The hi-tech industry has a central role to play in the economic growth of the UK, according to Cisco, both in helping young people to learn the necessary skills to get jobs in IT, and in fostering innovation and entrepreneurship within the SMB and start-up community.

Speaking at the Datacenter Dynamics Convergence event in London today, Cisco’s director of public sector operations for UK and Ireland, Neil Crockett, said that Cisco is keen to leave a legacy in Britain, following its involvement in the London Olympics 2012 as official network infrastructure provider.

Cisco’s network infrastructure will support a multitude of connected devices during the Games, ranging from wireless cameras to private mobile networks and monitors on athletes’ shoes. The company is also teaming up with BT and Atos to provide cloud-based services for stakeholders and media, as well as collaboration solutions based on Cisco’s WebEx solution for web conferencing, online meetings and data sharing.

“It’s a very complex IT environment,” said Crockett.

For Cisco, however, the Olympic Games are just the start of its legacy programme. The company is setting up “innovation centres” in Shoreditch and Olympic park, and is working with the government and local communities on projects to foster technological and economic growth.

The first part of Cisco’s plan is to help inspire children to study IT, engineering and maths at school, to prepare them for careers in the industry. The company has teamed up with the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Network (Stemnet) to launch new academic challenges for schools to take part in.

Cisco has also set up a Network Academy programme, which Crockett describes as “the largest virtual classroom in the world”. The initiative allows children to study from an online syllabus with physical on-premise support, to gain industry-recognised IT qualifications.

The focus of the project is particularly on more deprived areas of East London, where Cisco hopes to triple the number of Network Academies. The company is already working in Tower Hamlets to drum up interest among young people.

“We believe that tripling the number of academies will give 5,000 kids over five years the chance to get into the IT industry,” said Crockett. “A thousand of those will fully graduate; 900 of those will go on to further education or primary jobs; and about 200 odd new businesses will be set up because of that training.”

The second part of the legacy project focuses on the SMB and startup industry in London and the UK. Cisco’s “British Innovation Gateway” (BIG) programme is designed to give SMEs the opportunity to grow their business by connecting them with investors and other entrepreneurs.

The BIG project consists of investing in innovation centres for hi-tech SMEs and startups. These centres will be connected using Cisco’s own networking and collaboration technology to other centres around the UK, creating a public technology network known as the National Virtual Incubator (NVI). This will be supported by the UK's education and research network Janet.

Cisco is also launching a competition to find the best hi-tech innovation that UK has to offer. The competition is part of Cisco's I-Prize innovation contest, and the winners will receive mentoring, training and access to in-house resources from Cisco.