Russ Shaw, is founder of Tech London Advocates (TLA), a coalition of over 2,100 expert individuals who champion London’s potential as a world-class hub for tech and digital businesses. In this article, he examines the biggest tech developments and challenges in London in 2015.
Never before has British technology enjoyed such a global reputation for innovation, diversity of specialism and growth potential. For me, the crucial turning point of 2015 has been London tech companies translating user numbers and product quality into significant valuations and investment. For the first time, the London digital ecosystem is generating a critical mass of tech companies with real financial security.
Areas of digital expertise
We have seen continued success for London’s emerging areas of digital expertise. At the beginning of the year, FinTech was the shining beacon of UK tech scene. Back in January, UK Trade & Investment stated that the UK and Ireland was the fastest growing region for fintech investment – with deal volumes growing at 74% a year since 2008, compared to 27% globally and 13% in Silicon Valley.
FinTech has now been supplemented by the rise of ecommerce and retail tech. The UK is the biggest e-commerce market in Europe and the third biggest in the world. So, it came as no surprise that Tech London Advocates put retail technology as the front-runner for the UK’s next billion-dollar tech company.
Retail tech companies such as Orpiva, Reward Technology and NotOnTheHighStreet.com have successfully launched, igniting a new era of digital disruption.
However, beyond the headline exits and acquisitions generated by these sectors, 2015 has been defined by London’s continued ability to identify and address challenges facing the technology community.
The increased access to capital has highlighted the global race for digital talent and London has put up an impressive fight to ensure that world-class technology professionals are attracted and retained. Despite Silicon Valley’s global reputation, a third of London’s technology community stated it is now easier to recruit international talent to the British capital than the Bay Area, TLA research has shown.
Technology companies have been calling on the government to make international recruitment as streamlined as possible. The result of an ongoing dialogue with policymakers was the Tech Nation Visa scheme, which allows scale-ups to reach the talent they need to grow. However, there are alarming signs that other visa routes will be restricted next year, meaning this will remain a key battleground for next year.
During London Technology Week, a festival of unprecedented size, diversity dominated discussions and debate. Whilst startup accelerator Wayra claimed London was home to more female entrepreneurs than the US, research also suggested the city’s tech companies have a long way to go to reach true equality at board and senior level.
The response from the private sector has seen a rise in coding courses for women and a concerted effort to reach young aspiring tech enthusiasts.
Finally, 2015 has seen the technology sector start to mobilise its campaigning strength around the EU referendum.
Some 86% of tech professionals in the capital want to stay in the EU and serious concerns have been raised about the impact of Brexit – global tech companies could start to avoid the UK, we won’t have a voice in vital debates around net neutrality and the Digital Single Market and access to talent will be seriously hampered. Expect this debate to define the coming year.
Technology is now at the heart of the capital’s business landscape. The private sector is creating jobs, attracting revenue and producing the most exciting businesses in the city.
If the digital community continues to work together to champion the industry and tackle the roadblocks to success, the potential of the year to come is limitless.