2019: a year in review

Tech Nation, December 30, 2019 13 min read

We seem to say this every year, but 2019 really has been the busiest and most impactful of Tech Nation’s history, and that of UK tech. From the number of scaleups we support on our growth programmes, and visa applications received at Tech Nation, to mega-rounds and scaleup investment in the industry, everything is going up and to the right. Here’s our work in numbers:

🚀649 tech companies supported in 2019 via our growth programmes
💡9,200+ aspiring entrepreneurs via our academy
🎓380+ alumni companies in our network, who have collectively raised £10bn in the last 6 years
✈️800+ Tech Nation Visa (Tier 1) applications processed
📈£20m+ of Gross Value Add (GVA) to the economy in 2019
👼 6 Tech Nation babies

In 2019, UK tech companies attracted $13.2bn in venture capital, compared to $9.1bn in 2018. At a staggering 44%, year-on-year investment in the UK grew at a faster rate than in Germany, France, Israel, the US or China. 2019 saw numerous mega-deals of over $100m, including for Greensill ($800m), Babylon ($550m), OvoEnergy (£200m), CMR Surgical ($240m), Foxberry ($221m), and Rapyd ($100m), as well as for Tech Nation programme alumni Deliveroo ($575m), Oaknorth ($440m), Checkout.com ($230m), World Remit ($175m), Zopa ($168m) and Monzo (£113m). In fact, Tech Nation’s growth programme alumni companies have now collectively raised over $10bn. 

With so much going, it can be hard to keep up with everything that’s happened in the last 12 months. So we’ve taken a look back at what we’ve achieved in 2019; a (non-exhaustive) year in review. 

A national network of scaleups

At the beginning of 2019, we started the year as we meant to go on, realising our ambition to become a national network for the most ambitious scaling tech companies right across the UK. To that end, we started the year building a team of Entrepreneur Engagement Managers across the UK. Now a team of 13, our entrepreneur engagement manager team is based in every UK region and are a vital part of ensuring that everything we do has impact across the whole of the UK.

The start of the year also saw us host the semi-finals of our inaugural Rising Stars pitch competition at Barclays Eagle Lab, Manchester. 33 early-stage tech companies gathered from right across the UK for two days of curated workshops, mentoring and pitching, with the 20 finalists chosen by our expert judges.

We announced the 30 mid-stage scaling companies to join Upscale 4.0, the 4th iteration of our flagship scaleup growth programme. The cohort included Airsorted, Cleo, Olio, Immersive Labs and Open Cosmos, with a third of the companies based outside of London.

Our Angel Community Programme held a post-seed investor readiness interactive workshop with Octopus Ventures in Manchester, for entrepreneurs looking to raise Series A. This was followed up by a Manchester pitch event, where early-stage tech companies met with a room of angels, investors, and corporates.

“Tech Nation Detox” is our regular internal expert insight session, where leaders of tech and other industries join us to offer their unique insight and answer our closed room questions. It’s an important moment for us to down tools and hear new perspectives. For the first of the year we were joined in the London office by Dr Sarah Wood, Tech Nation board member and founder of Unruly. Having sold her business to News UK for over £100m and received an OBE for her services to business and skills, she was perfectly placed to speak to us about UK tech, the challenges of scaling culture, and her passion for paying it forward.

Meanwhile across the pond, our first Fintech cohort of bridge-stage B2B fintech companies took a trip to New York. The cohort had the opportunity to gain insight from some of the UK’s biggest fintechs to expand to the US, including Transferwise, FundApps and Funding Circle. In all they met with 23 specialist speakers such as banks, regulators, scaleups and founders, for the best possible springboard for expanding and partnering in the US.

Spring in our step

As our first sector-specific growth programme, Fintech, came to a close, another was announced. Applications opened for Tech Nation Cyber 1.0, a pre-Series A growth programme for the UK’s talented cyber security companies.

We convened top players for the UK tech ecosystem for a curated roundtable with then Director General for Digital and Media Policy at DCMS, Matthew Gould, and in Liverpool, our newly-expanded “EEM” team met with Digital Minister Margot James to share their insights from across the UK.

Digital Minister Margot James meeting the Tech Nation Entrepreneur Engagement Managers in Liverpool

Also in February, we release a report with Dealroom that showed that VC investment in UK AI increased six-fold in the last five years. An incredible success story for the UK.

