This case study originally appeared on page 39 of the NCUB report Growing Value: Business University Collaboration for the 21st Century. The report is part of the Growing Value project, seeking to maximise the economic impact of the UK’s research base through university-business collaboration. Read the full report.

In 2011, Cisco UKI made a major commitment to supporting the development the UK’s digital economy, called the British Innovation Gateway. One of the major elements of the BIG programme is establishment of the so-called National Virtual Incubator (the “NVI”).

The NVI initiative is based upon a very straightforward, but powerful, Cisco point of view: in the 21st century successful innovation cannot be entirely local. Cities, regions and nations that are striving to develop the innovative businesses that will drive economic growth and be the engines of job creation need unmatched capabilities to connect, communicate and collaborate with each other, both nationally and internationally.

When Cisco looked at the UK’s “innovation ecosystem” it was clear that it possessed many world-leading innovation organisations and an established high-speed research network in the form of JANET (UK), but it was also apparent that there was a great deal of latent potential that could be unlocked through enabling more and better collaboration. This is an area where Cisco has global experience and capabilities that it wants to share with the UK through creating the NVI.

Purpose of the NVI

The NVI brings organisations together by creating a network of leading centres of research, innovation and business incubation called “NVI Nodes”. These NVI Nodes will use a common platform of advanced video collaboration technologies to deliver entrepreneurship and innovation programmes and services to an expanding NVI audience. With the support of JANET (UK), these NVI Nodes will be located across the UK and will be linked to similar centres of innovation around the world. At the time of writing, Nodes are being established in Greenwich, Birmingham, Cambridge, Shoreditch, Manchester, Coventry and Dundee, with more in the pipeline.

Collectively, the organisations responsible for these NVI Nodes are known as the NVI Alliance. The NVI Alliance is not a legal entity, but a group of organisations whose members will use their NVI Node facilities to pioneer and promote new approaches to borderless, network-enabled, innovation.

Purpose of the NVI Alliance

The NVI will be implemented under the auspices of the NVI Alliance. The central focus of the NVI Alliance is to define and achieve a set of common goals that will support and expedite the creation and growth of start-up companies and small-to-medium enterprises (and/or social innovation initiatives; particularly, but not exclusively, those focused on network-enabled digital innovation with high growth potential.

Goals of the NVI Alliance

The goals of the NVI Alliance are to:

  • strengthen the UK innovation ecosystem, particularly by creating greater access to and exchange of relevant ideas, expertise, skills, experience and funding;
  • enable increased pace, breadth and depth of innovation through enhanced communication and collaboration;
  • build partnerships to create and deliver programmes which support innovation and entrepreneurship;
  • extend the opportunities and benefits of the Cisco BIG programme, and similar activities undertaken by NVI Members, throughout the UK;
  • enable international links for UK innovation and research clusters, and associated organisations and individuals;
  • accelerate the creation and incubation of start-up and SME-type businesses, particularly, but not exclusively, those focused around networked digital technology; and
  • pioneer and promote new approaches to borderless, network-enabled, innovation.

The NVI is a not-for-profit initiative, and no fees or other charges are levied on NVI Alliance members. Cisco has taken it upon itself to provide video collaboration technologies to an initial set of nodes so that a critical mass of participating organisations can be reached as quickly as possible. Past a certain point, additional members will need to bear technology costs themselves. These costs are not prohibitive. Importantly, the open standards nature of the technologies in question means that choices are not limited to those provided by Cisco.
Although in its infancy, a critical message of the NVI for policy makers is that the UK already has a tremendous capacity for 21st century innovation, including the critical network infrastructure embodied in JANET (UK). Cisco has seen the incredible potential this infrastructure represents and, of its own volition, has directly invested to help JANET (UK) bolster its capabilities to support the wider innovation ecosystem. It is to be hoped that this decision by Cisco evidences the need for the UK to continue to nurture and publicly invest in this critical national capability.

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