Event Report: How can we guarantee that the UK remains the tech start-up and scale-up capital of Europe?

Pictfor hosted a panel discussion in the House of Commons on 5 March 2018 on the topic of supporting the many small and growing tech businesses in the UK. The panel included:

 

  • Bill Esterson MP, Shadow Minister for Business and International Trade
  • Rajesh Agrawal, Deputy Mayor of London for Business
  • Vicky Ford MP, Co-Chair of Pictfor
  • James Wise, Partner at Balderton Capital
  • Julien Callede, Co-founder of MADE.COM
  • Alissa Davies, Public Policy Manager at Google
  • Chair: Antony Walker, Deputy CEO of techUK

 

Deputy CEO of techUK Antony Walker served as Chair of the event. He delivered a welcome speech which highlighted London’s energy and creativity as a city and the global esteem that the UK tech sector enjoys. He said that the panel had a wide breadth of views and experience, and introduced the first speaker Bill Esterson MP, Shadow Minister for Business and International Trade.

Bill Esterson MP, Shadow Minister for Business and International Trade, opened the panel discussion by stating that the gains of the UK’s tech sector should be shared by the whole country, and that fears about changes in the nature of work were one of the factors that motivated the vote to leave the European Union. He said that the North West of England, where his constituency is, stands to lose a lot from a no-deal Brexit. He recommended that the business community continue to lobby for the best outcomes for business and the tech sector in the forthcoming negotiations. He went on to say that to ensure that the gains of the UK tech sector are shared, emphasis should be placed on mainstreaming technical education to deliver for the future economy.

James Wise, Partner at Balderton Capital, agreed that London and the UK has the creativity and energy required to succeed as a centre for tech innovation. He added that London is one of the few places in the world that people want to come and work in terms of the global market for talent. He suggested that a reason for this is because the UK is good at providing cultural support for the technology eco-system. He recommended that in order for this to continue, the UK could provide further support to universities. James said that technology companies are borderless, and that the skill sets that the tech sector provides are able to underpin the whole economy.

Julien Callede, Co-founder of MADE.COM, agreed with the characterisation of the UK tech sector, stating that he chose to base MADE.COM in the UK because it made sense for reaching the global market. He also mentioned that one of the UK’s strengths was its diversity. He explained that from his perspective, it ensures that the UK continues to attract the best talent. He agreed with the focus on skills, and warned that basic tech skills are missing from the UK’s talent pool. He argued that education should be able to keep pace with the tech sector, and that it is the responsibility of the Government to provide this standard of education.

Alissa Davies, Public Policy Manager at Google shared her perspective and spoke about best practice for big-tech companies in supporting start-ups. She stated that Google Campus was an example of this. She said that Google Campus had been able to create 3,600 new jobs, raise over £128m in funding and has 90,000 members, 38% of which are women. She outlined the scope of Google’s new research collaboration with IPPR and said that it will explore the positive opportunities Brexit presents for the tech sector and be titled ‘How to Brexit proof the start-up system’. She concurred with the sentiment that the tech sector isn’t its own sector, but rather it underpins every sector. Alissa said that this more holistic way of thinking about the digital economy should be applied to both Government and Business thinking.

Rajesh Argawal, Deputy Mayor of London for Business, said that he agreed with the panel that London is a city of opportunities. He stated that London has everything needed to start a business or scale a business, and one of the main reasons for this is that the UK continues to be the top destination for tech talent. Rajesh said that the Mayor of London is committed to being the most pro-business mayor yet, and explained that there is a tech investment programme where start-ups and angel investors are placed together. He also said that the key to protecting London’s UK tech sector was to stay in the digital single market. He went on to state that young Londoners need to be equipped with the skills of today to best prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow. He said that technology is a great equaliser as now anyone can compete with some of the most powerful companies in the world, he caveated this by saying that, at present, the tech sector is missing out on key talent pools due to the underrepresentation of women and people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Vicky Ford MP, Pictfor Co-Chair, stated that the UK tech sector has been clear in outlining its priorities. She listed these priorities as skills and talent, cross border data flows, and encouraging a regulatory climate that supports innovation. She disagreed with Rajesh’s statement that the UK needed to stay in the Digital Single Market, because in many instances it puts up barriers rather than taking them down. She summarised by stating the recommendation that tech businesses make positive arguments about immigration policy to support their businesses, saying that Brexit presents us with the opportunity for shaping an immigration policy that is fit for the future.

Event chair Antony Walker, Deputy CEO of techUK then called for two stakeholder contributions.

Tom Messett, CMO at Plexal, argued that we shouldn’t be complacent about the UK tech

sectors advantage, since this could erode very quickly. He said that this is due to the nature of an industry that doesn’t respect tradition, but rather innovation. He recommended that business and Government should focus on building the right eco-system with the aim for the UK to foster many great tech companies which scale-up, rather than focusing on creating one great company.

Natasha Triay gave her perspective on universities’ role in the creation of tech start-ups, based on her role as Student Enterprise Manager at London Metropolitan University’s Accelerator. Natasha argued that universities occupy a unique position because they are able to bring talent to the UK, and said that this supports the UK’s position as a pioneer in tech. She explained some of the successes of London Metropolitan University’s Accelerator, including the fact that 80% of people that they work with are from outside the UK, and generate a collective revenue of £22million. Natasha said she echoed the panel’s call for certainty in terms of immigration policy, and that she recognised that universities have a role to play in keeping money and talent in the UK economy.

The event chair, Antony Walker, then invited questions from the floor. Jeremy Renwick, from Agilesphere, said that he agreed with the panel’s focus on skills and talent and emphasised that further education should match the work that follows it. He also said that to ensure that the UK is able to retain talent the Government should work to make it easier for employees to have a stake in their business.

Itret Latif, FCS, said the procurement process can be difficult for smaller companies and he suggested that the Government could help to fast track this.

Andrew MacDougall, Citymapper, asked what the panellists were looking for as the first signal that the UK tech industry was being challenged by Brexit. James Wise, a Partner at Balderton Capital, stated that his warning sign would be a drop in the numbers of International Students in the UK, both in terms of recruitment and retention.

The event chair, Antony Walker, closed the session by stating that Brexit will require the UK to work harder. He said that his main take-away was the optimism expressed by the panel, and he stated that the UK has amazing strengths in tech and has the opportunity to apply these across the economy.

Please click here for a list of attendees 

If you would like further information on this topic or about Pictfor’s programme of events, please contact admin@pictfor.org.uk.

Please note: This document includes the minutes of the meeting. This is not an official publication of the House of Commons or the House of Lords. It has not been approved by either House or its committees. All-Party Parliamentary Groups are informal groups of Members of both Houses with a common interest in particular issues. The views expressed in this report are those of the group.

 

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