“Tough times need innovation, and the UK tech scene is able to deliver”

Sara Gordon, May 29, 2020 4 min read

Sara Gordon, originally from America, specialises in B2C Brand and Marketing and has a wealth of experience in leading brand strategy and creative campaigns for scaling tech companies. She headed up Brand for Tech Nation alumni company Bloom & Wild and now works for healthtech ZOE, who recently developed the COVID-19 symptom tracker, currently being used by over 3.5 million members of the UK public. She was approved for the Tech Nation Visa in 2017. Here, she tells us her story.

“When I landed in London from New York, I didn’t know a soul here in the UK. I moved for a challenge, to expand my network and knowledge. When you’re uncomfortable, it means you’re learning. I threw myself into events in the digital space and start-up scene. It was there that I met some of the most diverse, welcoming and inclusive folks who I still keep in touch with today.

In comparison to New York and Boston, there’s an openness and community feel like I’ve never experienced before in a major city. Diversity of background, opinion and experience expands the mind and creates a culture of learning, which is the thing I love about living and working here most.

I feel very proud to have been chosen for the Tech Nation Visa. It shows a recognition that every role within a technology company is valuable, beyond developers and data scientists. I work here with a mission to grow UK businesses to be successful, well-known and industry-leading. By being awarded one of these visas it shows recognition of the value I’m giving back to the UK economy as we innovate, lead and grow world-class companies.

The tech community is really active, experimental and focussed on innovation. I started going to hackathons, coding and innovation events held by ASOS, Seedcamp and Net-a-Porter years ago. At that level, if you want to participate, the scene is really open, inclusive and has tons of opportunities to get involved. I won a Seedhack event back in 2013 with a team that is now the CEO of retail marketing platform Ometria, a product lead formerly at Wonderbly and a current CTO of a new start-up in the health space. The people you meet are very ambitious and we all stay in touch.

While working at flower delivery company Bloom & Wild, I really felt the support of the tech community. I participated in Tech Nation’s flagship programmes Upscale and Future Fifty and went on trade missions with the Mayor of London as Bloom & Wild expanded into Europe. My network of peers are still my go-to. Whether it’s sharing learnings with other start-ups or having a mentorship coffee with Matt Lerner, a fellow American and ex-Paypal exec – the support system is there. Non-competitive businesses want to see each other thrive and we can all excel by sharing knowledge.

After being endorsed, I spent two further years at Bloom & Wild, which is an incredible business. Aron, the CEO was an excellent boss and mentor – one of the smartest people I’ve had the privilege to work with. I continued to grow the business through product innovation, expansion into France and Germany as well as diversifying our acquisition channels. I led our first proper foray into TV, which was a huge success. We not only supported the London technology scene, but my frequent trips outside of London to our warehouses demonstrated our ability as a technology company to have impact all over the UK.

After four years at Bloom & Wild, I took the really tough decision to move to a really early stage health science company called ZOE. Millions die every year from poor health brought on by diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease and these problems are getting worse rather than better. The system flogs a one-size-fits-all proposition, when nutrition is incredibly complex and personal. At ZOE we’re tackling some of the world’s biggest health issues with data science and technology.

At the start of COVID-19, we created an app called the COVID Symptom Study to monitor symptoms in one of our scientific cohorts here in the UK. At the eleventh hour we decided to make the app public to anyone. In our first week we had 1.5 million users and today we have just gone over 3.5 million users in the UK, US and Sweden. We’ve just published a paper in Nature Medicine on how we’re predicting the likelihood of COVID with our algorithm. After our upcoming clinical study we might be able to offer an AI COVID diagnosis for those without access to testing. Tough times need innovation, and the UK tech scene is able to deliver. You can download the app here.

If you’re thinking about applying for the Tech Nation Visa, ask alumni for advice, and you may want to think about an immigration lawyer to help you through the process. Don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations, but ensure they are people who know you well and will really reveal your strengths. I was lucky to have an amazing group of people to recommend me.

My advice to those arriving in the UK is this: seek out tech events, ask for introductions and message people at companies you admire! The community here is open, friendly and supportive. At the same time, use people’s time well. Be prepared, ask smart questions and you’ll be remembered later on.

Know the value that you can bring to the UK economy and technology scene. Leverage this in your application and you will stand out.

Can you see yourself innovating in UK tech?

To check if you may be eligible for a Tech Nation Visa, try out our quick and easy eligibility quiz.

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