UCL London


UCL's Leading Role in London's Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

Written by Professor Alan Thompson, Dean, Faculty of Brain Sciences and Pro Vice Provost (London), UCL with guest feature by Dr Martin Davies

26 MAY 2021, issue 14

Alan Thompson

I am thrilled to share that on 17th May 2021, UCL alongside construction partner ISG and University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, began construction of the new home of UCL Translational Neuroscience and the UK Dementia Research Institute at 256 Gray’s Inn Road, London. This development is transformational for the Queen Square Institute of Neurology, Dementia and for London. It was particularly appropriate that the ‘breaking ground’ ceremony took place at the beginning of Dementia Activity week. The development will accelerate new treatments for disabling neurological conditions, provide clinical care for local people as well as apprenticeships, work experience, an outreach scheme and jobs for the local community. It will provide a boost of £10million to the local economy as well as contributing to local transport, affordable housing and Community Partnership Plans. We are extremely grateful to Camden Council for their support and for welcoming the facility to the borough and are so looking forward to opening the doors of the building in 2024.

This month we also learnt the results of the London Mayoral Election on 7th May with Sadiq Khan winning his second term as Mayor of London. The Greater London Authority’s (GLA) vision for London encompasses many themes which align with our work in the London Office but also more widely across UCL and we look forward to continuing our relationships with the Mayor and his team at City Hall.

One important theme is mental health and earlier this month UCL marked Mental Health Awareness Week by raising awareness and boosting wellbeing. UCL Workplace Wellbeing led several events and activities for staff and students and Professor Tony David, Director of the UCL Institute for Mental Health, ran a Q&A where he outlined that UCL will be in the first wave of applications for a ‘Chartermark’ which will be awarded through the University Mental Health Charter in the UK, led by Student Minds and Universities UK. We know that the mental health and mental wellbeing of Londoners is only likely to have been exacerbated by the pandemic and we will continue to work with our partners in London, and beyond, on this important issue.

In the London Office we continue to work closely with Camden Council on our Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), engaging both organisations in collaboration for the benefit of Camden. Colleagues in The Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP) at UCL have collaborated with the Camden STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) Hub to develop and deliver an educational video for a summer school for students at eight schools across Camden. The video will be shared with over 180 11-12 year old students, introducing students to the Social Science discipline. 

The UCL Future Cities Podcast continues to explore the complexity of urban living, examining what the future of our cities might look like and how research and innovation can help.  Series 1 features six episodes all focussed on London and what the future holds for the city’s many communities. Episode 3 on Smart Cities featuring Dr Sarah Wise, Professor Duncan Wilson and UCL Alumnus Kulveer Ranger, has just launched. Listen to all the episodes to date, including Episode 1 on post-pandemic London and Episode 2 on gentrification, here

Finally, I am delighted that Dr Martin Davies has provided an update on UCL’s contribution to London’s Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). As our London Office and UCL Innovation & Enterprise are now both contained within the Office of the UCL Vice-Provost (Research, Innovation & Global Engagement), we have even greater opportunity to work together in showcasing UCL’s commitment and impact in London. Recently Dr Anne Lane, CEO of UCL Business described how UCL supports spinouts through innovation and emphasised the fantastic societal impact UCL makes through its commercialisation. We look forward to seeing that impact and innovation continuing and strengthening across London.


Numbering almost six million in the UK, SMEs are a major part of the UK economy, and a vital part of London’s success as a global city. At the start of 2020, SMEs contribution amounted to over half of the UK’s private sector turnover and accounted for 60% of private sector employment, showing a dramatic growth in the formation of start-ups and micro-business over the last decade. This trend is especially strong in London, fuelled by access to international markets and finance, and the contribution of the capital’s universities and graduates. 

UCL academics and students increasingly appreciate they are as likely to find valuable research partnerships, or exciting employment opportunities, with SME businesses as they are with major corporates or multi-nationals. The number of innovation-rich sectors where SMEs play an important role is growing. This trend is often seen first in London before spreading to other regions of the country. 

For example, in 2020, London accounted for 33% of all ‘high growth’ companies in the UK, and 65p in every £1 invested in a business in the UK. This has been driven especially by investments in FinTech and artificial intelligence (AI) enterprises, with UCL recognised as a key driver of London’s AI sector.  According to analysis by Beauhurst, some of the most ’ambitious’ high growth businesses in the country are concentrated in a tight area around central London, encompassing UCL’s presence in Bloomsbury. 

