Microsoft unveils $20m venue in London to help UK remain a tech leader

Microsoft has opened a $20 million venue in London to help the UK remain the home of technology innovation in Europe.

The Reactor, in Shoreditch, will be used to “nurture and develop start-up talent in the UK” by giving new businesses access to Microsoft partners, customers and products, UK Chief Executive Cindy Rose said.

The move was welcomed by Margot James MP, Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, who told Rose during the launch of the two-floor space that Microsoft is “doing so much for start-ups” in the UK.

“The Reactor is a $20m investment by Microsoft over the next 10 years,” Rose said in her opening speech. “It’s a reflection of the enduring commitment to the UK as a destination for digital innovation, and the importance that we place on nurturing and developing start-up talent in the UK, which we know is Europe’s hotspot for technology innovation.

Margot James MP (left), Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, with Cindy Rose, Microsoft UK Chief Executive

Margot James MP (left), Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, with Cindy Rose, Microsoft UK Chief Executive

“This space is specially designed and located in the heart of Shoreditch to help us connect better with the technology start-up and scale-up community, offer access to Microsoft’s technology, platform and tools, and connect [businesses] with our enterprise customers and partners.

“There are very few companies we don’t work with and that’s the great advantage of partnering with us, as well as the technology platform we provide.”

As well as offering free office space to start-up and scale-up companies, the UK Reactor will host regular events such as hackathons, talks, meetups and more for up to 120 people. It is Microsoft’s first such space in Europe, after similar hubs were opened in New York, Redmond and San Francisco. Further Reactors are planned for elsewhere in Europe and Sydney, Australia.

Warwick Hill, Managing Director for start-ups and scale-ups in the UK, said the hub was well-placed to support the next generation of successful companies as Microsoft has so far helped 734 new firms across the world to gain £3.2 billion in funding.

Interior of Microsoft Reactor in London

The Reactor was officially launched on Thursday

“We want to bring in the schools of tomorrow, the entrepreneurs of tomorrow and the agile thinkers of tomorrow, and make sure that girls and young women, in particular, see technology as a viable career path for them,” he said.

During Thursday’s launch, Rose revealed that Microsoft will sign up to the Tech Talent Charter, a government-supported, industry-led initiative that requires signatories to develop an inclusive and diverse workforce.

The Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries was delighted at the decision. “Microsoft is an excellent corporate citizen and you’re doing so much for start-ups. To know you are backing the Charter is just brilliant. Thank you very much,” she said.

“We have a specific problem [with the number of women] in the technology sector, because in general you need science qualifications and girls are attracted to science A-Levels in far lower numbers than boys. We have to change that, but there’s no quick fix. The Charter is designed to get girls to look favourably on careers in technology and have the confidence to go for it, as well as boosting digital awareness in schools in ways that girls will be attracted to.”

She added that Microsoft was doing “an amazing job” in helping people to learn digital skills.

The company has launched a digital skills programme in the UK, which runs until 2020. It aims to ensure the country remains one of the global leaders in cloud computing, artificial intelligence and other next-generation technologies.

Microsoft will recruit an extra 30,000 digital apprentices through its own programme for its network of 25,000 partners in the UK; train 30,000 public servants for free in a range of digital skills; and make sure everyone in the UK has access to free, online digital literacy training that will prepare them for a world in which companies, schools and governments embrace technology to transform how they work.

The technology firm has also launched a Cloud Skills Initiative, which will train 500,000 people in the UK in advanced cloud technology.

“The skills challenge is absolutely one that has to be tackled,” Rose said.