We marked Galentine’s Day by celebrating the trailblazing women of UK tech, including the inimitable Dame Steve Shirley.

For Detox we hosted Emma Jones, founder of small business community Enterprise Nation, and Tech Nation board member. Meanwhile in Leeds the whole team came together for a day of hard graft volunteering, demolishing and re-building a community garden. We aim to do this twice a year as it’s a great way of coming together as a team, while doing something valuable for a community. 

Tech Nation team volunteering in Leeds

In March, at Rich Mix in London we welcomed 200 investors and corporates for the Rising Stars 1.0 Grand Final. The 20 finalists each had three minutes to pitch their company, before the judges chose the 10 winners to become the 2019 Rising Stars.

The Rising Stars 1.0 winners

In an international first, our Insurtech Board released the Insurtech Standards, a suite of free-to-us legal documents to help insurtechs launch and settle partnerships with incumbent businesses.

For International Women’s Day, we highlighted the gender pay gap at the top of tech, and celebrated more trailblazing women of UK tech.

In March we completed the final Regional Consultation roundtables across the country, a vital fact-finding mission meeting with local ecosystem players.

Internally, for Detox we hosted Alex Stephany, founder and CEO of Beam – a crowdfunding platform for the retraining of those coming out of homelessness. Meanwhile, Board Game and Book Clubs were also started internally, by the staff.

At the end of March, 24 fast-growing late-stage tech companies joined Future Fifty 7.0, our longest-running and latest-stage programme for Series B+ or £5m revenue generating tech companies, thought to be the longest and most successful accelerator programme for late-stage tech companies in Europe. The new intake included some of the biggest names in UK tech, such as Monzo, Starling, Revolut, Bulb and Blockchain. Future Fifty alumni have so far seen 9 IPOs and 30 M&As in the last 7 years.

Important Future Fifty (Europe’s longest-serving and most successful programme for late-stage tech companies) statistics, watched over by Chambers Knapp

UK tech on the global stage

20 cyber security companies joined our Cyber 1.0 cohort, with companies represented from Belfast, Bristol, Brighton & Hove, Caerphilly, Cardiff, Cheltenham, Glasgow, London and Reading. At the two day kick-off, the cohort benefited from insight from some of the UK’s cyber security leaders, such as Dave Palmer, Director of Technology and Emily Orton, CMO at Darktrace, James Chappell, Founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Digital Shadows, and James Hadley, CEO of Immersive Labs.

We published our first tech for social good report, highlighting the UK’s global strength in impact tech companies. ‘Tech for social good’ companies were worth £2.3bn in 2018, with a turnover of £732m, and nearly half (45%) of the 490 companies identified are at seed stage, highlighting the contributions of young, dynamic businesses, and the sector’s huge growth potential.

In May we launched our annual flagship Tech Nation Report 2019, this year with a focus on UK tech on the global stage. The report found that:

💰The UK is 4th in the world for scaleup investment

🦄 35% of Europe’s tech unicorns are created in UK

📊 Scaleup investment is 2.5x higher than expected relative to UK economy

👩‍💻 5% of global scaleup tech workers are based in UK

🥇 The UK is 1st in the world for fintech

The report was launched at King’s Place, London with Secretary of State for DCMS Rt. Hon Jeremy Wright, and a panel of Tugce Bulut (Streetbees), Hayden Wood (Bulb), Laurence Kemball-Cook (Pavegen), Lucy Yu (FiveAI) and Harry Briggs (OMERS Ventures). The launch was followed by a tour of Tech Nation Talks events around the country, bringing together local and national tech industry voices to discuss how the report’s findings impact nuanced challenges and opportunities for tech on the ground. The tour kicked off with great success in Newcastle and Manchester.

May’s Detox featured founder and investor Saul Klein at our quarterly offsite hosted at Phoenix Court, a founders members club and home to LocalGlobe and Latitude VC in Somers Town, Kings Cross. Saul is one of 25 distinguished business leaders whose insights recently featured in our book Upscale: What it takes to scale a tech company

Major scale

In June, in collaboration with Dealroom, we brought our UK tech data and insights provision to new open, scalable heights with the free-to-use Data Commons of UK tech. The Data Commons maps every tech company, incubator, accelerator, co-working space, investor, corporate and support organisation in the UK. This is a live, dynamic community tool and a goldmine of information made available to the industry.