By proactively nurturing this ecosystem we will continue to attract talented people with ideas and resources to UCL, through providing the support, spaces, and networks that allow new research, innovation and business creation to take root. For example, in UCL Innovation & Enterprise, we are delivering the Innovate UK EDGE programme for London SMEs. This service, run by our high-growth SME team and funded by Innovate UK, is working with 360 London SMEs to help them innovate, expand into new markets, and connect with UCL. In 2020, the team helped London SMEs, including UCL spinouts and startups like EcoNomad and Oslr secure innovation grants and early stage investment of more than £4m. The team also support UCL academics to win Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) grants. They help UCL researchers work together with SMEs on strategic company projects, exemplified by the recently awarded project between XYZ Reality and The Bartlett School of Sustainable Construction and Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA).

As well as giving direct support for small firms, UCL is also actively involved with business incubators. IDEALondon, a partnership between UCL Faculty of Engineering, EDF and Capital Enterprise, provides fast-growing tech companies, like Curve, with workspace and wrap-around support to accelerate their business idea. The Faculty also has innovation programmes to support SME, academic and student connections in areas like precision medicine, AgriTech, and LegalTech, plugging tech entrepreneurs into UCL’s wider academic networks.  

All these programmes are not only helping SMEs raise funding and grow their business, but are also forging valuable long-term connections with UCL that translate into research partnerships, project and employment opportunities for our students and graduates, and contacts with London’s investment community.

We’re also seeing burgeoning interest from students and graduates who are interested in developing their entrepreneurial skills and starting their own business. BaseKX, UCL’s hub for student entrepreneurs, operated by UCL Innovation & Enterprise in a partnership with the London Borough of Camden, provides hot-desk space, mentoring and extracurricular programmes to inspire and support early-stage student business. Whilst, of course, on-site operations are suspended due to Covid restrictions, this hasn’t dampened enthusiasm from the UCL student community, with significant uptake of our online entrepreneurial training programme offer. Since 2010, we’ve supported the creation of more than 250 start-ups, with notable successes like bio-bean, Stasher and Rice Inc. all starting life at BaseKX.

UCL’s strong track record in creating successful startups and also spinouts is reflected in the amount of external investment attracted and the number of jobs created. In 2019/20, UCL spinouts and startups employed over 3,000 people, and between 2018-2020 attracted over £1bn of external investment. To top this off, five UCL spinouts are now listed on the US Nasdaq stock exchange.

Startups, spinouts and SMEs are an essential part of the UK business landscape, and, especially in London, drive new technology development in areas closely intertwined with UCL’s research strengths. By providing the support, coordination and resources to collaborate with SMEs and start new businesses, UCL can play a leading role in London’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, attract students and business partners, and develop a distinctive story about our contribution to London’s economic growth and renewal. 


Colleagues from across UCL have continued to impact London and Londoners through their research, opportunities and activities. To share just a couple of examples…

A report by UCL researchers has outlined that systemic inequalities mean that low-income households in London are more likely to be exposed to higher levels of indoor air pollution. In the paper, researchers focused on London as housing in the capital is not typically representative of the rest of the country, with a higher proportion of renters and flats as dwellings. The paper builds on previous research from 2020 which showed that concentrations of indoor domestic air pollution may vary between SES groups.

A study on airborne COVID-19 transmission is underway, helping to get large-scale events up and running by collecting and analysis data from test events in London. The UCL research team led by Dr Liora Malki-Epshtein (UCL Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering - CEGE) will analyse data from large sports and music events which are being organised with the UK Government’s Events Research Programme in London. The study will create clear guidance on how to design and operate non-domestic buildings to minimise the risk of airborne transmission of Covid-19 and other viruses.

Is there an individual or group who would bring a new vantage to the problem that you are trying to tackle? Who might understand the barriers that you find hard to overcome? Or, whose stories will ground what you are trying to learn or teach with real world experience? UCL Culture are excited to be able to offer small grants of up to £500 for UCL Staff (Academic & Professional Services) and Students (Undergraduate and Postgraduate) for you to invite voices not often heard in academic settings into an online conversation. For more details visit the UCL Culture website here; the deadline for application is 01st June 2021.

To share any London impact stories or to get in touch, please contact Amy Lightstone.

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