Interview: Hacking Urban Innovation Eco-Systems

Kajal Sanghrajka explains how the interplay of education, incubation and funding combined with gender equality and a culture of experimentation creates a most fertile ground for urban innovation hubs.

Kennen Sie Ihr wahres Unternehmenspotenzial?
Zu tief im Tagesgeschäft begraben um Innovation umzusetzen?
Sie möchten mehr Experimentieren und weniger Lamentieren?
Sie benötigen strategische Grundlagen um die Zukunft Ihres Unternehmens nachhaltig gestalten zu können?


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Kajal Sanghrajka is a global citizen, entrepreneur and expert on innovation and startups across cities. She was one of 150 UK recipients to be awarded the Winston Memorial Trust Churchill Fellowship. Through this fellowship, she travelled to 25 cities to better understand how they create more diverse entrepreneurial ecosystems. She is the founder of Growth Hub Global where she advises European companies, cities and universities on global growth strategy.

 

Hi Kajal, you are Founder & Director at Growth Hub Global and write for The Transatlantic Post, what do you most enjoy about your work?

What I have most enjoyed is working directly with founders and early to mid-stage businesses to think about growth more strategically and enter new markets both more creatively and cost effectively. You have to constantly understand new cultures, new people, new ways of working different to your own and adapt all your business processes accordingly. I love the challenge of it and supporting businesses and now universities through this journey.

I began writing The Transatlantic Post to report on what I was learning about startups and culture across cities. I interviewed people working at the front lines of innovation and entrepreneurship from Zug’s Crypto Valley to an X-Ray laboratory in Southern Sweden. It has been an incredible privilege to explore and write about innovation clusters all over the world.  

What are you currently working on?

Last year I joined the Board of the London School of Economics entrepreneurial programme – LSE Generate and I am currently leading the international innovation initiatives and business acceleration programme.

I’ve been working closely with student and alumni entrepreneurs and I am so encouraged by how they are shifting the way business is conducted. It is no longer about growth at all costs or a winner takes all mentality – they want to have a wider impact and create a more socially conscious mindset. Whether through data ethics, greater transparency in supply chains or ensuring more inclusive and diverse workplaces - we are building the infrastructure to help them do that. We’re piloting several entrepreneurial programs in the UK and will be rolling out innovation hubs globally.

You are not only an entrepreneur, you are also a researcher. You received a Churchill Fellowship and visited more than 25 cities around the globe to study their entrepreneurial ecosystems. What motivated you to take this journey and what did you find out?

In 2016, I was greatly discouraged by the negative narrative on immigration in both the UK and US. Growing up in London, I experienced little racism or barriers to progression, yet Brexit called everything into question. I was determined to find a way to change that narrative away from fear to a more solution-driven conversation starting with immigrant entrepreneurs. I won the Churchill Fellowship to look at best practices in how cities were attracting diverse startup talent and how that supported wider economic and social benefits and published the research findings here last year.

London's diversity appears to be a key component of its success as a global innovation hub

Cities and countries which are already and will attract the best and brightest entrepreneurial talent have two common attributes. First, they understand that longer term integration is a two-way process. They have a balanced and fair immigration policy linked to economic needs. Second, they implement innovative models which reflect a more nuanced understanding of the challenges faced by the entrepreneur: Can I continue to live in this country as I invest in my business? Can I hire the best talent I need from across the world? And perhaps most importantly, Do I feel welcome here?

You emphasize the importance of the interplay between business, academia and government. Why is this so important?

Innovation relies on the strength of ties between Government, the private sector and universities. When there is a rhythm and a balance between these stakeholders they can amplify the impact of any innovation from idea to effective commercialisation and scale. I saw a number of very creative models at these intersections - in fact, one of the best examples I saw of this was Venturekick in Switzerland.

Why do you think universities will play such a critical role in this equation?

Over the last 7 years, the landscape of university entrepreneurship has transformed itself from the odd few elective entrepreneurial courses to dedicated accelerators and venture funds spinning out startups that have gone onto redefine entire sectors. When you combine education, incubation of ideas and funding in particular with deep sector expertise at universities be it in Deeptech or social science, the combination is powerful. I’ve seen this first-hand at leading universities in Zurich, London and New York.

I’ve written in more detail about this in a recent article “The Rise of the Graduate Entrepreneur” for those that want to learn more.

This reminds of Stanford University and the Silicon Valley, where government contracts and university-funded R&D created a fertile ground for the world’s fastest growing companies. Are you using this recipe to create a new Silicon Valley here in Europe?

Cities across Europe are not trying to replicate or emulate Silicon Valley. There is not nor should there be a universal template – each city in Europe has its own DNA and strength in different innovation clusters, they are succeeding on their own terms. The Nordics for example, represent 4% of Europe’s population but 25% of start-up unicorns. I’d attribute a good proportion of this success to the unique  Nordic culture of flat hierarchies, humility and collaborative working.

Switzerland often ranks among the most innovative countries in the world, but it seems Swiss companies don’t fully capitalize on this. What is your perspective on the Swiss innovation ecosystem?

I enjoyed working with the Swiss because of the high quality of talent and sheer product ingenuity. In this respect, I can see why it is always at the top of innovation indices. A positive side of their more conservative culture is that Swiss start-ups tend to be more sustainable. Driven by substance rather than hype. The flipside though is that they are more understated and risk-averse than other cultures, often preferring to perfect products rather than taking imperfect minimum viable products to market quicker and gaining customer feedback. And aside from a relative lack of availability of later stage capital, which is a well-covered factor, there was a more patriarchal culture than I would have expected. Unless Switzerland puts women on an equal footing they will not be able to fully capitalise on their innovation potential. I do see this starting to change with Generation Z. I certainly think there is a lot more upside to be captured across the ecosystem and I’m looking forward to seeing the innovation landscape evolve.

Where can people find you online?

I write about innovation and startups across cities at the transatlanticpost.com and Kajal.london is a collection of my various strands of work. You can also connect at Twitter @kajalnyclon or LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/kajalsanghrajka/

 

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