City authorities have a major role to play in innovation
Innovation isn’t down to businesses alone. Across the world, municipal authorities are encouraging innovative growth on their respective turfs. Here, we look at six cities where local technology initiatives are having a global impact.
As of March, Shanghai became the world’s first district to use both 5G and a broadband gigabit network. Shanghai’s vice mayor Wu Qing made the network’s first 5G video call using a Huawei Mate X smartphone, which is the company’s first 5G foldable phone. The city’s ambitious project, which aims to build over 10,000 5G base stations by the end of the year, is backed by state run telco China Mobile. Shanghai has been dubbed ‘China’s Silicon Valley’, and is home to the likes of Tencent, Huawei and ZTE. Another recent development is the creation of the Shanghai Technology Innovation Board, created by the government to discover and nurture promising companies in a bid to compete with US tech giants. Shanghai has benefitted hugely from cooperation between government and business.
Otherwise known as the Motor City, Detroit has become almost synonymous with mobility solutions. The city is following in the footsteps of other US cities by taking its existing network of automakers and facilitating work on innovative travel and transport. Ford and General Motors are just two of the auto giants based in Detroit, both of which are steering towards autonomous vehicles. In 2015, the Mayor’s Office of International Affairs was created to attract foreign investment and nurture homegrown startups. While official initiatives are fundamental to growth, the contribution of corporations (namely Amazon) is significant. The company donated $10,000 and 30 Fire tablets to the Detroit Public Schools community.
Austin is one of the US’s key technology hubs, not least of all due to a steady flow of talent from the University of Texas and Texas State University. Also known as ‘Silicon Hills’, the Texan city has attracted the likes of IBM, Google, and Facebook and is a prime destination for startups. In March, Amazon announced the expansion of its Austin based technology hub, following an existing investment of over $7bn in state infrastructure. Austin’s pre-eminence in the tech world is attributed to a low cost of living and doing business. Dell, which was founded in the city 35 years ago, is also credited with catalysing an entire tech ecosystem.
Stockholm has been aptly described as Europe’s ‘unicorn factory’, producing more companies worth over $1bn than any other European city. In fact, in terms of unicorns per capita, Stockholm sits directly behind Silicon Valley. Stockholm-bred startups include King Games, the creators of Candy Crush Saga, music streaming app Spotify, and Skype. Stockholm’s tech success has been supported by an enviable public service infrastructure which encourages companies (as well as enterprising individuals) to settle there. Confident that investment would spur the next generation of world leading brands like H&M and IKEA, the government has poured funding into the city’s technology infrastructure. It has clearly paid off.
Manchester has established itself as a centre for smart city development. The CityVerve project, a consortium of 21 organisations led by the council, won a £10m government grant in 2015 to test Internet of Things applications in the city. Since then, the project has allocated funding to the creation of smart lighting, air quality monitoring systems, and even talking bus stops. Those living in Manchester will be among the first to experience the benefits of living in a connected city. Another initiative, the Manchester Smarter City Programme, explores how technology can make city infrastructure more efficient and more rewarding for its inhabitants.
Much like Manchester, the city of Leeds is building a northern technology hub, challenging the perception that innovation can only happen in the capital. Last year, property development company Bruntwood received a £2m grant from Leeds City Council to set up a dedicated Tech Hub at its Platform office. Financial support from councils is imperative to the success of localised projects and, in the long run, this is hoped to position Leeds as a hotspot for tech outside of London. Since 2016, Leeds has hosted the Leeds Digital Festival, a week long celebration of technology in the North sponsored by the council and the University of Leeds.
Entrepreneurs and innovators need incentives to set up shop in a particular location, and are looking beyond big names (think London and New York) to fledgling tech hubs where they could potentially have a greater impact. Interestingly, history is also an important factor. Detroit, for example, has been a Mecca for the automotive industry for well over a century. Pre-existing prestige isn’t enough to sustain disruptive innovation, though. Becoming a tech hub ultimately relies on a vibrant urban culture, quality public service infrastructure, and cooperation between business and governing bodies.
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