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Navigating challenges and embracing opportunities: Insights from London Tech Week

London Tech Week 2023
Image credit: London Tech Week

This year marked the tenth anniversary of London Tech Week, a global celebration in which more than 30,000 visitors gathered in the capital to debate the newest trends in tech, attend over 500 events and network with industry leaders, investors and political decision-makers.

Since its inception, London Tech Week and the city’s tech ecosystem as a whole have grown significantly. Over the last decade, the UK has created 134 tech unicorns and fostered a tightly knit community where entrepreneurs exchange knowledge and support each other through challenging times, such as the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank’s UK arm in March.

London Tech Week has an unrivalled capability to bring together politicians and industry leaders to debate both the strengths and challenges of the tech ecosystem. At a time when a global investment downturn and regulatory uncertainty are weighing heavily on tech firms, the week-long event provided an important opportunity to conceptualise some of the policies, initiatives and priorities that will be needed to support industry growth over the next decade.

The UK is open for business

London’s standing as a listing destination for tech companies has taken a few hits over the last year, with British semiconductor firm Arm opting for the Nasdaq over the London Stock Exchange and companies including Revolut harshly criticising the UK’s business environment.

Against this backdrop, London Tech Week had an excellent start when Andreessen Horowitz announced that it had chosen London for its first offices outside the US. The venture capital firm’s decision speaks for the UK’s world-class regulatory environment and its increasing attractiveness to fintech firms.

However, the city cannot rest on its laurels if it is to continue successfully competing with other listing destinations around the world. While UK authorities such as the CMA and FCA have long had excellent international reputations, the breakneck speed of technological innovation and a rise of international competition demand that regulators find ways to move faster and responsibly dismantle burdensome bureaucracy where possible.

Making access to capital easier for tech startups and scaleups will also be important for London’s future as a listing destination. An overhaul of the UK’s pension scheme, which Jeremy Hunt is expected to propose next month and is aimed at encouraging investment in early-stage companies, would be a positive step towards unlocking investment in high-growth tech ventures.

Attracting international investment will also be an important part of the puzzle and this is where events such as London Tech Week can make a real difference. This year’s celebrations were attended by guests from more than 100 countries, including Australia, the UAE, Germany, Singapore, the US, Ghana and many others. India and Asia Pacific were particularly well represented. Over 600 international delegates hailed from the Indo-Pacific, and the Indian delegation alone encompassed representatives from over 100 tech companies.

Creating strong international ties is critical both to attract inward investment, and to form partnerships that will allow the tech industry to collaborate on emerging technologies.

Preparing for an AI-powered future

Unsurprisingly, artificial intelligence emerged as one of London Tech Week’s central talking points. A large number of fringe events were dedicated to exploring the impacts of AI on society and the economy. For example, a discussion hosted by the Tech London Advocates working group Tech for Disability discussed the ways disabled people can get involved in shaping generative AI, and a TLA Creative Tech event that explored the impacts AI will have on creative industries.

Meanwhile, tech leaders such as Google DeepMind’s Demis Hassabis highlighted the importance of assessing the risks presented by AI and putting the right guardrails in place to ensure AI safety.

Labour leader Keir Starmer addressed the need to explore how AI will affect the country’s workforce and their job security. The topic of AI also featured heavily in Rishi Sunak’s opening speech on the first day of London Tech Week, in which he vowed to make the UK the best place in the world for AI, as well as a global leader in AI safety.

When looking at the future of AI development in the UK, there are plenty of reasons for optimism. Over the last few years, London has emerged as a thriving hub for AI business and talent, contributing £150bn annually to the British economy. As AI advancements have the potential to revolutionise work, education, and even healthcare, it will be crucial for the government to fulfil its commitment to establishing a comprehensive regulatory framework for this emerging field and ensure that the benefits of AI permeate the entire economy, so that nobody is left behind on the UK’s AI journey.

What’s next? 

This year’s London Tech Week saw an unprecedented level of collaboration between political leaders and tech experts from around the world. But London and the UK tech ecosystem should be celebrated and supported year-round.

To build on the moment felt during London Tech Week, the government and industry leaders will now need to translate discussions into tangible policies and industry-led initiatives. It is essential to continue building a tech industry that is both welcoming to business, and prioritises public safety by making sure that the benefits of new technologies can grow while putting guardrails in place to mitigate potential risks.

Russ Shaw CBE is the founder of Tech London Advocates & Global Tech Advocates, and a regular UKTN columnist.

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