said: “This is the first innovation district in the world to put inclusivity front and centre of its mission. SHIFT will draw on the voices and talents of community groups, citizen scientists, innovative businesses, tech and creative start-ups as well as researchers from UCL and our SHIFT partners. Working with both government and investors we are determined to create better, more inclusive urban futures together.”

Professor Geraint Rees, UCL Vice-Provost (Research, Innovation and Global Engagement) said: “We’re proud to be creating the SHIFT innovation district with partners who believe, as we do at UCL, in the power of research and exploration to transform lives. We look forward to sharing our knowledge and expertise with individuals, companies and organisations in east London and around the world to tackle the many challenges that cities face, including driving innovation in transport, health and how we tackle the climate crisis.”

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London said: “London has built a reputation as a world leader in technology and innovation, and it’s inspiring to see the digital and creative industries joining forces in east London in the new SHIFT innovation district. I couldn’t be prouder to be Mayor of a city that has become a global example of an impactful Olympic legacy, and I look forward to watching the district continue to thrive and develop over the next ten years as we build a better London for everyone.”

Emma Frost, Director of Innovation, SHIFT said: “The opportunity to develop a genuine urban testbed at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, with a focus on inclusive innovation is unparalleled internationally. Global climate, economic, and social crises pose a threat to the way cities function. But cities are also fundamental to finding solutions and citizens and tech companies can act as first responders in the climate emergency. Here, on the Park we have the chance to enable innovation projects that seek to solve some of these challenges and to change the innovation ecosystem for the better, too. We are thrilled to be launching SHIFT with our valued partners and look forward to the journey ahead.”