Tech Nation

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Gerard GrechGerard Grech, May 2, 2018


I would like to tell you how we are evolving as an organisation — as today marks another key milestone in our journey. 

In November 2017, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that Tech City UK and Tech North would be funded for a further four years to expand into an organisation with increased reach and impact — Tech Nation.  You can read about the announcement here.

So why are we doing this? 

Because if the UK is to retain its position as Europe’s centre for tech, we need to start thinking and acting as one Tech Nation as soon as possible. It’s time to root ourselves in a bigger picture. Digital innovation can come from anywhere –  we need to encourage it and be ready for it. What started in London as Tech City, with companies like FarFetch, Deliveroo, Just Eat, TransferWise and others, has rapidly become Tech Nation. 

We featured Amplyfi, a small AI startup in Cardiff in the Tech Nation 2016 report. They are now expanding so fast; their founders were having to knock down walls in their office the last time I saw them a couple of months ago. 

Over the next two years, we’ll be putting entrepreneur engagement managers in another 7 UK city regions, with the aim of creating a network of networks for startup learning and growth. It offers a challenge, but a big opportunity. In startup terms, we’re scaling. 

This is what Silicon Valley has been doing for decades, layering networks of credible people with the real experience with each other. We will be connecting the most ambitious founders and CEOs, with people who have done it before, so they can learn from them, and be more productive in the process. 

Since 2014, we’ve always championed exciting tech clusters across the country through our annual Tech Nation Report. Our national growth programmes have become more regionally diverse with every cohort.
It’s all too easy to accept our assumptions on the challenges facing tech businesses in the UK or to read headline figures and imagine they’re as true for Edinburgh as for Bristol. But while the tech ecosystem in each city is different, we know that ambitious entrepreneurs think and act the same way, wherever they are.

The listening tour across the UK

In preparation for our expanded mission, we went on a listening tour of the UK. We travelled to 13 cities and met more than 100 tech founders and local tech community members in the North, South, East and West of England; Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We wanted to find out from those on the ground what it’s like to run a tech company in different areas, learn about what they’re leveraging for success, and hear where their pain points lie.

We’ll be sharing many insights from our listening tour over the coming weeks, but safe to say it was inspiring, eye opening and a privilege. 

Read: Stories from startups across the UK

What founders told us

The need to connect the most willing and the most ambitious tech entrepreneurs was impressed on me during the 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 in other parts of the country. The competition a tech startup faces today is global and fierce. The ability to learn quickly and adapt on the hoof is crucial.

Beyond London

London fills a lot of column inches, and for good reason. Ten years ago, ‘Silicon Roundabout’ was coined as a joke on Twitter, and today it’s one of the most powerful tech hubs in the world. Third in the world rankings according to some sources. But groundbreaking tech is developing across the rest of the UK too, and it’s because of its location, not in spite of it. 

I love that Magic Candy Factory, a 3D food business, is based in Birmingham partly because Birmingham University offers a unique course in 3D printing, churning out graduates with specialist 3D printing knowledge. 

What we do 

We’re a small, data-driven organisation looking to deliver real impact. Through our startup growth programmes, visa scheme, insights, stories and events, we’re constantly looking for where we can add the most value and offer support at every stage of a company’s growth. We’ll be keeping all the things that worked best at Tech City UK and Tech North, adapting programmes for our expanded reach, as well as developing fresh initiatives for our broadened objectives.

We will extend, where applicable, programmes which have been successful in the North such as Founders’ Network and Northern Stars to help build that national network of digital entrepreneurs while strengthening our national programmes like Future Fifty and Upscale.

We will also be able to increase our activities which address the talent and skills challenges in the sector. Notably, we will expand the content and reach of the Digital Business Academy so that it can support more than 40,000 people to learn the skills need to start, join or grow a digital business. This will complement our existing skills programmes. Over 14,000 people are already in training.

These initiatives will be underpinned by our research, data and insights to showcase the country’s burgeoning tech ecosystem both nationally and internationally. This will be a great step forward to bring alive our flagship publication, Tech Nation 2018 coming very soon, and so much more.

We’re here to serve you, the ambitious entrepreneurs of the UK. Let us know how we’re doing, what you find useful, and where we can improve. We know UK tech is open, creative and diverse. We are world leaders in fintech, cyber and AI – 223,360 companies and counting. We believe the UK is the best place to imagine, start or grow a digital business. With your help I know we can make Tech Nation the national network for ambitious tech entrepreneurs, making the UK more productive, more prosperous, more outward looking and at the same time, I hope, more united.