China

Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates, on why the Chinese technology sector should be perceived as a great opportunity for UK tech companies.

The building of international bridges between innovators, investors and entrepreneurs is the way forward as the world becomes ever more interconnected, and that has been the goal of the Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates communities. A closely knit international network of tech hubs is the blueprint of the future, and the UK and China have begun to pave the way for others to follow.

Alongside the dominant force that is Silicon Valley, both the UK and China have a leading role to play in global tech, and working closer with one another will open up new business opportunities.

China has already made significant strides in creating the world’s biggest and most formidable tech ecosystem, with their pace of innovation and growth showing little sign of stopping. The levels of investment currently being channeled into physical and digital infrastructure – the pillars of a strong tech sector – are unlike anything we have witnessed in Europe. The country is also focusing on regeneration projects that are transforming entire districts into innovation hubs that are helping to accelerate the growth of tech startups.

Whilst China has the capital to invest and spur rapid growth, there is an active role the UK can play in China’s tech rise.

Following my recent trip to the Shenzhen Bay area, I witnessed first-hand that Chinese startups recognise the need to engage with the UK’s established tech sector if they are to successfully move into European markets. Collaboration with British businesses can offer fresh thinking, creativity and a strong sense of entrepreneurship that Chinese tech companies are willing to learn from.

China’s tech companies have a strong opinion of UK tech, particularly our ability to link business and academia to create innovative commercial opportunities. There is also acknowledgment of the digital transformation that is being embraced across the UK economy – scaling tech firms are building strong ties with traditional industries and playing an active role across the digitalisation of the economy.

In equal measure, China’s ascendance as a dominant tech hub offers a great opportunity for the UK’s community of entrepreneurs who are looking to shape their ideas into the tech powerhouses of tomorrow. It is key to acknowledge that despite great success stories, UK tech companies have struggled to achieve the unicorn status on the same level as those in China and the US, often limited by depth of funding and the size of market.

The connections we are starting to build with the likes of Shanghai and Shenzhen will be of strong value – China has the infrastructure and capital to help innovative UK startups to scale and achieve the billion-dollar valuations that we see coming out of China and the US. The TLA sibling organisation Tech Shanghai Advocates will hopefully be a key piece of the puzzle in facilitating such business opportunities.

Tech talent

Britain can also learn valuable lessons from China in the ways it handles talent. While Chinese students educated in western universities were previously not returning home, they are now being welcomed with open arms, as the Chinese tech sector is appreciating the benefits of knowledge transfer from highly skilled workers that have studied abroad. Learning to adopt an open approach to nurturing talent is a key step in building a healthy tech ecosystem, and the UK should learn to embrace that mindset.

The one area where the UK has gained an advantage and prospered greatly is its diverse digital workforce. This country possesses a strong diversity of thought as international workers settle in the UK, and China is only now learning how to attract its share of foreign talent that brings fresh ideas and alternative approaches to the table.

The strength of the Chinese ecosystem has to be recognised as an opportunity for the UK to collaborate, rather than compete. As China’s tech sector rapidly expands, Britain can be their bridge to European markets, while receiving valuable knowledge, experience and scaling prospects in return.

We already possess an immense pool of innovation and creativity, and close connections with international hubs like China will only further boost the prospects of the UK sector.