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Russ Shaw

Founder, Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates

The key talking points of London Tech Week 2019

Over 58,000 attendees, 35 per cent international delegates, 300+ events, plus for me 28 Tube journeys, 14 speaking slots and 12 media interviews and one Uber arriving at 4:30am. London Tech Week 2019 has been an absolute whirlwind for everyone involved. Few other cities, and few other industries, could pull off a festival whose success is driven so heavily by the grassroots community.

As the dust settles on what has, by some margin, been the largest London Tech Week so far, it is time to reflect on the insights and themes that have emerged across such a diverse range of events. These are my five key takeaways from the last week…

The eyes of the world have been on London tech

London Tech Week has been a reminder to everyone that this is one of the world’s only truly global cities. When London celebrates its tech sector, it celebrates the efforts and achievements of the home-grown and international entrepreneurs who are based here. And the world listens.

Some of my best moments from London Tech Week have been an inspiring gathering of Ukrainian tech entrepreneurs and investors in the capital, which attracted nearly 150 people. Or the Latin American Tech Day, which also saw a huge audience at the Science Museum. Africa Tech Week with the Tech in Ghana event and Africa Tech Summit also showcased the incredible relationship between London and African tech hubs, but also the quality of African tech entrepreneurs and investors who call London home. Discussions with Chinese entrepreneurs and investors occurred all over the city – with events focusing on the Greater Bay Area around Shenzhen and Hong Kong to TusPark from Beijing’s Tsinghua University Science Park.

The pull of London tech on the world stage cannot be underestimated. The chief executive of Twitter, the chief executive of PayPal, the chairman of Strava and the co-founder of Slack were just some of the US entrepreneurs who came here. There were also major delegations of business leaders from Japan, Taiwan, Australia and many other countries.

The focus of London tech is not just the UK, not just Europe and not just the US – but the connections the tech ecosystem has with tech communities all across the world.

The government is backing tech

For the first time, the prime minister launched London Tech Week. The significance of that moment was enormous. The most senior figure in government was showing her support for the fastest growing industry in the UK and was joined by appearances throughout the week from the chancellor, the digital and culture secretary, the digital minister, the secretary of state for health and, of course, the mayor of London.

At a time when parliament can feel like an echo chamber, the government sent a very clear message that it recognises the importance and significance of high-growth tech companies.

Diversity and talent is the talking point of the week

Right from the prime minister’s opening ceremony speech and commitment to invest in scholarships to ensure everyone can access opportunities in tech, diversity and talent was the number one issue that dominated this year’s festival.

There was greater diversity on stage than ever before and every single panel discussion and keynote speech I saw directly addressed the challenges London faces around the diversity of its tech workforce and the shortage of talent.

The Gala Dinner on Monday evening at the Tower of London was held in honour of Founders4Schools, the outstanding initiative run by Sherry Coutu to bring tech leaders and founders into schools.

While many chief executives and founders spoke about the steps they are taking to increase diversity and inclusion, it’s clear that more needs to be done. Tech Nation released figures that show that 20 per cent of all job vacancies in the UK are for tech roles. We need more tech workers, we need more international talent and we need to engage under-represented minorities now.

London has many tech specialisms, but this has been the year of AI

Fintech has long dominated London’s tech ecosystem, but this year saw countless events held for the many other tech verticals in which London has a globally competitive advantage. TLA supported events on healthtech, creative tech, property tech and e-commerce – none of which get the recognition they deserve but are all producing world-class tech companies in London.

However, if any tech vertical emerged victorious from London Tech Week 2019 it undoubtedly was artificial intelligence. From CogX in King’s Cross to the AI Summit at Excel – artificial intelligence was the technology everyone wanted to hear about.

It is clear that London has a real opportunity to emerge as a leader in AI and machine learning, and the international investors and delegates that attended the festival now realise the quantity and quality of AI companies and talent we have across the city.

Brexit is the elephant in the room

London was rightly optimistic about its tech sector this week, but Brexit has been the elephant in the room at various conferences and meet-ups. Whenever an audience was invited to ask questions, it was usually one the topics to be raised, and I have been asked time and time again what the tech sector is doing to prepare for no deal.

The Conservative party leadership contest was a backdrop to the week. One of the leaders who supported the first London Tech Week – Boris Johnson – might end up in a position to lead a no-deal Brexit and create harm to the tech sector he did so much to support.

The message from every entrepreneur I spoke to was clear; regardless of the outcome of Brexit it will be business as usual for London tech, there is enough talent here to ensure London remains a global tech hub for the future, and if tech start-ups and scale-ups are allowed to focus on growth, there is every reason to think that London Tech Week 2020 will be another resounding success.

Russ Shaw is the founder of Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates. Read more of Russ’s London Tech Week columns here: