How to innovate and invent the next best thing in UK tech

Nick Chrissos, Director of Innovation at Europe at Cisco, explains how to build the ideas of tomorrow, by transforming how we view innovation 

Innovation – taking a disruptive idea and making it real. Whether it’s Mobike in transport, Purple Bricks in property management or Square Bank in banking – often the more disruptive an idea, the better.

In the past few years, we’ve seen continued investment in innovation in the UK. In August, the government announced plans to invest £1bn into British innovation, with funding to benefit the UK’s world-leading researchers and entrepreneurs. Cisco also extended its Country Digital Acceleration programme in the UK – a long term partnership featuring national leadership, industry and academia which encourages GDP growth, job creation, innovation and education in both the public and private sectors. The extension of the programme sees a further $100m investment into the UK economy, which in part goes towards a new AI research centre at University College London.

Interestingly, investment in innovation in the UK is increasing coming from abroad. According to a report from EY, foreign investment in UK technology firms has doubled in just one year, showcasing the forward momentum the UK has. While the process of taking a creative idea to the market and making it commercially viable is no easy task, this foreign investment into UK innovation has the potential to bring growth for the nation’s economy.

Staying one step ahead

The UK is rife with innovation. It boasts Silicon Roundabout and the Golden Triangle amongst its ranks and we’ve seen first-hand at Mi-IDEA and IDEALondon that there is talent capable of creating truly disruptive technology.

These hubs aren’t just present in the UK. Across Europe we’re seeing countries such as Israel, Estonia, Sweden and France all making great strides in terms of innovation. Yet, the UK is so far matching these nations stride for stride, with investment deals from Silicon Valley into UK tech companies increasing 252% since 2011.  

However, we cannot stop there. It is vital that the UK maintains this pace, embraces innovation head on and collaborates to invest in new projects, ideas and people that drive our economy.


When business leaders talk about innovation, they are often too focused on driving efficiency and improving customer services. All very important aspects, but are they really challenging industries? If we are to continue transforming industries, we must ensure our innovations are commercially viable. This includes creating new business models that provide financial incentives to invest, without stifling the start-up culture which is part of our DNA, as a nation of inventors.

Cisco places great emphasis on co-innovation. The key lies in bringing together the right people, united by a common challenge or opportunity.

Delivering innovation

The engine of success for co-innovation is based on creating the correct environment. Every innovation must go on a journey if it is to become obvious in hindsight. To take ideas on this journey, Cisco runs an innovation delivery function – a team who will argue, articulate and advocate an idea until the next stage is agreed upon. These ideas are then turned into solutions at one of our twelve innovation centres dotted around the globe.

Admittedly, kicking off innovation projects can be challenging. It often pays dividends to think outside of the box, to look at alternative approaches or even initiate a call for help to a wider community. But challenges present opportunities. These can be built upon and transformed into the solutions which are deployed across our towns and cities.  This process has led to the creation of many exciting and disruptive projects, including Hamburg’s intelligent harbour, Project Swift – a collaborative project to trial the world’s most connected train travel experience in Scotland – and CityVerve, a smart city demonstrator based in Manchester. These innovations are transforming how we work, live and play in the UK.

Keeping pace with digital disruption

The UK is setting a benchmark for investment in innovation. Along with the government’s £780m investment there has also been a £180m investment into the North-East innovation, which chancellor Phillip Hammond said would support the “technologies of tomorrow”.

These investments set an example. By guiding investors, both abroad and closer to home, public and private sector bodies are investing in areas where much of the future economy lies – technology.  

But let’s be clear, the future isn’t dependent on investment in technology alone, it’s about people. Building an entrepreneurial spirit is essential to developing creative ideas, implementing them and ultimately pushing the boundaries necessary to support technological evolution.

Investment, entrepreneurship, disruption, these are all important facets of innovation which have led the UK to become one of the world leaders in technology invention. By continuing the focus on these areas, we will continue to drive the UK’s ambition to innovate. Tackling global challenges and creating new unimaginable technologies to fix the problems that you might not know exist yet.