Building back better

Stephen Kelly, October 27, 2020 3 min read

As I engage across the country and see the start of the economic fallout of Covid-19, the Tech Nation growth platform becomes even more strategic in building back better – with growth, high value job creation, exports, powering the regions and broader prosperity in the digital age. With the Covid economic fallout and UK Transition from the Customs Union, 2021 represents a moment to positively shape Britain on the global stage as an innovative, digital, vibrant and open economy for business. The good news is that the UK has riches of brilliant founders and tech scaleups across all the UK regions, which can act as an economic catalyst.

Tech Nation’s mission is to proactively support the nation’s tech scaleups. The high growth tech businesses in regions outside the South East are vitally important. In my last two CEO roles at FTSE tech companies, both outside London, the teams that I assembled created value of over $5bn over 8 years. I personally saw the incredibly positive impact on regional communities: creation of high value jobs, roles for hundreds of apprentices, engagement with the community, support for local charities and the vulnerable, partnerships with academia. Whilst at Sage, we felt a genuine responsibility as the largest private sector employer in Newcastle to play a significant and supportive role at the heart of a vibrant North East tech ecosystem. 

I care deeply about the UK’s regions and so I’m delighted to see that in 2020, more than half, in fact 56% to be precise, of the 206 companies that joined Tech Nation’s programmes were based outside London. This represents a significant shift from 30% in 2018, 47% in 2019 and is a milestone that the entire team is proud of. 

There are many amazing success stories across the UK’s nations. In fact, just this month:

  • We’ve chosen 32 companies to join Applied AI 2.0 – 59% of the cohort is based outside London;
  • We’ve kicked off Fintech 3.0 – 60% of the cohort is based outside London;
  • We completed Cyber 2.0 – 68% of the cohort was based outside London.

Tech Nation has invested in the brilliant team of Entrepreneur Engagement Managers – please reach out to them to find out which tech scaleups are representing your region on the flagship programmes and to get new tech companies on their radar. We know there will always be more work to drive prosperous and thriving tech ecosystems and hubs outside London, but the progress to date should be celebrated and provides a strong regional platform for the future. Furthermore, I’m keen to keep learning about the opportunities and challenges the tech sector faces across the UK, so please do let me know where you’d like me to visit or who I should spend time listening to. 

Prior to me joining, Tech Nation completed a Board Effectiveness review. This provided a blueprint for the Board (the review included diversity, financial, HR and government experience). I would be the first to acknowledge there is always more to do and, in reflective moments, I could do better as Chair of Tech Nation. In my previous roles as a serial CEO and Board member (including NASDAQ company and attending the Directors College at Stanford University), I have experienced and seen first-hand ‘best practice’ board dynamics – those that best serve the company and stakeholders with the appropriate governance. Therefore, one of my first 90-day tasks was to build a world-class Board to address the review and harness real depth in scaling companies globally. We were overwhelmed with the response of 300 excellent applicants who were carefully considered by Nurole, who assisted Tech Nation with a transparent recruitment and appointment process.  Some of you reading this may have applied, for which I thank you again and value you always as a friend of Tech Nation. 

Tech Nation has recently appointed five new Non-Executive Directors: Annette Wilson, Eric Collins, Hussein Kanji, Jo Johnson and Trecilla Lobo. I am delighted that the recent hires have exceptional experience, competence and passion for accelerating the growth of scaling tech businesses globally. We have also made some progress on diversity which is absolutely vital; during 2021, the Non-Executive Director composition will be 4 women and 5 men, and a third of Black or Asian heritage.

The new directors will help Tech Nation address an area of strategic importance. Highlighted in our recent Unlocking Global Tech Report, export-led growth is key to UK economic recovery. The UK was the 5th greatest digital tech services exporter in the world at £23.3bn in 2019 and UK digital tech services currently export a much greater value of goods than they import, generating a significant trade surplus of 55% in 2019. In days gone past, the ‘Balance of Payments’ meant something – trust me that it still does today –  in driving jobs, sustainability and resilience through UK tech innovation. For the companies we work with, strong export-growth is also vital in the scaling-up journey – 80% of our latest Upscale 5.0 cohort overwhelmingly identified international expansion as the area in which they need the most support. 

The UK tech sector is important for our economy domestically and internationally – it’s so encouraging to have your support and passion to make sure we all build back better. Onwards and upwards.

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