It’s been quite a ride since taking the reins at Tech City UK in February 2014. After years of working abroad, returning to work in London’s digital hub has been an absolute privilege.
And as a big believer in the transformative power of business-friendly policy, I’m keen to work out how to push tech in Britain further. How do we continue to foster the right conditions for growth of the UK’s digital technology space?
In March we had our first Tech City UK event, followed by the Tech City UK Pulse, a survey that identifies challenges and weaknesses in the startup scene and feeds them back to the country’s top policymakers.
This continuous dialogue with government is one of our key functions. One of the main challenges that came out in the Pulse Survey was access to talent. So it was great that April saw the introduction of the Exceptional Talent Visa, a fast-track route for tech companies to bring in outstanding workers from overseas. Shortly afterwards, we also saw the Prime Minister launch the Internet of Things Launchpad at CeBIT in Germany, with £1 million pledged to seven shining stars operating in this emerging space.
Much of my role is about listening and identifying the needs of entrepreneurs up and down the country – from Roli in London and Sumo Digital in Sheffield, to Nifty in Manchester and Bristol’s Brightpearl. Which is why our Cluster Alliance has been going from strength to strength, spanning 14 cities across the UK, so that relationships are established and best practice shared. It’s about creating a network of digital excellence across the country. And our cluster showcase in July was precisely that – showcasing some of the best early stage businesses from across the UK to investors and media in London.
Talking of cross-country connectivity, in October, we partnered with San Francisco-based Open Co to launch the festival across 6 UK cities simultaneously – a double first. This festival offers digital businesses the chance to tell the world what they’re doing and enables curious people to explore how they work.
One of the biggest highlights of the year for me was the launch of the Digital Business Academy. In partnership with UCL, Cambridge Judge Business School and Founder Centric, it allows anyone to learn the commercial skills to start, grow or join a digital business. It came hot on the heels of the government’s launch of coding skills at primary schools.
The academy is the world’s first government-supported MOOC with a rewards platform, that allows people to gain access to business opportunities such as mentorship for their business idea, to being fast-tracked to a paid internship opportunity. It is aimed at tackling the UK’s shortage in tech skills and linking people across the UK with the opportunities they need to get ahead in the digital economy.
In December, we welcomed 12 new companies to the Future Fifty programme. Half of the new companies joining the Future Fifty programme operate in the FinTech space, providing further evidence for the UK’s global leadership in this sector. Companies representing the AdTech, EdTech and ecommerce sectors also joined. With the exception of one business, all the new Future Fifty companies were founded roughly five years ago, demonstrating just how far our sector has come.
We’re delighted to have:
Adzuna, Algomi, Busuu, GoCardless, JustGiving, LMAX Exchange, Performance Horizon Group, Qubit, RateSetter, Rockabox, TransferWise and WorldRemit joining their peers on the programme.
And we announced the winners of the IOT Launchpad grant funding recently: the seven winners span technologies from farming to defense to cycling – demonstrating the universal application IOT will have across many walks of life and industries. We congratulate the winning companies: Product Health, Digital Shadows, Kisanhub, NWave, ThinkInnovate, 1248, OpenTRV, Superflux and IoTA. We can’t wait to work with them to help them grow and evolve over the coming months.
We would of course be nothing without our partners. Over the past 10 months, we’ve built dozens of relationships with organisations that have helped us engage with the community at all levels. On behalf of the entire team, I cannot thank you enough.
2014 was a year when we saw huge growth in the digital sector – across the number of companies built, jobs created and investment flowing into the sector. London alone, saw record investment in first 9 months of this year, with over $1.5Bn invested in tech companies and over $1bn raised in funds for deploying in early and later stage digital businesses. 2015 promises to be bigger and better.
At Tech City UK, we can’t wait for the year ahead, and to get working with you to build Tech Nation.