Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates & Global Tech Advocates, discusses the importance of promoting cross border business if the UK tech sector is going to succeed post-Brexit
The clock is certainly ticking, there is less than six months between now and Britain’s exit from the European Union. It could not be timelier then for the nation to take strides in the direction of a ‘Global Britain’ – the ambitious plan laid down by the Prime Minister.
At the heart of this popular soundbite is a vision that the UK can become a triumphant success story within a truly borderless economic landscape. If we are to embrace this new position, fostering international connections is going to be critical – the backbone of a ‘Global Britain’. Prosperous connections with overseas partners provides investment, talent, innovation at a time when Brexit is aligned with accusations of isolationism – this sends the welcomed message that the UK is open.
Brexit is a threat
Yet, recent research from Global Tech Advocates, a network of over 8,000 tech experts, revealed that Theresa May’s ‘Global Britain’ is still in its infancy. Two thirds of entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders in the world’s leading tech hubs, including Shanghai, Singapore and San Francisco, believe Brexit will have a negative impact on the UK tech sector and have been discouraged from doing business in Britain.
Despite the rallying cries from Brexiteers that leaving the EU would lay the foundations for an open nation to capitalise on new business opportunities, Brexit was cited by 68 per cent as the number one obstacle facing UK tech companies. Future immigration rules ran in for a close second.
In light of this, it is clear that more needs to be done to maintain, grow and develop the important and vital international connections that have driven UK tech to new heights in recent years.
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It is time then to assess our strategic partnerships and ensure that we explore new avenues for promoting cross border business, as well as old ones.
The importance of cross-border links
Silicon Valley no longer sits alone at the top of the tech “food chain” as it once used to – still a dominating force but success has been more widely shared around the world. As of now, three of the world’s top five ‘unicorns’ are from China. A clear route to ensuring London will remain a tech powerhouse is to grab these emerging opportunities with both hands.
China in particular can act as a vital source of capital for scaling UK tech business and will play a central role in the global development of the DeepTech and FinTech verticals. I travelled to China this past May for London Tech Week events in Shanghai and Shenzhen – entrepreneurs and investors in both cities admired the creativity and innovation coming out of the UK tech sector.
The opinion of international tech leaders is the suggestion that these crucial links are being hampered by Brexit – it is critical, therefore, that the UK demonstrates a heightened eagerness to trade, collaborate and innovate in tandem with our global partners.
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There is great opportunity for Britain to branch out and look to emerging markets. In Latin America, where Tech Bogota Advocates was recently launched, the region is gaining a reputation in the world of tech, particularly in AR and software development. Britain’s trade with Latin America within the last decade has been growing faster than its trade with the EU – these trends should be maintained if not accelerated.
Similarly, in Africa the number of tech hubs is on the rise. Partnerships with African countries will facilitate the transfer of knowledge, capital and innovation between entrepreneurs – cementing future trade opportunities. Africa’s economy as a whole is projected to grow by 3.2% in 2018 and to a higher 3.5% in the following year, according to the latest figures from the World Bank Report, highlighting the scope for potential. The Prime Minister’s recent trip to South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya underscore the emerging importance of Africa and its relationship with the UK.
It is clear that the future of London Tech does lie in a ‘Global Britain’. However, we must be clear that this is not simply to rely on connections already functioning but to strengthen, support and develop new ones. Through Global Tech Advocates, I witness on a daily basis the strong connections being created from the UK to tech hubs in the Nordics, Spain, Italy, Israel, India, Korea, UAE and so many more.
It is time to prioritise our relationships with overseas tech hubs – acting promptly will give the UK the greatest chance of success. With such uncertainty regarding Britain’s future position with the EU come March, to leave global outreach as “Plan B” threatens to halt both the investment and talent pipelines.
We must do better and act now to craft the global connections of tomorrow.