Digital London: How we can remain a capital of innovation

London is the world’s business capital and the engine of Britain’s economy. Our city has always been an incredible hotbed of innovation and disruption.

As Britain prepares to leave the EU, we must embrace our entrepreneurial spirit more than ever, to ensure our economy continues to go from strength to strength over the decades ahead.

London is always one step ahead of the game – a place where businesses and individuals are encouraged to innovate, taking advantage of the latest technologies to boost living standards and spread economic prosperity.

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As mayor, I support businesses and entrepreneurs who set out to change our perceived way of thinking, our ways of doing business, the experiences that Londoners and visitors alike have in our city.

I am working my socks off to ensure that, despite Brexit, London remains a fertile breeding ground for innovation and continues to be the best place in the world to start and grow a business.

During the mayoral election, I promised City A.M. readers that I would be the most pro-business mayor London has ever had.

That promise is reflected in the work we’re doing from City Hall to support companies and entrepreneurs who are not only pushing the boundaries of our traditional business sectors, but reinventing them.

Many of the 47,000 digital technology companies in London are making us think again about how we work, how we move about the city, even how we live. The pace of change can be frightening, disturbing even – and that is something we need to understand.

While the new breed of companies that innovate and disrupt are at the forefront of the capital’s technological revolution, it’s vital that they play by, and are seen to play by, the rules.

We must collectively demonstrate that disruption has the capacity to drive growth, increase productivity, create jobs, and improve the lives and working conditions of Londoners, rather than put them under pressure.

On Monday, Theo Blackwell will start his new job at City Hall at London’s first ever chief digital officer. I have tasked Theo with helping open up London’s public services and infrastructure to innovation – using new technology and data to change the experience Londoners and visitors have of the city.

Last week, we saw a second cohort of companies join the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator programme, aimed at speeding up the development and scaling of digital innovations across health and care, so that patients can benefit from emerging tech, -rapidly.

This initiative, supported by City Hall, has already helped more than 30 companies to win contracts with the NHS.

It is now set to support companies which are developing innovative solutions – including video-game rehabilitation exercises that can be done at home, online prescription ordering and delivery services, a self-management platform for diabetes, and AI-connected prosthetics, to offer just a few examples.

This morning, my office and the Royal Society are co-hosting a roundtable with businesses across a range of sectors to get a better understanding of how machine learning and artificial intelligence are being applied across different industries, and what I can do to support further innovation and growth.

Again, this is an area where London is leading. Deepmind, for example, was created in London and has now been acquired by Google/ Alphabet – setting global standards from its Kings Cross base.

One of the reasons for hosting this discussion is because I want to get a better understanding of how this innovation is spreading out across London’s economy, and how we can support further growth.

Of course, I fully understand that there is no point in London being at the forefront of disruptive technology if we are unable to equip our young people with the skills they need to thrive in this rapidly changing world.

That is why I have invested £7m into my Digital Talent Programme which will arm young Londoners with the skills they need to access the growing number of digital, technology and creative jobs we need to fill across London’s entire economy.

Later this year I will also be publishing for consultation our Skills for Londoners strategy which will work to ensure London has access to the high-level skills required to drive this innovation forward, through upskilling and ensuring access to global talent.

The biggest single thing we must do to enable Londoners and London businesses to welcome disruption, rather than fear and oppose it, is to ensure that they are best placed to benefit and grow from it.

As mayor, I can play a big part in that – but of course businesses must do their bit as well. If we do so effectively, London’s economy will not only grow stronger, it will set the global business standards of tomorrow – just as we have done in the past.

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