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Startups must curb reliance on US cash to plug skills gap, says OpenUK boss

OpenUK chief executive Amanda Brock

UK startups backed by US finances have ceded too much control to investors across the Atlantic and as a result are losing digital talent, according to the head of OpenUK.

In an interview with UKTN, Amanda Brock – chief executive of the open source advocacy group OpenUK – said that UK-based tech talent moving to the US is a major drain on the country’s digital skills, and American financing is in part to blame.

“There’s a talent migration that we’ve seen for many, many years,” said Brock. “If you go to the Bay area, you’ll find British people left, right and centre.”

According to Brock, it has “historically been a huge problem” for the massive gap in digital skills available in the UK.

There are a lot of reasons why promising programmers and developers from the UK would try their fortunes in the world’s largest tech hub.

However, Brock is concerned that startups in the UK have for too long relied on US investment that has brought with it pressure to ultimately jump ship across the Atlantic.

OpenUK’s latest report on digital skills noted that “access to funding or buyers from the United States for UK tech startups can actually draw skilled professionals and talent away from the UK”.

According to Brock, while US capital has been invaluable in helping UK startups grow, founders should be careful about “whose advice they took”.

“I’m all for taking the money but…I would be cautious of being advised by US tech bros if I was trying to build UK skills.”

US investors can bring a lot of funding, but for Brock that has too often come with influence on ultimately either relocating to America, accepting an acquisition from a US company, or in the case of individual tech workers, favouring working for American firms.

Denying US investment for the sake of supporting Britain’s domestic tech ecosystem is a difficult decision to make. Brock, however, offered an example of an unnamed startup backed by more than $10m of US investment that held strong on its UK conviction and “hasn’t been forced to create a Delaware corporation or give out board seats”.

“If you have the right product, you have a lot more ability to negotiate your terms,” Brock said.

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