Tech Nation Talks Wales: close-knit community keen to build investment scene

Kane Fulton, July 13, 2020 4 min read

Wales marked the location for the 10th and final date of Tech Nation Talks, our virtual tour of the UK. Since kicking off in Yorkshire back in April, our panel discussions – hosted on Hopin – have connected, informed and hopefully inspired many founders alongside others working in digital tech.

Our finale was introduced by Tech Nation Director of Entrepreneur Success Mike Jackson, who keeps one eye trained on Wales’ tech scene from the other side of the River Severn in Bristol. After providing an overview of UK digital tech’s recent performance, he gave way to our Entrepreneur Engagement Manager for Wales, Gino Brancazio, who hosted the panel session.

According to Tech Nation Report 2020, digital tech companies in Wales attracted £100m of VC investment in 2019. A total of £36m was invested into emerging tech between 2015 and 2019, of which £32m was attracted by AI companies. Wales is home to one digital tech unicorn in the form of MoneySuperMarket.

Before we reveal what was discussed, we would like to thank our partners Openreach and Barclays for supporting our Tech Nation Talks events. Both are pivotal in supporting digital businesses through the provision of valuable infrastructure, and in championing the UK tech sector.

Scaling in Wales

Gino began by asking our panellists what it takes to start and scale a digital tech company in Wales – and talk quickly turned to investment. Aimee Bateman is the founder and CEO of Cardiff-based Careercake, a career development resources website whose content is viewed in more than 42 countries. The entrepreneur has found that the location is both a positive and a negative.

“The first of our three investment rounds was great as it was with people who had grown and exited successful companies – such as the founders of GoCompare who wanted to reinvest in Wales,” she said. “Frustratingly, other investors declined to listen to our pitch before they’d even met me just because we are based here.”

Just Eat cofounder and former CEO David Buttress, who is also a Venture Partner at 83North, highlighted a need to develop the investor community locally in Wales.

“The Development Bank of Wales is great and provides a framework for the country, but we have to think about how we as a society, tech and investment community mature that,” he said. “I can tell you that quality entrepreneurs here, which definitely do exist, probably haven’t built the businesses they would have if they were in Stockholm and London – and that’s a bit of a shame on all of us.”

Lousie Harris, cofounder of the Tramshed Tech coworking space and CEO of Big Learning Company, said that she had seen investment interest continue during lockdown. This has included moving in new tenants to the space (which came as a “surprise”), in addition to starting work with a new inward investment company from Spain.

Louise praised the Welsh digital tech sector for its “close-knit” tech community and “willingness to converse, collaborate, and back up its words with finance and support packages”.

Results of our poll conducted with event attendees

Post-Covid future

All of our panellists recognised a new and exciting opportunity for Wales to attract and do business internationally in a world that has become more globally connected in response to Covid-19.

Martyn Baker, Managing Partner at Gardn, said that increased use of videoconferencing tools and solutions would make it easier for companies based in Wales to connect with investors, clients and other people remotely.

The pandemic has also offered companies a chance to reflect on and reevaluate their company culture. David, who is also the chairman of Dragons Rugby, said that culture is the “most important thing” in any organisation – whether sporting or business.

“How people in an organisation behave is a result of their culture – whether good or bad,” he said. “Wales has some great cultural identities and commonalities, and you can use that as an entrepreneur to harness performance – so long as it’s authentic and real.”

Make or break

Reflecting on David’s comments, the panel began to ponder just how far digital tech companies based in Wales can go, and what could make or break a business as we emerge from the other side of the pandemic.

Aimee originally developed the idea for Careercake during the last recession in 2010, asking founders what they needed help with and then recording informative YouTube videos from her kitchen. She believes that organisations who similarly go the extra mile to add value by speaking to their customers will be the most successful.

“I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been cold called recently,” she said. “I run a business and pay staff, so I get that we all need to make money – but it’s in times like this that you see what a person and company in a brand really stands for. The ones that collaborate and empathise are the ones I’m going to really remember.”

By speaking to its users more, Careercake has managed to add new customers who “probably wouldn’t have needed the service before”, Aimee added.

A remote chance

David suspects that people have likely learned how to be more productive without realising it while working from home during lockdown. He called it a “disaster on multiple levels” for the aviation industry and predicted that he will take around 40% fewer flights compared to before the virus struck.

“I’ll definitely commute less and do more in terms of flexible work – it’s great to have that flexibility,” he said. “I think we’ve all learned that we’re grown up and professional, and it’s okay to trust people and not be sat in an office all of the time.”

Martyn predicts a bright future for Wales’ tech sector and is especially enthusiastic about its AI and machine learning talent. “I think universities in Wales are putting out great computer scientists,” he said. “We need to keep them here and make sure they don’t disappear to London or the US.”

If Wales can prevent so-called “brain drain” while working to increase investment-related opportunities for digital tech founders, its collaborative, innovative and forward-looking digital tech ecosystem has a bright future ahead.

Community, Wales