We also released the Bright Tech Future Report on jobs and skills in UK tech. With an event at the Barbican, we heard inspiring words from Bonita Norris, the world’s youngest person to climb Everest and reach the North Pole, who spoke about ambition and (literally) scaling.

Bright Tech Future report launch at the Barbican during London Tech Week, giving people a rundown of the types of tech jobs and salaries, broken down by region

As we opened applications for Fintech 2.0, looking for the next generation of stars in one of the UK’s brightest sub-sectors, our third sector-specific growth programme, for pre-Series A Applied AI companies also came online, with an announcement by the Secretary of State at CogX Festival of Emerging Technologies.

An update to the previous year’s Unicorn Report made front page news, as we found that the UK had created a billion dollar tech company at a rate of over one a month for the last year.

Front page news: Tech Nation reports features on the front pages of The Times in June and The Financial Times in October

Tech Nation Talks events continued in Bristol and Leeds, and at London Tech Week we partnered with Bloomberg to deliver Sooner Than You Think 2019 at Central Hall Westminster.

As we announced increasing demand for the Tech Nation Visa (the Tier 1 visa for Exceptional Talent and Promise delivered by Tech Nation on behalf of the Home Office), we hosted a roundtable with Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes and Digital Minister Margot James, with Tech Nation Visa holders, where discussion dived into the impact of the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa route, as well as the challenges and opportunities for UK on global talent. We brought 15 scaleups together for a roundtable with Universities and Science and Innovation Minister Chris Skidmore on grand challenges and mission-based work.

Ministers Caroline Nokes and Margot James meeting with Tech Nation Visa alumni, and Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Minister Chris Skidmore talking about R&D and innovation with tech companies

The Tech Nation Visa, the first tech visa of its kind in the world, and one of the 5 Tier 1 UK visas, is going from strength to strength. In 2019 the visa met its application target with three months to go, and is consistently the most popular Tier 1 visa by applications, with the figures rising for six consecutive years.

To celebrate the Pride month of June, we looked at how technology has changed the LGBT experience.

Record breakers

On the hottest day on record, the Upscale 4.0 cohort graduated into our alumni network, gathering at Storey Club Paddington, and the founders had some great things to say about their experiences. 

“I’ve always thought that nothing ever comes for free. And then Upscale came along. Something from nowhere, and an incredible gift. And the WhatsApp group is the best psychologist in the world!” – Stephanie Eltz, Doctify, Tech Nation Upsclae 4.0 alumna

“It’s the best thing I’ve done for myself, my team and the business” Simon Hill, Wazoku, Tech Nation Upscale 4.0 alumnus

Stephanie Eltz, co-founder of Doctify speaking at the Upscale 4.0 final dinner

In July we brought the Tech Nation Talks tour to an end with sell-out events in Belfast, Birmingham, Reading, Cambridge, Cardiff and Edinburgh, and came together as a whole company again at the Barbican AI: More than Human exhibition, before volunteering at the Open Kitchen Food Cycle.

In our August investment update we revealed that UK tech was once again breaking its own records, having attracted more foreign investment in the first seven months of 2019 than in the whole of 2018. $6.7 billion had been invested in UK tech companies, with more than half ($3.7bn) coming from the US and Asia.

Launch control

Back to school time, and September was perhaps one of the busiest months in Tech Nation’s history. 

We launched Fintech 2.0 by welcoming 23 exciting companies onto the programme, and Applied AI 1.0 took off with 29 companies joining the programme.

The Tech Nation Fintech 2.0 cohort at the programme kick-off event

We also opened applications for Rising Stars 2.0, Upscale 5.0 and Future Fifty 8.0, for the first time simultaneously opening programmes for ambitious tech companies, at any stage of growth.

Our free online learning platform, the Digital Business Academy held a double points week. The bitesize courses created with Cambridge Judge Business School, UCL and Valuable Content offer flexible learning of digital business skills, at your own pace. Learners also earn points as they complete courses, than can be redeemed against mentoring, co-working space desks and funding opportunities.

With over 42,000 learners in the last two years, the Digital Business Academy also went through an extensive optimisation this year for accessible learning and Diversity and Inclusion. Diversity and Inclusion is a huge challenge for the tech industry, and so a key priority for Tech Nation across all of our programmes, events, skills initiatives and digital footprint.

