| Véronique Fuller | Janvier 2020 |
Previously known as the Great White City due to the white marble cladding used on the exhibition pavilions at the beginning of the twentieth century, this part of Shepherd’s Bush, historically home to one of the most famous London Housing estates built between the late 30s and 50s, got a new spring of life when, in 2008, a first phase of the Westfield shopping centre was opened and the BBC sold its land as part of its move to Salford. Imperial College and two other developers bought the land. Adding to their South Kensington campus, Imperial College consequently opened a new Translation and Innovation Hub (I-HUB), Invention Rooms, a Molecular Sciences Research Hub (MSRH), Scale Space and soon Eighty Eight Wood Lane and Sir Michael Uren Biomedical Engineering Hub.
Prema Gurunathan, managing director for Upstream, partnership for growth and innovation, shares her vision on White City, this area of London already home to the largest shopping centre in Western Europe, cultural projects like Elephant West and the Troubadour’s White City Theatre and due to welcome 5000+ new homes, 2 million square feet of commercial office space, 30 acres of public space, 19 000 jobs, and over 400 stores, a cinema, and restaurants.
What is Upstream and what is your mission?
Started in January 2018, Upstream is a partnership between Imperial College London and Hammersmith and Fulham. Its mission is to promote London Borough Hammersmith and Fulham (LBHF) as a leading destination for the science, tech and creative industries and it has a particular mission to help transform White City into an innovation district. At the heart of the strategy is inclusive growth – that is, ensuring that residents are able to access the study and work opportunities that come with the growing presence of Imperial College and other exciting businesses. A communication and stakeholder engagement initiative, which also provides business support through specific initiatives and events, Upstream is still very young and evolves continuously!
Can you tell us more about organisations, start-ups and more established businesses already in or in the process of moving to White City?
In the last 12-18 months, organisations like the Ministry of Defence’s innovation accelerator (DASA) and exciting start-ups ranging from green-techs like Polymateria and med-tech like Medisieve have moved into the area. Sitting alongside them are of the many creative digital and some food businesses as well as international companies like Publicis, Yoox-Net-A-Porter and The White Company. Later this year, pharmaceutical giant Novartis will move its UK headquarters from Surrey to White City and in a few years, we will also have an education and charity hub in EdCity. Having these businesses and organisations in White City and fostering connections and collaborations between them and other organisations in LBHF more widely is an opportunity to make the innovation district a reality and to transform the borough as a leading destination for the science, tech and creative industries.
How is the path of a White City start-up unique?
If you consider the recently built Imperial College Translation and Innovation Hub (I-HUB), there is a clear path that a start-up, particularly a biotech start-up can follow: it might have some space at Imperial’s wet-labs and as it grows, progress through the same building, moving into larger labs, co-working spaces and ultimately larger office space. Over this period, it can interact (and does!) with other startups and entrepreneurs within the I-HUB, the Molecular Sciences Research Hub (MSRH) next door and across White City.
One problem start-ups often face is the need for space and support as they become larger, i.e. when they start scaling up or become scale-ups themselves. This is one reason why Imperial has partnered with Blenheim Chalcot, a Hammersmith-based venture builder to build ScaleSpace, so they can support and also study this aspect of the ecosystem. I think this is going to be a defining part of the working space in White City in the time to come.
Does architecture have an impact on the development of an innovation district and ecosystem? Which other initiatives are you running?
The academic literature on the development of an innovation district is still quite new but it is fair to say that many believe that architecture has an impact. If you look around White City, you will see plenty of spaces where people can come together organically. It’s not perfect yet but the amount of collaboration and positive plans leaves me hopeful.
Whilst architecture is important, a little help along the way doesn’t go amiss. Upstream has a role to play in bringing people together, through the Deep Tech Network, which we started earlier this year, in collaboration with Imperial’s Chemistry department and its Corporate Partnerships team. The deep tech network encompasses defence, security, biotech, cleantech, greentech, medtech, healthtech & community building (e.g. NGOs in the STEM education space). There’s a real buzz in the room every time we run a deep tech event, as people learn about each other’s work and how they could potentially collaborate. We also run events that include speakers who are experts on everything from marketing, fundraising to pitching and product development. We also work with start-ups on a 1-2-1- basis, providing connections, advice and practical support.
You mentioned that inclusive growth is at the heart of the work you do – what does that entail?
The OECD defines inclusive growth as economic growth that is “distributed fairly across society and creates opportunities for all”. What this means is that local residents are given the assistance to access the best jobs in the businesses that are based or coming into LBHF. All state schools in LBHF have been graded as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ by OFSTED (school inspector) – that’s a great start. What my colleagues in LBHF are now working on are ways to ensure that businesses connect with schools in ways that inspire and engage students, so they are aware of the opportunities on their doorstep and what they need to do to get them. At the same time, my colleagues at Imperial College, especially at the Invention Rooms, are doing outreach with young people so they understand the wonder of science, know that they can study it at university and the careers that open up to them afterwards.
What is your message to our readers?
If you are a science, tech or creative business based in LBHF (or nearby) and wish to come along to Upstream events, or have children who may be interested in coming along to the public outreach activities run by Imperial College, please do sign up for our newsletter www.move-upstream.org.uk.
If you are a business that wants to get involved in the industrial strategy, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
And if you haven’t been to White City in a while, do come for some Westfield Christmas shopping! On the food front, there’s Kricket (Indian), The Allis (in White City House) and Bluebird as well as a host of affordable eateries including independents like my favourite, Shola (Pakistani food) round the corner.