Amplyfi, a Cardiff data analytics startup, is expanding so fast its founders are having to knock down walls in their office. B-Secur, a designer of biometric heartbeat solutions, can’t hire cyber specialists fast enough in Belfast. Coatsink, from Sunderland, is a rapidly growing company that is designing virtual reality games for the Oculus Rift.
Wherever you look across the UK, there are talented, dynamic companies emerging from our regional economies. Over the past three months, I have travelled across 13 of the UK’s busiest cities to prepare for the debut of Tech Nation, the successor to Tech City UK and Tech North. After meeting over 85 high-growth digital businesses, I have no doubt that the UK’s tech scene is thriving well beyond London.
Britain is a cradle of inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs, and digital tech innovation is a nationwide story. As the UK prepares to leave the EU, it’s time to set aside regional rivalries and localism, and see the bigger picture. We’re all in this together.
With Brexit now imminent, drawing our tech clusters into one national story has never been so important. Last week’s news that the Government will put £1bn into developing the UK’s strengths in Artificial Intelligence shows how the determination to make the UK the best place in the world to build a tech company goes right to the top. Tech Nation, launched this month, is the new organisation that works to promote and accelerate the success of ambitious tech businesses across the whole of the UK.
We want to equip ambitious tech entrepreneurs to build an economy fit for the future. Our ability to network and work collaboratively is an advantage that we can use effectively.
The need to connect the most willing and the most ambitious was impressed on me during Tech Nation’s 12-week listening tour. There was no doubting the commitment and dynamism of the founders and entrepreneurs I met, from Birmingham to Belfast. Many, understandably, were also under pressure and keen to link up with others facing the same challenges. The competition a tech startup faces today is global and fierce. The ability to learn quickly and adapt on the hoof is crucial.
When you are the founder or CEO of a new, fast growing company, who do you turn to but other people who have been there before? I spoke to a founder of a startup in Bristol, which has already attracted over £1.5M in investment. He said he wished he had a network of people he could reach out to, people who have scaled companies before. This is where Tech Nation comes in with programmes like Upscale and Future Fifty.
At Tech Nation we strongly believe in the network effect. The UK’s tech sector will thrive through connecting people and encouraging collaboration. We need to do it, because the prize is huge.
Since 2012, the UK’s digital technology sector has really taken off. More than 350 companies that we have worked with have raised some $7bn of investment over the last 50 months.
The UK digital tech sector is now worth more than £180bn in turnover and according to Tech.eu’s latest research report on tech investment, the UK attracted 28% of EU’s tech investment in 2017. That’s over €7bn, more than double the 2016 number. The sector is growing more than twice as fast as the wider economy. There is a new generation of globally ambitious British tech companies creating highly paid jobs and putting the UK on the global map – the likes of Improbable, Deliveroo, Farfetch, Just Eat, Skyscanner, TransferWise and Zoopla.
As Tech Nation, we will shine a light on these remarkable home-grown success stories because we believe they will inspire others to build companies with global potential.
The prosperity offered by the digital tech boom can be nurtured in the communities which need it most, beyond London, but only if we think with one mind and speak with one voice. It’s time to connect the dots, work together and embrace a bigger vision.
To help the UK tech sector achieve on the global stage, we need to upskill the country’s entrepreneurial talent. Tech Nation’s Digital Business Academy, which has already helped over 15,000 people learn digital skills, will triple its reach over the next four years and increase the skills content it delivers for free.
Only a century ago, innovation meant steam engines and welding torches. Today, innovation means new industries and businesses built with code, data and artificial intelligence.
The biggest change the UK faces is technological, not political. Companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon, AirBnB and Uber have changed our worlds. More change is on the way.
Brexit is a footnote in all this, one that must bring opportunity and usher us faster towards the agile, global mindset required for the next decade. We will simply have to be more competitive. We have no choice – and we should relish that.
I hope that Tech Nation will play its part in making the UK more productive, more prosperous, more outward-looking and at the same time, I hope, more united.
Our world is about to change. And it’s time to root ourselves in a bigger picture.