News to lift the Brexit blues. Plexal, Entiq’s new venture at Here East is a shining beacon of not just the future of tech businesses in London, but a coming together of arts, design, culture, education and technology. Uniquely positioned in what was the media centre for the London Olympics, Plexal, benefits from an expansive river-side space with access to world-class facilities including the data centre that powered the global broadcasting of the Olympics.
It’s a bold vision delivered passionately by Claire Cockerton, CEO and Chairwoman of Entiq and serial entrepreneur, a title oft overused, but in Claire’s case describing her immense experience and ability to establish and grow businesses. She founded Aesthetic Earthworks, a sustainable architecture firm, whilst at University in Toronto, Canada, and grew it into a multimillion dollar company before selling it to a competitor in the industry. Following a subsequent MBA in Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Design (with a strong focus on accelerators, technology transfer institutions and business incubation) she helped establish Richard Branson’s ‘Centre for Entrepreneurship’ in Johannesburg before co-leading the launch of Level39, Europe’s largest technology accelerator for the fintech and smart cities industries in Canary Wharf. She also founded Pivotal Innovations, a firm specialising in corporate innovation and accelerator programmes in the fintech sector.
The purity of the vision for Plexal arises from the stunning blank canvas and expansive space occupying the 68000 square feet ground floor of Here East, nestled into a corner of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic park overlooking Hackney Wick and bordering the canal, with impressive terraces looking out across London city. The philosophy at Plexal, and more broadly Here East, is one of work/life. The Here East plans extend beyond business and education (it will be home to Loughborough University, UCL and London College of Fashion Universities and faculties) to cultural experiences at the soon-to-be-established V&A at E20 and Sadler’s Wells, just across the park. Artist pods will be housed in the Here East facade, facing the canal. Boutique bars and restaurants (not a chain in sight) are setting up alongside shopping and civic spaces which conjures up the notion of a dynamic city within a city. All of this will contribute to a creative and tech-driven Plexal.
At the heart of Plexal is the aim to bring small business and corporates together for mutual exploration and benefit, on equal terms. Flexible, adaptable spaces – all with facilitation and dynamic business development in mind. Plexal presents a striking opportunity to build, found and establish businesses seeking to work across disciplines to truly innovate. It will provide a wide range of services including practical ‘intrapreneurship’ and entrepreneurship education courses, a state-of-the-art testing and prototyping lab, acceleration and incubation programmes, events, networking opportunities and a range of funding alternatives. With an initial focus on technology innovation applied to sports, wellbeing, fashion and mobility, the centre will have capacity for 800 members, becoming the home for corporates and startups that are designing and creating the connected products that will improve our lives.
I have been based in neighbouring Bethnal Green for well over a decade and the project at Here East feels like both a solidification of a scene that’s been steadily growing throughout that time, and the recognition that the vibrant art and design community, which I belong to, has a wealth of insight and inspiration to help propel Plexal into a multi-disciplinary, dynamic and exciting future. Having been on a personal tour of the site with Claire, I can see the potential for a flexible layout incorporating a number of different business sizes and types, at various stages of development.
The choice of the Olympic site, of such ground breaking achievement beyond our imaginations, is a fitting and poetic home for this ambitious space. Where better to set about tackling some of our trickiest problems in the sectors of health, sports, fashion, IoT, all under one roof? Tech dreams by way of Olympic ones. It’s all to strive for.
Plexal launches in May 2017, but an Innovation Forum and soft launch was held on October 27th, for which I curated a fashion tech showcase demonstrating the depth of creativity and talent in the fashion tech sector in London, including Modeclix, Headworks, Skinterface, Vegetarian Mushroom Leather by Kering Award finalist Irene-Marie Seelig, Holition’s virtual makeup app, the Bionic Toolkit by Jason Taylor, Village communications London Fashion Week VR experience and my own label, Brooke Roberts medical scan knitwear.
At the Innovation Forum, compered by Oli Barrett, Claire Cockerton delivered Plexal’s vision as discussed above, and Gerard Grech, CEO of Tech City UK, explained that tech business represents 10% of GDP in the UK versus 8% in the US and is the largest single sector, growing at a rate 32% faster than the next fastest growing sector. With GBP 45 billion in exports from the tech sector, we are best positioned to grow our tech and digital economy compared to other industries. Other speakers, including Liam Maxwell, the self-proclaimed ‘CTO of the UK Government’, were also there to share their belief that this sector really is the economic future of the UK for the coming decades, and panel discussions including industry leaders from Team Sky, Centrica, Autodesk and the Open Data Institute added their voices to this rallying cry. By the end of the presentation, I was buzzing with the belief that Plexal will be at the heart of this burgeoning growth driving the sector forward, with its vision of co-creation across the creative and technical sectors.
In the wake of Brexit, and the election result in the United States, Here East and Plexal provide a positive focal point for how our creative and tech-driven future can grow and propel us forward towards a brave new connected world and I am looking forward to following the journey.