Last week 10 Downing St announced that they were hosting a pitching competition for digital companies, called ‘Pitch 10’.
To say that the execution hasn’t been flawless is an understatement, and there’s been plenty of unhappy responses on Twitter (follow #Pitch10).
Nonetheless, we shouldn’t let this overshadow what was a positive initiative from No10 to showcase and engage with some of the UK’s tech successes.
So, what went wrong?
The winners of the competition are largely more mature, VC backed successes, than young startups – leading some to question how the competition was presented, and what the purpose of it was. And an email was copied (not bcc-ed) to all applicants, with some surprising results.
A positive move
But despite all this, we should still see this is a positive move from No10.
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First, it’s brilliant that senior policymakers and ministers, right up to the Prime Minister and Chancellor care about digital businesses.
This should not be taken for granted – remember that this small group of people have to deal with every issue, event and business sector in the entire country. Sustained interest in any issue is pretty rare, and after Steve Hilton, Rohan Silva, and John Gibson all left No10, there was no guarantee it would continue.
Thankfully in Dan Korski and Tim Luke we have advisors who remain committed to supporting innovation across the UK and digital businesses in particular.
A PR gimmick?
Second, some have attacked this as just a PR gimmick, and while any showcase is partly about PR, that doesn’t make it a gimmick.
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Alongside all the policy changes adopted by the government to support startups and the broader tech sector (SEIS, broadband investment and Entrepreneur Relief to name just a few), one of the best things that ministers can do is fly the flag for UK successes.
Impact of the digital revolution
Third, while there are obvious exceptions, there are still plenty of people in government and across politics who see digital as just a fad. They don’t know what an API is, or understand what the Government Digital Service does. They think startups are the same as SMEs, and don’t understand the profound impacts the digital revolution is having on our economy and society.
Yet these are the people who in the coming years are going to have to figure out how to protect privacy without stifling innovation or ensure that schools teach the right skills. Any opportunity to expose more people in politics to digital businesses should be welcomed.
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That’s why I want Coadec to host a similar pitching event or demo day in Parliament next year.
A big effort
Finally, don’t make it harder for next time by whinging about it.
I don’t know the background to how this event was conceived, but my best guess is that it sprang from a conversation between Dan Korski and Eileen Burbidge. Dan would then have had to convince others in No10 that it was a good idea, make sure it fit with the news grid, find space in the building and in diaries, clear it with the PM etc. They didn’t have to make this effort, and they also have to persuade others.
While this was obviously not perfect, we should be trying to make it easy for those within No10 and elsewhere in government who do ‘get it’ to win the argument for engaging with startups and tech.