As we approach the 10th anniversary of London Tech Week, there is much for us to celebrate around the growth of London’s tech sector during the last decade.
In the past ten years we’ve seen London grow from a burgeoning startup hub in East London to Europe’s largest tech ecosystem and now a top three hub on the global stage.
According to the latest figures we are publishing today, London has attracted more tech foreign direct investment projects than any other city in the past decade.
However, it’s clear there are some challenging times ahead for the global tech sector.
From a decline in the deployment of venture capital funding to the recent series of tech layoffs, we should not be under any illusions that London is fully immune to some of these headwinds.
Brexit has also emboldened some of our neighbouring tech hubs in Europe – with the likes of President Macron recently rolling out the red carpet to entice tech investors to choose Paris over London.
Therefore, London Tech Week will also present a chance for the UK’s leading policymakers and entrepreneurs to talk about how we can sustain London’s growth and remain competitive on the international stage.
Much has been said about an ambition to make London or the UK “the next Silicon Valley”.
There are certainly things we can learn from the Bay Area – not least its positive attitude to risk and boldness in promoting itself.
But making direct comparisons between London and Silicon Valley seems unfair. The Bay Area has been an established centre for technology for many more decades than London. Nor should we be looking to completely imitate Silicon Valley – or other hubs around the world for that matter.
Instead, London’s tech community should be looking to carve out its own identity. If we want to continue to attract the best tech talent and businesses from around the world, we should be celebrating our positive differences.
London’s unique tech strengths
Unlike many tech hubs around the world, the pulling power of our city’s business networks sets us apart.
In London, you can benefit from access to one of the world’s leading global financial centres, the policymakers, regulators and a thriving tech and creative scene, all within a 15-minute tube journey of each other.
Within Europe, London stands out as the only truly global centre for business. It’s a place where 233 languages are spoken on a daily basis with more European headquarters than any other city.
We are also the European capital for unicorn companies, developing the latest cutting-edge technologies in high-growth sectors such as health tech and climate tech.
For example, I recently met with a company from our Grow London Global programme, Kheiron Medical, that is improving the detection of breast cancer for women across the world, through its AI screening technology.
There are countless other examples of London-founded companies like this that are pioneering technology that is making a positive impact on society. As investors increasingly look to back purpose-driven companies, this can be another differentiator for London.
But it’s important that we do not rest on our past successes. Rather than talking about the merits of individual tech hubs, it would be refreshing to see London take a lead in working with hubs such as Silicon Valley and Paris on the bigger issues impacting the global tech sector.
From greater diversity and inclusion to promoting the use of technology to help solve the climate crisis and ethics around developments in artificial intelligence, London’s influence on the global stage should be utilised to drive impactful change.
London Tech Week offers the perfect opportunity for us to bring together policymakers and business leaders from around the world to discuss how technology can be used to tackle such challenges.
It’s also exciting to see the support from across the UK government and City Hall for this year’s event – giving a clear indication that UK policymakers have high ambitions for London’s tech sector.
And with over 20,000 attendees expected from over 50 different countries, it’s a chance for us to confidently show why London is different from any other tech hub in the world.
Janet Coyle CBE is managing director for Grow London at London & Partners.