Our visit to Plexal, London’s latest innovation area

"The Totem Pole" (real name) by the entrance to Plexal - impressive in reality
“The Totem Pole” (real name) by the entrance to Plexal – impressive in reality

Plexal is an innovation area based in part of the former Media Centre originally built for the London 2012 Olympics. This morning I went on a tour of the facility with a few colleagues from Endava.

The CEO of Plexal, Claire Cockerton, took us around. Claire founded Innovate Finance after working at Level39, the Fintech accelerator.

Plexal has been designed around the metaphor of an ‘Innovation High Street’. You walk in half way down the ‘High Street’. The reception desk transforms into a bar in the evening. The High Street has several glass fronted offices on the ground floor, intermittently separated by open desk areas acting as communal areas. Offices range from large (a couple of dozen desks) down to one-person pods the size of old public telephone boxes.

Communal areas also serve as fixed, large desks for organisations wishing to rent a permanent desk and leave a few monitors in place. There are coffee machines and kitchens dotted around, essential for start-ups. The whole place is designed and finished immaculately (the offices which are not still under construction). Once finished, it will cater for 800 people. At the moment it’s just over half full.

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Plexal’s prices are half that of competitors such as WeWork, and include access to third-party services which are co-located in the building. Services include accountancy, legal and branding practices. Mentors drop in regularly to meet start-ups. They are trying to create a tech campus with everything except for accommodation. Loughborough and UCL universities situated nearby, and because they have a focus on robotics and AI (Artificial Intelligence), Plexal is appealing to start-ups in the same field.

Apparently every city has a wall, and this is Plexal's - The Inspiration Wall
Apparently every city has a wall, and this is Plexal’s – The Inspiration Wall

Plexal is in a highly competitive, local industry. There are more than 4,000 digital startups, employing over a 250,000 people, served by more than 30 incubators or accelerators across a small area in London. It isn’t as close to major transport links as Shoreditch or Canary Wharf, so getting corporate customers out from the City or Canary Wharf involves 30-45 minutes’ travelling each way. One advantage is the lower cost housing nearby.

Does Plexal appeal to start-ups? If a cash strapped startup can afford £3,000 per person for a hot desk, those extra legal and accounting services need to be top quality. Then again, the other incubators and accelerators that I’ve visited such as Techstars and Level39 were full at the time.

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