Yes, London has talent and capital but it is also has an open mind and free spirit to embrace disruptive new ideas.

Acting upon an initial idea takes daring and boundless get-up-and-go from entrepreneurs. Luckily, open-minded investors in London are keen to support displays of gumption.

Take Laurence Kemball-Cook, Founder and CEO of Pavegen, a clean-tech company attempting to change the world with the human footstep. The idea came to Kemball-Cook as he was walking through Victoria Station on his daily commute – the stomping ground for more than 35,000 people every hour. What if he could harness the kinetic energy of footsteps to create green energy to power cities?

Laurence Kemball-CookCEO of Pavegen

His idea was initially met with scepticism. “Everybody said it wouldn’t work. They said it was crazy, but I really believed there was something there,” says Kemball-Cook. He spent five years in his bedroom researching and building prototypes, which he cooked in his family oven. It was then time to test it out. “A friend and I broke into a building site in South Bank and installed the product illegally in the grounds. We were mixing cement at 2am and digging holes,” says Kemball-Cook. “I posted it on the internet and Westfield spotted it and called me up to say they loved the installation. They asked to place an order and ended up investing £200,000.”

That was the start of something special. Pavegen has installed its tiles in workplaces like Google, Coca-Cola, Adidas and the US federal government in Washington DC. Kemball-Cook says, “Now, we’re just closing a £5 million raise.” All thanks to risk-takers and risk-appreciators alike.

New opportunities for London’s risk-takers are also revealing themselves on the world arena for city transport. It’s an exciting time for mobility start-ups across the board – from autonomous vehicles, nifty scooters and new mobility services to the internet of things, which is only set to gather momentum with the introduction of 5G in London.

This has spawned from a trend both alarming and motivating to entrepreneurs: there are now more people living in urban areas than ever before. Our travel infrastructure risks buckling unless we eradicate pain points in the transport system. This means new and innovative mobility services are needed now more than ever before.

In May, Emilie Hannezo, an Associate at InMotion Ventures, the VC arm of Jaguar Land Rover, shared her thoughts at a Workspace Business Insight dinner. “We see a move in the industry towards a single, modal platform, with multiple modes of transport providers integrated seamlessly. There is a battle to ‘own the customer’ and deliver a one-stop-shop for mobility.”

Hosted at The Frames in Shoreditch, the talk covered the latest developments in Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS), and highlighted movers and shakers in the industry. Citymapper is one of the most successful MaaS businesses that has spotted an opportunity to solve a growing transport problem. With its headquarters at Workspace’s Cargo Works in Waterloo, it spans 39 cities globally, helping travellers efficiently plan their trip from A to B with a few taps of a finger.

Now, with the introduction of its “Super Duper Pass”, offering weekly unlimited public transport, £10 of cab credits and unlimited Santander cycles for £39 a week (and with more to come), it is competing directly with Transport for London (TfL). Citymapper pays TfL for each journey travelled, with the card acting as a pre-paid debit card, but risks losing money unless the concept takes off. In spite of its risks and competitive ambitions, TfL welcomes the move. It openly supports products that promote public transport, walking and cycling in the city.

Responsible, sustainable growth: going green

As well as getting people from A to B efficiently, mobility start-ups have gained significant attention because of a sea change in attitudes towards sustainability. London is one of the most active global cities pushing for sustainable change, channelling money into organisations with green intentions to promote clean economic growth.

The UK’s new target to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 means that it is the first major economy in the world to embed such a target in legislation. Plus, the UK Government’s new Green Finance Strategy has set a leading example in its call for publicly listed companies and asset owners to disclose climate-related risks by 2022. The Task Force on climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) has been on hand to help organisations set out their disclosures to meet investors’ needs of today – and tomorrow.

HSBC UK Commercial Bank is supporting British companies to meet their environmental and sustainability goals with the launch of a new green finance scheme. It now offers Green Loans, a Green Revolving Credit Facility (RCF) and a Green Hire Purchase, plus Lease and Asset loans to small to medium enterprises (SME), all the way through to large corporates. The bank has already provided £600 million worth of green loans to UK businesses as part of its pilot, including property developer Argent’s building of Facebook’s new UK headquarters in London.

By 2050, the emissions footprint of London’s buildings will need to be close to zero to meet government-set targets. Construction is responsible for 11% of global carbon emissions, according to a report from C40, a group of leading metropolitan authorities – cement alone is responsible for 7%, the International Energy Agency estimates. “We’ve been pushing sustainability for over 10 years now and we’re finally seeing real buy-in from our London customer base, which is really positive,” says John Robson, Asset Management Director at Workspace.

“London is an incredibly forward-thinking city in terms of sustainability,” agrees Karen Jamison, Energy and Sustainability Manager at Workspace. “Landlords are working together as more of a team, rather than vying to overtake and be the best.”

To help future-proof buildings, the Greater London Authority (GLA) sets certain criteria before landlords can gain planning permission. “At our new business centre, Brickfields in Hoxton, we have been following the soft landings framework, holding regular meetings to bring customers together to talk about the whole life-cycle of the building,” she says.

The Kiln Cafe atBrickfields in Hoxton 

The UK was the first country ever to introduce a green certification system, BREEAM, the world’s leading sustainability assessment method for buildings. “A lot of our buildings must be BREEAM rating Excellent, and when it’s government-led, it works really well,” says Jamison.

London is reaping the benefits of disruptive thinking – and the only way is up.

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