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Themes: Culture and Participation

GDI Hub to be part of the UK’s most inclusive zone for accessible technology and disability-led innovation

  • Key focus will be development of inclusion led products and services, putting diverse needs at the centre of design and development
  • The East London Inclusive Enterprise Zone (ELIEZ) will feature an innovation lab at Plexal optimised for accessibility

London, September 2019 – University College London (UCL), Plexal, and Here East today announce the launch of the East London Inclusive Enterprise Zone (ELIEZ), the UK’s most accessible technology hub.

The Zone is a collaboration between, UCL, Plexal, Here East, Global Disability Innovation Hub, Disability Rights UK, Capital Enterprise, Greater London Authority, Loughborough University, London College of Fashion, UAL, Hackney Council, Ford Mobility, Inclusion London, and the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC).

The East London Inclusive Enterprise Zone (ELIEZ) will feature an innovation lab optimised for accessibility. The Lab will accelerate the development of needed products and services through from idea stage to global deployment.

Both the Plexal innovation centre and UCL’s advanced engineering capabilities will be adapted as part of the design process, based on the recommendations of an expert panel led by Disability Rights UK.

The £1.2 million project will receive £500,000 from Research England, match-funded by the partners. This investment is a decisive step in a journey that will welcome further partnerships into an inclusive innovation ecosystem.

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.”

Andrew Roughan, Managing Director at Plexal, said: “We’re delighted to be working with UCL to create the East London Inclusive Enterprise Zone (ELIEZ), and fully support its mission to develop disability-led innovation. The market for assistive technology is huge, but what many people don’t realise is that designing for the extreme can also be a powerful way to unlock new products, solutions and innovations that benefit everyone. Our vision for Plexal’s disability-led innovation hub is to act as an ecosystem that brings together innovators with first-hand accessibility challenges, government, industry, tech giants and academia, resulting in the development and commercialisation of new businesses, as well as new ways of fairly distributing the value created.”

Pressing need for inclusive innovation

Roughly 15% of the global population has a form of disability. This is not a small proportion, yet disabled people are frequently excluded from the opportunities available to non-disabled people.

As an example of this exclusion, only one in ten disabled people has 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 remained at around 30% for a decade.

There is an enormous international need for disability innovation and assistive technology, but currently a lack of specialised provision in the UK to support entrepreneurship to meet this need. The impact of the East London Inclusive Enterprise Zone (ELIEZ) will be to transform the business of accessible innovation from a cottage industry into a fledgling sector which drives better inclusion and productivity.

Building on the Paralympic Legacy

Dr Catherine Holloway is the Academic Director of the Global Disability Innovation (GDI) Hub, based at UCL – and key to the success of this work. The GDI Hub currently provides exceptional disability-focused teaching, research and innovation as well as delivering a UK Aid funded £20m global programme on assistive technology.

Dr Holloway 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 then kick-start the UK’s first inclusive innovation sector and foster inclusive technological, social and economic growth for the benefit of all.”

The project will develop an existing innovation hub within Plexal into a fully accessible, specially designed space for entrepreneurs and businesses leaders who are disabled, or are focused on servicing disabled people.

The East London Inclusive Enterprise Zone (ELIEZ) will also coordinate the delivery of accessible innovation education, training and events.

Local impact

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 East London Inclusive Enterprise Zone (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, with links being established with the forthcoming Tokyo and Paris Games as well as connections with a network of creative makers in the nearby Hackney Wick Creative Enterprise Zone.

Facilitating inclusive innovation

UCL Innovation and 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.

The department has a track record of supporting entrepreneurship development – with 68 graduate startups launched at UCL’s BaseKX incubator in the past 12 months, attracting £7.5 million of external investment. UCL Innovation & Enterprise will use its business expertise to support the ambitions of the East London Inclusive Enterprise Zone (ELIEZ) and deliver on the potential of inclusive innovation.

Dr Celia Caulcott, UCL’s Vice-Provost (Enterprise), 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 (ELIEZ) 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.”

Entrance of Here East building
Here East