Innovation & Enterprise


UK’s first dedicated space for disabled entrepreneurs to open at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

20 September 2019

The development of innovative and accessible products and services by people with disabilities will be a key focus of the new East London Inclusive Enterprise Zone (ELIEZ).

UCL at Here East. Photo by Mary Hinkley © UCL Digital Media 

The zone will feature an innovation lab optimised for accessibility, the first such dedicated space in the UK. 

ELIEZ is a collaboration between:

  • UCL
  • Plexal
  • Here East
  • Global Disability Innovation Hub
  • Disability Rights UK
  • Capital Enterprise
  • Greater London Authority (GLA)
  • Loughborough University
  • London College of Fashion, UAL
  • Hackney Council
  • Ford Mobility
  • Inclusion London
  • London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC)
  • Barclays Eagle Labs

The £1.2 million project will receive £500,000 from Research England, match-funded and supported through in-kind contributions by the partners.

Deputy Mayor of London for Business, Rajesh Agrawal, said: “The Mayor and I are committed to ensuring all Londoners can participate in our thriving economy. This exciting new project is an important step in making this a reality and creating new opportunities for disabled entrepreneurs. I’m thrilled that such a diverse group of partners has come together to create this new innovation zone and I look forward to seeing it help new startups grow and thrive.”

Pressing need for inclusive innovation

Disabled people make up 15% of the global population. However, they’re frequently excluded from the opportunities afforded to non-disabled people. For example, only 10% of the world’s one billion disabled people have access to the assistive technology they require to go to school, work or have a family. In the UK, the disability employment gap (the difference in the rate of employment of disabled people and non-disabled people) has stayed stubbornly at around 30% for a decade.

There's an enormous international market for disability innovation and assistive technology but a lack of specialised provision in the UK to support entrepreneurship to meet this need. ELIEZ will transform the business of accessible innovation from a cottage industry into a fledgling business sector capable of driving UK productivity and inclusivity.

Building on the Paralympic legacy

The project involves converting an existing innovation space at the Here East maker facility into a fully accessible, specially designed space for entrepreneurs and businesses leaders who are disabled or focused on servicing disabled communities. It will also co-ordinate the delivery of accessible innovation education, training and events. 

Dr Catherine Holloway is Academic Director of the Global Disability Innovation (GDI) hub, based at UCL, one of the key partners in the new ELIEZ. The GDI hub currently provides exceptional disability-focused teaching, research and innovation as well as delivering a UK Aid funded £20 million global programme on assistive technology.

Catherine said: “This exciting project builds on the legacy of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, the most successful Paralympic Games ever. More importantly it will nurture a new generation of diverse entrepreneurs and innovators who are committed to developing a better, fairer future for all people.

“Our aim is to launch 100 new startups which will kick-start the UK’s first inclusive innovation sector and foster inclusive technological, social and economic growth for the benefit of all.”

Local impact in East London 

At the national and regional levels, the Mayor of London has identified inclusive innovation as a driver of good growth and productivity, and has made it a key ambition for London’s regional economic strategy. The GLA’s research indicates disabled Londoners are around 27% less likely to be in employment, while a TUC report highlights that disabled people typically earn approximately around £2,730 less per year.

The ELIEZ will bring a positive impact on the local east London community, creating thriving new businesses, employment and growth, aligning with LLDC and Hackney Council goals and establishing a more inclusive and prosperous society in and around the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. 

It will also deliver on the area’s Paralympic legacy by pioneering products and services, and establishing links with the forthcoming Tokyo and Paris Games and with a network of creative makers in the nearby Hackney Wick & Fish Island Creative Enterprise Zone. 

Facilitating inclusive innovation

UCL Innovation & Enterprise works with the university’s diverse community of staff, students and alumni to help them realise the potential of their ideas for the benefit of society and the economy. 

UCL’s Vice-Provost (Enterprise), Dr Celia Caulcott, said: “We believe that universities like UCL must work together with industry, third sector and government to solve complex social, environmental and technological challenges. The East London Inclusive Enterprise Zone exemplifies the sort of sustainable, inclusive growth we might aim for in the future.

“Improving the lives of all people with disabilities is something we as a society should absolutely be striving to achieve under any circumstances. At the same time, this project has the added benefit of effectively creating new market sectors, stimulating local economies and also increasing overall productivity.”


Find out more about:

Photo of UCL at Here East by Mary Hinkley © UCL Digital Media