2021: Tech Nation’s year in review

Tech Nation, December 16, 2021 12 min read

We’re almost at the end of 2021 – and what an extraordinary year it’s been! 

Another record year for Tech Nation

  • Engaged with 1,148 new companies in 2021 (vs 944 in 2020)
  • 29% of all UK tech unicorns ever created have been through one of Tech Nation’s programmes (up from 24% in 2020)
  • Delivered 166 in-person and online events in 2021, with 5531 attendees
  • Reached 4,600+ Tech Nation Global Talent Visa applications in total
  • Supported 275 UK scaleups in the APAC region with 10 programmes
  • 14 insights reports in 2021, based on the analysis of 2.5 billion data points (up from 12 in 2020)
  • 12,000+ active learners in our online academy in 2021 (vs 10,000+ in 2020)
  • Contributed £600m of Gross Value Add to the economy so far, and are on track to deliver £1bn by 2024
  • 1000+ have now graduated via Tech Nation programmes, collectively raising $30nb+ thus far

Back in March, our Tech Nation Report 2021 (which was featured on the front page of the Financial Times!) highlighted the post-pandemic strength and success of the UK’s tech sector and scaleups to a global audience. The report revealed that UK tech VC investment was third in the world, hitting a record high of $15bn in 2020 even in the face of challenging conditions. And it’s only been up from there! 

Over the summer, our data revealed that the UK had reached 100 tech unicorns – a number which is now closer to 120 – with our Future Fifty company Tractable being the 100th! This milestone achievement has since been highlighted by the British Prime Minister in his Conservative Party Conference speech, and in his CBI speech, where he remarked on the incredible regional diversity of these UK companies. We’ve even seen our own cohort companies become unicorns this year – including our Future Fifty company Marshmallow, the UK’s second Black-founded tech unicorn.

In September, our H1 investment data revealed that UK tech raised £13.5bn in the first half of the year alone, almost three times what was invested in the first six months of 2020! Not long after, our Jobs & Skills Report revealed that the UK tech jobs market was truly thriving, with 1 in 8 job opportunities now in the digital sector. Data from our Net Zero Report 2021 last month showed that just as the tech sector helped the UK throughout the pandemic, it is now helping us combat one of the world’s most pressing challenges of all – climate change. The report showed UK Net Zero tech companies have nearly doubled in value over the last year (from $24.4bn to $47.6bn), a rise being driven by more climate tech companies reaching ‘unicorn’ status as tackling climate change became a national and global priority.

Meanwhile a busy year for UK tech – and for Tech Nation

This year, I along with my colleagues at Tech Nation – have had the privilege of speaking at some of the biggest events in the UK tech calendar. At London Tech Week, we shared our expertise in over 15 panel discussions, announced 3 new company cohorts, and appeared on Sky News and the BBC to discuss how we can keep up momentum within the tech sector. At CogX Festival, I had the pleasure of launching the Tech Zero Pledge (more on this later!) as well as our CreaTech Report 2021, and at COP26 last month, we celebrated the work of our amazing Net Zero climate tech companies. 

Our Client Engagement Director Liz Scott speaking at the London Tech Week panel on ‘Beyond diversity: Creating an inclusive workplace’

With so much to reflect on and celebrate, here are a just a few of my highlights from the year: 

Fuelling the growth of some of the UK’s best tech companies

This year, we received 1000+ applications to our seven growth programmes. As a result, we welcomed 225 UK-based exceptional tech companies onto our programmes – across healthtech, fintech, climate tech and many other subsectors – who have a combined total of 10,595 employees, and are estimated to support the creation of over 2,500 new jobs in the next two years.

As you will read in our Tech Nation Annual Report 2021 – an overview of our contributions at Tech Nation the past financial year – the last 12 months have been quite the journey for us, and for the founders we support!

Our incredible Future Fifty 10.0 cohort at this year’s kick-off event

​​The Fintech 4.0 event was a fantastic opportunity for our inspiring fintech entrepreneurs to share their incredible stories, network and hear from industry leaders who have been through the scaling journey themselves

Our Applied AI Lead Sam Beni moderating a panel at the AI Summit during London Tech Week

We’ve also just finished announcing the 55 incredible Regional Winners of our Rising Stars competition for the brightest and best early-stage UK tech companies, with 5 winners from every region in the UK, and look forward to finding out the overall winners in March of next year! 

Levelling the playing field for underrepresented founders

Importantly, 2021 also saw the launch of a brand new programme for underrepresented founders; Libra. This inaugural programme is focussing on the Black founder experience, helping high-potential Black-founded businesses unlock their full potential as we work towards creating a fairer UK tech ecosystem and society. 

Our new Libra companies shared their stories at the Libra kick-off event

I’m delighted to say that so far, the programme has been a huge success, with two of our Libra companies – Framework and Flair – raising Seed funding since joining in September, and Libra has just partnered with international law firm Cooley to support and promote racial injustice in UK tech.

We also took another step towards diversifying the tech sector in September with the launch of our new Diversity & Inclusion Toolkit; an important resource (which will be continually updated) to help tech companies’ founders and employees build more diverse and inclusive businesses. 

Supporting tech leaders through our Advance courses

Often we see companies grow faster than some of the people in them, especially if they are scaling fast. Which is why this year saw another exciting first for Tech Nation; the launch of our Advance courses, which are a series of cohort-based, expert-led training courses curated and designed by Tech Nation and our chosen partners.  These courses provide entrepreneurs, founders and business leaders with the opportunity to learn to tackle the biggest challenges in their scaling journeys – from hiring and talent, to accessing finance, to international expansion. 

After the incredible feedback we’ve received so far, we’re excited to be running more Advance courses in the New Year – you can find out more and register your interest here!

Taking great strides towards Net Zero

In 2021, we made some incredible progress in the fight against climate change. In November, our Net Zero Report 2021 – which explored the opportunities and the challenges facing scaling climate tech companies in the UK and across the world – revealed that UK tech is driving the world towards net zero, with 7.8% of global climate tech unicorns – and 5.5% of global Net Zero tech ‘futurecorns’ – headquartered in the UK. 

But 2021 was also the year that we realised climate tech companies cannot do it on their own. Over the Summer, I was especially delighted to help launch Tech Zero; an initiative which asks tech companies from all subsectors to commit to measuring their scope 1-3 emissions and set an ambitious net zero target by the end of 2021. I’m proud to say that Tech Nation is leading by example, having launched our first public Sustainability Report back in June.

The Tech Zero Taskforce is now an official partner organisation to the UN Climate Change’s Race to Zero, and we’ve received more than 200 sign ups to the pledge to date. It’s so encouraging to see so many tech companies from across the UK come together to ignite real change, and I hope the number of signatories will continue growing as we head into the New Year – please do sign if you haven’t already!

It was a privilege to launch Tech Zero at this year’s CogX Festival alongside the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports, Oliver Dowden

Alongside the pledge, we put together the Tech Zero toolkit to help to demystify climate jargon and make it easier for companies to measure their emissions and create a robust net zero plan. Excitingly, we also launched the Tech Zero internship; a world-first opportunity for young people to work on net zero and sustainability projects at the UK’s most exciting climate tech companies, learning skills that will help them in a green tech career.

Our Net Zero Lead Sammy Fry welcomes our second cohort of climate tech companies at the Net Zero 2.0 launch event

UK tech around the world, as Tech Nation expands into South East Asia in 2021

This year, Tech Nation has built an International team, with feet on the ground in Singapore and Australia as well as a team in London, in order to support more UK scaleups with their growth into the Asia Pacific region. 

As part of the UK government’s Digital Trade Network in Asia Pacific, we launched our first ever International Growth Programmes for Singapore, Australia, Japan and South Korea, have worked with over 300 companies in supporting their future market entry into this region, hosted reverse pitching sessions with some of Asia Pacific’s largest conglomerates for future UK tech partnerships and seen UK tech scaleups – such as SeedLegals, Immersive Labs, Circulor, Featurespace and ISMS.online – all have success in this exciting and dynamic region as a result.

And, in the new year, our international support will expand as we are excited to be running an Advance course on US Entry Strategy – you can register your interest here!

The success of our Global Talent Visa

It’s been an exciting year for our Visa team as well, as we have now received more than 4,500 Global Talent Visa applications to date! The Tech Nation Visa enables the brightest and best tech talent from around the world to come and work in the UK’s digital technology sector, contributing their cutting-edge expertise, creativity and innovation to maintaining the UK’s position at the forefront of the global digital economy.​​

We had some amazing speakers at our Visa Report 2021 launch event

On top of this, we announced the launch of our exciting new programme for the best and brightest talent coming into the UK; Thrive

Thrive is designed specifically for global tech talent moving to the UK to work in our tech sector who want to accelerate their introduction into the ecosystem, and we’re excited to help even more inspiring tech founders and new hires adjust to living and working in the UK. If you’re thinking of moving to the UK or have a number of colleagues moving to the UK to join your company, please head to our website to find out more about the programme, or to begin your application today. 

A new era for fintech

It has been a big year for fintech for the UK and Tech Nation. As part of the important Kalifa Review to UK government looking at future-proofing FinTech in the UK, I was honoured to lead the national connectivity stream of the Kalifa Review, which together with many other recommendations has led to the future creation of Centre for Finance, Innovation and Technology (CFIT) to help connect as many ecosystems across the UK.  

Our Fintech Delivery Panel has also had a busy and exciting year. Last month, the FDP ran a campaign called Finclusion 2021; a series of events and webinars dedicated to exploring how fintech can help tackle issues of financial exclusion, which was recently presented to Economic Secretary John Glen and Pensions Minister Guy Opperman by one of our FDP members at the Financial Inclusion Forum.

