Janet Coyle, managing director of SVC2UK at London & Partners, on how leveraging the power of community can help UK tech entrepreneurs scale faster.
The UK technology sector has seen tremendous growth in recent years and, where previously startup and scaleups struggled to make unicorn status, we’re increasingly seeing homegrown talent break the billion-dollar valuation mark. Recently, challenger bank Monzo raised £85m to join the ranks of the unicorns, alongside other UK-founded businesses like TransferWise, Deliveroo, Improbable and Darktrace.
While there are still those who criticise the fact that the UK is still some way behind the US when it comes to hyper-scaling companies and huge funding rounds, we have made incredible progress. Cities such as London, Cambridge and Oxford are now recognised as the birth places of some of the world’s most innovative technology companies and talent, quickly nipping at the heels of Silicon Valley. In fact, data from Quid shows that over the past 10 years London has attracted $34.2bn in growth capital, more than three times the amount of total funding received by other tech hubs such as Paris ($8.9bn), Berlin ($9.1bn) and Tel Aviv ($3.5bn) and, since the start of 2018 alone, London startups have raised $5.6bn worth of VC and private equity investment.
The UK’s tech ecosystem has made great strides over the past 10 years, but there is still plenty more room for growth, and crucial to enabling our talent to go further is community and mentorship.
Silicon Valley has created an ecosystem that is highly effective for not just scaling businesses, but for scaling them fast – or “blitzscaling”. This environment has been created over years and Silicon Valley is now home to many hugely successful entrepreneurs and investors, all of whom have experience and knowledge in growing businesses fast. But the magic growth formula isn’t exclusive to the Valley. It can be transferred across borders and, if harnessed in the right way, used to inspire entrepreneurs in other countries to think big.
The need for mentorship isn’t reserved for entrepreneurs, but there is a strong need for it in a space that can often prove lonely and challenging especially when just starting out. There’s no boss to turn to when a new problem presents itself and, at the beginning at least, often no employees to help. Being able to talk to other founders at different stages of their entrepreneurial journeys, who can relate to the challenges, as well as act as a sounding board and provide advice based on experience is imperative.
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More experienced mentors are also likely to have widespread networks that can be tapped to help expand a business further – whether that’s for partnerships, customers, investors, growth into a new territory, each introduction can be invaluable and really move the needle for a business. By connecting these entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders, we can also create a global community of innovators and supporters, which will aid further innovation and prosperity in UK tech. London, for example, has now established collaborative networks, incubators and accelerators that provide the support entrepreneurs need and the impact can be clearly seen.
We see lots of opportunities for collaboration between London and Silicon Valley, especially in some of the fastest growing technology sectors. Quid data also shows that London and Silicon Valley start-ups share mutual strengths, with almost half (47 percent) of all start-up companies in Silicon Valley and London falling into seven fast growing technology sectors – MedTech; FinTech; AI; Gaming; AdTech; Cybersecurity and Smart Cities.
This global community holds huge importance today. There exists a huge number of pressing social issues that are impacting the global technology ecosystem – from gender equality and inclusivity to moral issues surrounding AI and tech developments. These issues cannot be solved by a single person or company, nor can they be answered by a single country or region in isolation. Diversity in thought, experience and expertise is crucial to begin answering these questions.
There also needs to be an openness and willingness to collaborate across borders, sectors and technologies to make the world a better place. This is starting to happen and even tech giants such as Google are taking the initiative, for example, with their recently launched Google AI Impact Challenge that calls organisations from across the globe to create AI-powered solutions to the world’s biggest challenges. Those selected will receive support from Google’s AI experts, investors and other support. This is a great example of communities collaborating to solve issues. As Irena Kofman, COO of Google AI said at a Silicon Valley Comes to the UK event last week, Google can’t be experts on every problem, they need other people to help tell them to problems they should be trying to solve.
There is a whole world of opportunity we can create through the power of community. We can help British entrepreneurs scale faster, grow the wider technology and innovation ecosystem, and we can change the way we tackle global issues and the outcomes. All by making a few connections.