The Cyber 1.0 programme took 20 members of the cohort to New York and Washington DC to meet investors, customers and government. For Cyber security companies, financial services (i.e. Wall Street) represent the largest private sector clients and the US government is the single biggest procurer of Cyber Security solutions in the world. The trip according to the cohort was “phenomenally worthwhile” and “expertly executed”.

We held Bright Tech Future jobs and skills roundtables off the back of our report, with local businesses, ecosystem players and government representatives in Cardiff, Bristol, Manchester, Oxford and Cambridge, and we released No-deal Brexit readiness guidance for tech companies, in collaboration with Coadec and The Tech Cluster Alliance.

We published an essential Scaleup Glossary, to help differentiate unicorns from zombies, and startups from scaleups. And for Tech Nation Detox we heard from Dr Suzanne Livingston, curator if the AI: More Than Human exhibition at the Barbican.

Winter warmers

To celebrate UK Black History Month, in October we published a list of the 50 most inspiring, prominent and influential black voices in UK tech.

As Hallowe’en came around, we felt that there was quite enough fear-mongering of the tech industry that goes on the rest of the year, so instead took a look at the scary thing that UK tech is working to solve.

And for World Mental Health Day we teamed up with weare3Sixty to help save founders from burning out.

For the first time we also took the Tech Nation Report on tour internationally, hosting UK and international tech players at Thompson Reuters in Times Square, New York City, to connect, and learn about the UK’s booming tech sector, and world-leading innovation.

Closer to home, we finished up the Bright Tech Future jobs and skills roundtables tour with productive events in Belfast and Birmingham, and we got together as a company in Manchester for strategy planning and teambuilding for 2019, 2020 and beyond.

In November Tech Nation took over the executive delivery function role for the Lawtech Delivery Panel to support the digital transformation of the UK legal sector until at least March 2022. The panel also published a legal statement on cryptoassets and smart contracts in a significant step towards legal certainty for crypto investors and smart contract startups. 

We brought 10 promising early-stage tech companies, from Edinburgh, Belfast, Caerphilly, Leeds, Gateshead, Bournemouth, London, Reading, Ramsbottom and Cambridge, to the world’s biggest startup event – Slush, Helsinki.

Tech Nation Slush delegates at the British Embassy in Helsinki

And on our second Tech Nation International trip, the team visited Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, in a whistle stop 3 days tour, spreading the good word about UK tech to investors representing 10s of billions of dollars of investment under management, and some of the world’s leading tech companies. They even bumped into Tim Peake at Kuala Lumpur International Airport!

Tech Nation engaging with investors and ecosystem partners in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, together with the Department for International Trade (Singapore)

Finally as they year was drawing to a close, we announced the 33 early-stage tech companies to make it to the semi-final of Rising Stars 2.0. After an unprecedented quantity and quality of applications, this represents the strongest group of competitors yet, with companies based from Truro to Darlington, Newport to Newry.

2020 vision

2019 seems to have simultaneously been a long year and to have flown by, with so much achieved in such a short space of time. As we gear up for 2020 we can’t wait to further strengthen the UK’s national network of ambitious entrepreneurs, connecting talented innovators, wherever they may be.

We are proud to be working with some of the most successful and impactful tech companies in the world. Not only have Tech Nation alumni collectively raised over £10bn in investment, expanded across the globe and employed 10s of thousands of people, but their innovations are genuinely changing and improving the ways that we live.

Take just a couple of examples from our first Applied AI cohort launched this year. London-based Cervest, is using advanced machine learning techniques to predict climate change events, Glasgow-based ClinSpec DX, uses AI to provide cost-effective blood tests for the early detection of brain tumours, and Bristol’s Gapsquare are using AI to improve gender and ethnicity pay gap reporting and solutions. 

We would like to take this opportunity to thank our very supportive board and chair, our sponsorship partners, ecosystem partners and key people and departments in the British Government including DCMS, as well as all the companies we have been lucky to serve on our programmes this year. And thank you, for reading this and following us – do get in touch if you have any feedback.

We recognise the privilege we have, working with the UK’s ambitious tech founders and their leadership teams, and look forward to spending 2020 supporting them as they scale, as we do too.

Find out more about:
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2018: a year in review >

2017: a year in review >

2016: a year in review >

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