2018: a year in review

Tech Nation, December 21, 2018 9 min read

2018 has been a phenomenal year for UK tech. In the last 12 months UK tech companies have raised $7.9bn in venture capital funding, and some of the UK’s world-leading tech companies have seen exits totalling over $40bn, including IPOs from Future Fifty alumni Farfetch and Funding Circle. At Tech Nation we have been privileged to work with an ever-growing community of inspiring, ambitious entrepreneurs based right across the UK; we’ve had a busy year…

New companies supported by Tech Nation in 2018:

🚀26 late-stage
📈37 mid-stage
🌉20 bridge-stage
🌱33 seed-stage
🌰350 early-stage
💡5,000 aspiring entrepreneurs
✈️500+ Tech Nation Visa (Tier 1) applications processed

Scaling Tech Nation

At the end of 2017, when the organisation was still operating as Tech City UK and Tech North, the next stage of our own scaling journey was given the green light. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer endorsed our work to date and asked us, from April 2018, to expand our reach across the country. We’d learned a lot since Tech City and Tech North had been established in 2011 and 2014 respectively; this was perfect timing, we were ready to double down.

As sister organisations, Tech City UK and Tech North had always worked on projects collaboratively, while also running independent initiatives to best serve different parts of the UK tech community. We shared Slack channels, but we had our own merch. This was never going to be a classic merger; we knew each other, had worked together, and had ended up at Heebie Jeebie’s after a company workshop together. But it was still a huge undertaking. We all felt strongly that to best support the UK’s tech sector as a whole, we needed to keep what was best about each organisation, and build a new one. It couldn’t be the absorption of one organisation by the other. It must be greater than the sum of its parts.

New year, new gear

As any scaleup founder will know, growing and evolving a company, while also continuing with business as usual, is a huge challenge. In January we announced the third cohort of Upscale, welcoming 37 of the UK’s fastest-growing tech companies onto our 6-month mid-stage growth programme. We opened the Tech Nation survey that would go on to gather insights from over 3,500 members of the UK tech community. We published the Northern Tech Investment Index Q4 and we opened submissions for the Northern Tech 100 league table 2018.

Trussle founder Ishaan Malhi speaking at the Upscale 3.0 launch at Landing 42, The Leadenhall Building

But we also had what was perhaps the most important moment for us as a team; in January we held our first quarterly full company workshop since the announcement of Tech Nation. We met for two days to work on company strategy and values. We returned to first principles, spoke about what we valued, and why we do things, rather than what we do. We listened, learned and were heard. By the end, we were one team. While not yet official in name, we were Tech Nation.

Team Tech Nation at the end of our January workshop (with new jumpers and an early edition of the new logo)

Founders’ February

In February our peer-to-peer community for early-stage entrepreneurs Founders’ Network went through it’s first evolution. We held investor pitching events in Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle. Our Fintech Delivery Panel established a new industry leadership initiative, the Insurtech Board. And we published stark and fascinating research on young people’s perceptions of tech careers. Meanwhile we embarked on a ‘listening tour’, visiting 13 UK cities, speaking to over 100 founders and tech community members about the challenges and opportunities for their businesses and regions; an essential part of informing the priorities of the new organisation. And we were also working hard on a rebrand.

Meeting founders in Belfast, Edinburgh and Newcastle as part of the listening tour

Forward March

In March we welcomed 26 new companies onto Future Fifty, the UK’s only programme for late-stage tech companies. Since Future Fifty was launched, 125 alumni companies have raised $6.8bn from VC and capital markets (London Stock Exchange), and between them they’ve seen 39 exits, with 9 IPOs and 30 M&As. In the North of England we launched 24 jobs in 24 hours, a drive to fill 24 junior developer jobs in a day. And at the International Fintech conference in London, the Challencelor Philip Hammond announced our first sector-specific growth programme, Tech Nation Fintech, for bridge-stage B2B UK fintechs. In the background we were also busy building a new website, consolidated the nine (nine!) we were running before.

Stan Laurent (Partner, Highland Europe and former CEO PhotoBox) speaking at the Future Fifty launch at City Hall

We Are Tech Nation

In April we officially became Tech Nation. We were continuing to deliver our portfolio of growth programmes, completing research for the Tech Nation Report 2018, the annual state of the nation report on UK tech, planning a nationwide tour of events, and gearing up to launch our new website. We also restructured the team, and developed an expansion plan for the new national organisation. High cadence delivery of programmes and initiatives is one thing, but designing and building thoughtful, valuable support is another. We’re a data-driven organisation, but data comes in many forms. You can spot opportunities through quantitative analysis, but only understand them by talking to real people in real places. That’s why over the next year we’re going to be putting people on the ground in 11 UK regions. We’ve done it in the North and we know it works. How else would we have ended up having a nuanced conversation about whether ‘Chip up though, kidda’ on a website 404 page would look like a typo to a southerner? Without staff on the ground, would we have missed an exciting AI company in Manchester to support through two of our growth programmes?

Team Tech Nation at our April workshop in Bristol, the first one since we made it official

“We’ve swapped our guitars for MacBooks”

In May we launched the Tech Nation report and kicked off a nationwide tour of events. We swapped our guitars for MacBooks, and took the show on the road, with the help of Secretary of State Matt Hancock in London, and Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury Robert Jenrick in Cambridge. May saw the consolidation of a colossal amount of work from the team, but once again this was just the beginning. You learn a lot about people by how they work together under pressure, when juggling dozens projects and multiple deadlines. We learned that our team was absolutely ready for the challenge of building one Tech Nation.

