London's Smithfield Market is just outside the old Roman-era city boundaries, and meat has been traded continuously on that site for over 800 years. It's not exactly where you'd expect a forward-thinking technology startup scene to emerge.
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But due to a massive transportation project known as Crossrail, the region will eventually become the center of the metropolis, says Ami Shpiro, founder of Innovation Warehouse, a co-working and incubation space that leases the top two floors of the market.
With its emerging Longevity Hub, Innovation Warehouse is at the forefront of "Geroscience," or tech solutions for an aging population. We stopped by recently to find out more.
"I didn't want to be in Silicon Roundabout, or East London," Shpiro told PCMag during our tour. "We opened in 2010 when this area still had a regenerative aspect. It's well-situated. We're close to Holborn, where the lawyers are, and the City where the financiers are. Plus, with Crossrail, this is going to be the center of the London business scene."
A former computer scientist who consulted for the Israeli Military, Shpiro has founded several tech companies, including Clicksoftware Inc, but he clearly prefers the startup life to the politics of managing a high-value enterprise.
"I love the creativity in the early growth phase of a startup. Drop me in the middle of the desert with nothing, and I'll make something happen," he said. "That's the energy I wanted to create here—with sharing economy thinking, the arithmetic of co-working spaces, a high-growth mindset, but with a twist."
Innovation Warehouse and its Longevity Hub is aiming for a community vibe. There is no joining fee, and hot-desking (or small office rentals) is done on a month-to-month basis. There is a skunkworks type of feel—heads down, focused on screens, coding late into the night, grabbing a snack in the communal kitchen, or booking a glass-walled meeting room to brainstorm ideas.
When Shpiro is out of town, he checks in with startup CEOs using the BeamPro remote telepresence robotic unit, zooming around the floor, grabbing a few minutes to troubleshoot and catch up.
Developed in collaboration with the City of London's economic development and regeneration strategy, Innovation Warehouse also has an accelerator and a regular onsite pitch fest with a network of angel investors on hand to give advice, provide capital, and share contacts.
Within the Longevity Hub, where the focus is on aging tech, Shpiro is looking for early-stage, software-based solutions that draw on Geroscience; supporting independent living requirements of an older demographic, extending healthy lifespans, and contributing to a new "Silver Economy." Longevity Hub's investments are still in stealth mode, so we can't name any at this time, but will follow up as they mature and come to market.
"I had invested in a number of startups across the board, and different verticals, before this," Shpiro told us. "And my original idea for Innovation Warehouse was to be eclectic—as in fashion startups next to tech companies. But that didn't work as a tactic. So we refined the idea and created what I call a 'School of Business' where entrepreneurs learn by doing; the faculty are angel investors and the staff are service providers offering SEO, marketing, accounting, legal, and so on."
Shpiro's team filters about 100 companies a month, which apply for a place in the warehouse through a slot in the internal pitch round. His investors don't pull their punches—they say what they think—so this is not for the thin-skinned.
"We give them a 5-5-5," said Shpiro. "Five minutes to pitch, five for Q&A and five for feedback—right then, which is rare. I believe in giving proper direction, as soon as possible. We want to get in early, when the idea and the team is there, when they need capital most, with investments at the £150,000 to £1,000,000 stage."
He found that, initially, people came to network, rather than buckle down to the task at hand. This has been the criticism of other coworking/accelerator spaces—a good place to meet people but tough to actually build a company.
"But this is a place of industry," confirmed Shpiro. "Building a business is 99 percent hard graft. You want people around you that respect that. You don't want someone who's going to give you some kind of phenomenal epiphany of an idea. You need someone who can help you solve a problem, get stuff done."
It's going well enough that Shpiro recently took on further space within Smithfield Market.
"I knew it would work," he told PCMag. "I also knew that it would work here, right in the center of London. This is a vibrant city, with a strong work ethic. If you've got talent and are prepared to work hard, everything is here to help you succeed."
If you're based in London—or heading there in 2019—Innovation Warehouse holds regular pitch days and you can apply for a slot here.