Cindy Rose, Microsoft UK CEO, talks to Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, in the Microsoft London Store

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan asks technology companies to help tackle the capital’s biggest challenges

A programme to counter violent extremism online, deliver more affordable housing and make freight more efficient in the capital has been launched by the Mayor of London, Microsoft and the Social Tech Trust.

The Civic Innovation Challenge invites companies in the capital’s technology sector to come up with a solution to some of the city’s biggest problems. In turn, they will receive help and support to develop their idea.

The initiative was announced by Sadiq Khan during an event at Microsoft’s Flagship Store on Oxford Circus on Monday. Cindy Rose, Microsoft UK Chief Executive, welcomed the Challenge’s bid to bring together the public and private sectors to improve communities.

“We welcome the Civic Innovation Challenge as a way to introduce new technology companies to helping London and the millions of people who live and work here,” Rose said. “We are excited to be able to learn, explore and develop new ideas, and accelerate the adoption of technology and digital skills in the capital’s public sector.

“Microsoft currently has a great team of people and partners working with communities in London, as well as the London Office of Technology and Innovation, Met Police and Transport for London. Our aim is to help organisations deliver solutions to tackle issues such as social care, crime and pollution, while creating a ‘smarter’ city.

“We are immensely proud to be hosting the launch of such an important initiative.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan picks up Surface Headphones in the Microsoft London Store

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan picks up a pair of Surface Headphones in the Microsoft London Store

There are 40 places available on the Civic Innovation Challenge, of which up to three companies will be awarded £40,000 each to develop their solutions. Companies will also benefit from business and product development support, workshops and training sessions.

The Met Police, Greater London Authority and Transport for London will work alongside participants in the programme.

Theo Blackwell, Chief Digital Officer at Greater London Authority, said: “The Civic Innovation Challenge is a unique opportunity for tech companies to tackle some of the most pressing problems facing our capital. I would encourage London’s tech talent to put their creativity to the test and help solve these challenges.”

Last year, the Civic Innovation Challenge focused on active travel, dementia support, electric vehicle charging, increasing physical exercise and tackling loneliness. From 120 applications, seven companies were selected to receive grants of £15,000 to develop their ideas.

London is already home to a large number of tech firms and it is hoped that the Mayor’s challenge can create more. The capital leads digital growth across Europe, with 45 unicorns – companies worth at least $1 billion – based in the city, including 18 fintech firms, according to research from technology entrepreneurs’ network Tech Nation. London “remains the acknowledged centre of Europe’s tech sector”, the report added, producing one in five of the continent’s fast-growing unicorns. The city has so far produced 45 unicorns worth a total of $148bn.

Microsoft is playing its part in helping start-ups grow in London and across the UK. Rose pointed to the company’s “long and proud history of investing in this country”, and highlighted its eight offices, nearly 5,000 staff, world-class research lab in Cambridge, the M12 venture fund for early-stage startups, three gaming studios and multiple data centres, including the world’s first underwater data centre – off the coast of Scotland.

Microsoft also partners with the Social Tech Trust on its AI for Good Start Up Accelerator in Shoreditch, which support companies that are using AI to help address societal issues and challenges such as accessibility and environmental sustainability.

Irene Omaswa, Operations & Finance Director at Social Tech Trust, speaks at the event at Microsoft Store London

Irene Omaswa, Operations and Finance Director at Social Tech Trust, speaks at the event