Health (formerly Culture) Secretary Matt Hancock at Tech Nation on Tour: London, at LSO St Luke’s, and Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury Robert Jenrick at Tech Nation on Tour: Cambridge, at the Bradfield Centre

Summer jobs

Far from a quiet Summer, in June we launched the Northern Tech 100 2018 magazine, charting the fastest-growing tech companies in the North of England. We published a report on the UK’s European unicorn dominance, and held a Northern Skills Hackathon at ODI Leeds.

#SkillsSkillsSkills hackathon participant Salma Afzal at ODI Leeds

We opened applications for the inaugural Tech Nation Fintech programme, released a new report on UK fintech, and collaborated with 11:FS on the One Fintech Nation podcast series.

Our July Summer holidays involved visiting Reading and Belfast for Tech Nation on Tour, producing Tech for Good thought leadership, while also obviously following a thrilling World Cup campaign. We also welcomed 5 new members to our board, in Sarah Wood, Adam Hale, Lesley Eccles, Emma Jones and David Richards.

Tech Nation on Tour: Reading, at Thames Tower, with panelists Helen Millburn (EY), Adam Hale (DevOpsGroup), Louize Clarke (ConnectTVT), Tong Gu (ADV), and Richard Parker (Altitude Angel)

In August we began collaborating with open-data platform data.world to continue our commitment to and promotion of open data. And we quizzed the UK tech community, on how well they know UK tech.

Autumn statement of intent

In September we announced the new cohort of 20 bridge-stage fintech companies for our Fintech programme, kicking off in the Cotswolds, with programme events planned for London, Manchester, Edinburgh and Leeds. We launched the all-new national Founders’ Network early-stage community at the Tech Nation on Tour event in Bristol. We announced Rising Stars in Birmingham. An evolution of Tech North’s Northern Stars, the new pitch competition reaches right across the UK. We returned to ODI Leeds for Tech Nation on tour, and we released new data on the gender investment gap in tech.

Tech Nation on Tour: Birmingham at Fazeley Studios, with Melissa Snover (Magic Candy Factory), Ross Spencer (ClickTravel), Julia Hawkins (LocalGlobe) and Tong Gu (ADV)

Follow-up research in October revealed for the first time that diverse company boards perform better. Companies with gender-diverse boards have a higher turnover, and companies with internationally diverse boards raise 453% more investment. We published a report showing that a number of the UK’s regional cities, including Manchester, Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Leeds are competing head-to-head with many of Europe’s capitals when it comes to producing billion-dollar tech companies. We opened applications for Upscale and Future Fifty, our mid- and late-stage programmes whose alumni feature the very best of UK tech from the last 6 years. We rounded off the Tech Nation tour with fantastic events in Manchester and Cardiff, and with data.world we mapped global Artificial Intelligence as never seen before.

Winter of content

In November we collaborated with Capital Enterprise, JP Morgan Chase, Diversity VC and YSYS on the One Tech diversity and inclusion initiative aiming to double the number of BAME founders by 2020. We launched Tech Nation’s new Angel Community with an event in Manchester, aimed at individuals interested in understanding more about angel investing, seasoned angel investors interested in expanding into tech investments, and tech businesses looking to raise angel capital. The Fintech Delivery Panel published the first step towards creating a fintech collaboration toolkit to help fintechs partner with incumbent banks. The Onboarding Guidelines were created with the UK’s 5 biggest retails banks, and UK fintechs. It is the first of its kind. And we hosted a Tech Town Hall with then-Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, in which the tech industry put their questions directly to the Minister. 

Then-Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab with Tech Nation CEO Gerard Grech at Tech Town Hall Q&A

We added new early- and mid-stage courses to our free online Digital Business Academy learning platform, to support founders at all stages of their startup’s growth. And we published our first book, Upscale, with insights from 25 of the UK’s top tech entrepreneurs, investors and industry veterans, disseminating knowledge from our growth programme’s scaling sessions to reach the ever-growing number of scaleup founders nationwide.

Suranga Chandratillake (Balderton), Dominic Jacquesson (Index Ventures), Sarah Wood (Unruly), Wendy Tan White (BGF) and James Silver (Author) at the Upscale book launch at Balderton Captial

Earlier this month we announced the 33 Rising Stars semi-finalists. Our most regionally-diverse programme cohort to date, 3 early-stage startups from each country/region of the UK will travel to Manchester in January to receive pitch training from a team of experts, before pitching to our judging panel for a place in the final.

Going forward

In a year that the world coined the word ‘techlash’, when disproportionate column-inches were being written about the ‘threat’ of AI, and which was defined by talk of political and economic uncertainty, one thing that is still clear is the strength, vibrancy and promise of UK tech. It is people who make up an industry, and the founders we meet and hear from every day, from Bristol to Belfast, Redruth to West Riding are the reason we know we can make the UK the best place to start and grow a digital business.

In seven years our organisation has evolved from Tech City, to Tech City UK, added Tech North and become Tech Nation. As an office visitor said recently, the way things are going with the pervasion of digital technology in life and business, surely soon the ‘Tech’ will be superfluous, and we can just be one ‘Nation’. Well we’ve got a few more years to go, but anything is possible with this team, this country, this global community.

East of England, London, North East, North West, Northern Ireland, South East, South West, Wales, Yorkshire, Angel Network, Digital Business Academy, Fintech 1.0, Founders' Network, Future Fifty 6.0, Insights, Rising Stars, Tech Nation Report 2018, Upscale 3.0, Aspiring, Early Stage, Late Stage, Mid Stage