By Marcus Leach

Cisco have announced the next key stage in its British Innovation Gateway (BIG) initiative, a five-year investment of cash, technology and human resources, which aims to develop Britain’s innovation eco-system and create an environment in which start-up digital businesses and their ideas can flourish.

The next stage - the National Virtual Incubator (NVI) - is a sustainable public technology network which promises to stimulate entrepreneurship by connecting physical sites through IT infrastructure.

Its main goal is to help accelerate the growth of start-up and small to medium sized (SME) businesses, by facilitating their contact and collaboration with other like-minded businesses, partners, advisors and investors.

At an event earlier today (Thursday), Prime Minister David Cameron cited Cisco’s BIG initiative — and specifically the NVI - as a significant example of success in the Government’s goal to drive new economic growth through high-tech innovation.

The NVI network will span the entire UK and consist of a series of ‘nodes’ connected to research clusters, higher education establishments and science parks over the JANET network. Start-up businesses will be able to visit a ‘node’ and connect to other organisations in the network, in order to share resources, pool ideas and develop business partnerships to help them innovate and grow.

The ‘nodes’ will be equipped with state-of-the-art networked collaboration technology, including the Cisco TelePresence® solution and JANET Videoconferencing.

The collaborative initiative, led by Cisco, was launched today in conjunction with founding partners Ravensbourne, Greenwich Council, JANET(UK) and Birmingham Science Park Aston. A further three nodes will be announced within the next three months with an additional nine nodes added in 2012. Cisco’s target is to see over 100 nodes connect to the NVI within the next five years.

Cisco’s BIG initiative was launched in January 2011 by Prime Minister David Cameron and Cisco’s chairman and CEO, John Chambers. A number of the key components within the initiative include:

· Innovation Centres — As part of Cisco’s commitment to build a brilliant future for the UK, it will open two Innovation Centres based in London Shoreditch and the Olympic Park, designed to encourage open innovation and provide support for SMEs. Once established, each BIG Innovation Centre will be linked to the NVI.

· BIG Brainstorm - On 21 September 2011, Cisco hosted The BIG Brainstorm, an open debate to help shape what BIG will look like over the coming years. Cisco is now in the process of creating The BIG Panel — a group of individuals with technology and innovation at the heart of what they do — to help track and monitor the progress of BIG over the next five years.

· The BIG Awards — The BIG Awards will take the form of an annual innovation competition for start-ups and SMEs, which Cisco intends to run for five years. The first round of the awards will launch in February 2012.

· International Investment Forum - In October this year, Cisco partnered with Birmingham Science Park Aston (BSPA) and the Keiretsu Forum to launch the International Investment Forum (IIF) - a programme designed to connect entrepreneurs with global investors using the latest video communications platform.

· Future Cities Centre — Cisco has entered into a three year initial agreement withImperial College London and UCL to create a Future Cities Centre with the aim of establishing London as a global leader in Future Cities research. The Centre will be a physical space in Greenwich and Shoreditch where businesses, academics and start-ups can openly collaborate. The Centre will form a major node of the NVI and will focus on the thematic areas of Future Cities and Mobility, Smart Energy Systems, Internet of Things and Business Model Innovation.

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