It's easy to be distracted by the bowls of brightly coloured sweets, iPad-controlled coffee machine and artistic holes in the ceiling, not to mention the 360-degree views of London, but the strengths of the Level 39 accelerator space are more than skin deep.

Level 39
Level 39\'s layout mixes work space with social areas to talk with fellow start-ups. (Credit: Gensler)

The 29,000 square feet space occupying the whole 39th floor of Canary Wharf's iconic One Canada Square certainly looks the part, thanks to an interior designed by Gensler (whose clients include Facebook and Google), but speak with the companies setting up there and listen to Level 39's grand plans, and you soon realise it's much more than mere office space.

Tech City has tried desperately hard to be the poster child of modern London, boasting of its Google Campus building, £50m government investment and royal visits, but it is yet to produce the headline-grabbing companing we all hoped for - outside of the technology pages, at any rate.

Where Tech City struggles is perhaps its lack of direction; it has become something of a free-for-all, with start-ups initially all pulling in the same direction to get investor interest, but then diverging to go their own unique way in a bid to stand out. Ultimately they are drowned out by their own noise.

Another way

On the other hand, Level 39 (which, I am assured, considers itself a part of its Shoreditch relative) shares a very specific set of goals among its tenants, the goals of disrupting the financial tech, retail tech and smart city industries.

And to make sure every company that starts life there is suited to the goals of Level 39 and Canary Wharf the application process sees potential new tenants thoroughly vetted, only offering space to those who are the most compatible with its interests. Despite Level 39 doing this, neither it nor Canary Wharf take an equity stake in the start-ups.

Once start-ups have outgrown the space Level 39 can offer, Canary Wharf takes over, providing offices elsewhere in the estate to cater for businesses of almost any size. Beyond that, future retail technology companies will be able to use Canary Wharf's three shopping centres as research facilities for trailing their products and services.

Deliberate and controlled competition between these companies will see them strive to create the ultimate solution for retail tech, which will be in turn used to make the four floors of retail space at the upcoming Crossrail station the most advanced in the world, and the same will happen with smart city start-ups and the future construction of Wood Wharf, a 20-acre retail and business park next door to Canary Wharf.

I have no doubt that Level 39 head Eric van der Kleij is the man for the job. Having been CEO of Tech City for two years he knows how the London start-up industry works better than most and exudes the confidence needed to make Level 39 a success.

He's also personable and easy to get along with. While he could lock himself away in an office monitoring Level 39 from afar, he's on the shop floor, chatting with clients, investors and potential tenants on a sofa as if they are all equals.

At first I thought Level 39 was going to be the same as Tech City, but by laying out a set of specific goals, and locating itself at the heart of where its companies will not only grow, but where their customers are and their services will be used, Level 39 has given start-ups a complete package. It's no wonder the space is already oversubscribed with applicants.

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