We’ve now had over 20 signatories to the Fintech Pledge; an initiative launched earlier this year, which sets globally leading standards for the establishment of partnerships between the UK’s largest financial institutions and fintech firms.

The FDP published the first Ethnic Diversity in UK Fintech report to explore the participation of ethnic minorities in UK fintech, alongside running a series of Diversity & Inclusion workshops for the fintech sector, delivered by award-winning consultancy The Unmistakables.

Our Insurtech Board also launched a report on Open Finance this year, to explore the future of insurance innovation, and ran a workshop on Tackling the Climate Challenge to explore insurtech’s contribution to this ever-more pressing challenge (which you can watch here).

Some truly insightful discussions took place at the Insurtech Board’s Open Finance Report launch event

Transforming the legal sector through tech

2021 also saw many hugely exciting moments for LawtechUK, such as the launch of the LawtechUK Report, which highlighted the £22bn annual market opportunity for lawtech across legal services and business, and identified 7 priorities for shaping and accelerating this transformation through tech.

In mid-October, we also announced the eight companies chosen to join the latest cohort of its R&D environment, the Lawtech Sandbox, at the Legal Geek Conference in London. These pioneering companies are all pushing the boundaries of lawtech, and are now receiving extensive support to fast-track their transformative ideas, products and services. 

Another highlight for LawtechUK was the publishing of their feasibility study for an online dispute resolution platform for SMEs over the Summer. In the wake of this announcement, Jenifer Swallow of LawtechUK was interviewed and appeared on BBC News at Six to discuss how technology could help make the challenge of late payments a thing of the past for SMEs. 

The best is yet to come

Between now and my next update, I wish you happy holidays and a fantastic New Year. 

If you would like to know more about all our launches, see below. 

We’ve got some very exciting announcements in the works for next year, and I can’t wait to see the UK tech sector – and all of the incredible companies we have the privilege of working with – continue to go from strength to strength. Bring on 2022!

The Tech Nation team showcasing their gingerbread houses at our Christmas party this week!

Tech Nation’s launches in 2021 – find out more:

  1. The Tech Nation Report 2021 – Flagship UK tech landscape report 
  2. The Net Zero Report 2021 – Flagship Climate tech landscape report  
  3. The Diversity & Inclusion Toolkit – Helping scaling companies perform better through diversity of thought 
  4. The Jobs & Skills Report 2021 – A deep dive insight into the UK’s tech job market, including salaries and stack ranking of job popularity
  5. The Tech Nation Visa Report 2021 – A report shedding light on why the UK should be a top choice for global talent to set up a business, or find employment in some of the world’s leading tech scaleups
  6. The CreaTech Report 2021An exploration of the UK, European and global investment into CreaTech, mapping the trends at the intersection of technology and creativity
  7. The Scale Ratio Report 2021 – A deep dive into investment into UK scaleups by growth stage
  8. The Ethnic Diversity in UK Fintech Report – Exploring the role and participation of ethnic minorities in UK Fintech  
  9. The Tech Nation Annual Report 2021 – Our annual report for the financial year ending March 2021, telling the story of our – and our founders’ – journey through the last 12 months.
  10. Tech Zero and the Tech Zero Toolkit – A pledge committing companies to publish their annual carbon emissions, plus a useful toolkit 
  11. Tech Nation Sustainability Report – Our first public and transparent carbon emissions report to disclose the environmental impact of our business
  12. Our first Libra 1.0 programme – For underrepresented Black founders
  13. Our first International programme – For tech companies looking to expand internationally
  14. Our first Thrive programme – To help tech talent from around the world adjust to living and working in the UK
  15. Upscale 7.0 – Our latest cohort of fast-growing mid-stage tech companies
  16. Fintech 4.0 – Our latest cohort of fintech companies
  17. Applied AI 3.0 – Our latest cohort of AI and deeptech companies
  18. Future Fifty 10.0 – Our latest cohort of late-stage tech companies
  19. Net Zero 2.0 – Our latest cohort of transformative climate tech companies
  20. Rising Stars 4.0 – Our annual competition for early-stage tech companies across all regions and nations 
  21. Advance: Training courses – New paid-for programs for scaling leaders in tech companies 
  22. Finclusion 2021 – A series of connected happenings designed to stimulate, inspire, showcase and scale fintech’s contribution to financial inclusion
  23. The Fintech PledgeSetting globally leading standards for the establishment of partnerships between the UK’s largest financial institutions and fintech firms
  24. The Insurtech Board’s Open Finance Report – A deep dive into the future of insurance innovation
  25. The ‘Start Here, Scale Here, Stay Here’ Report – A look at what makes the UK the best place to build a tech business
  26. The Lawtech Sandbox – Created to fast track transformative ideas, products and services that address the legal needs of businesses and society
  27. LawtechUK’s feasibility study for an online dispute resolution platform for SMEs – Using lawtech to help tackle the $23bn late payments crisis
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