While the offices of Old Street might still be largely empty, the tech sector is most certainly alive and kicking in the capital. This week marks the second instalment of London Tech Week, the annual gathering of the great and the good in UK tech. And as always, it’s a stellar line-up of spectacular events that are taking on the largest challenges of our time and providing a forum to champion the opportunities that are emerging from this crisis. All be it largely virtual this time around.
Yesterday, government-backed industry body, Tech Nation, published fresh data that revealed the number of vacancies for digital jobs had climbed 36 per cent since the beginning of June. Now tech firms are reported to be posting an average of 90,000 unfilled positions every week. Given the mounting job losses being announced across other industries like retail and transport, these figures illustrate the critical role that tech is now playing in supporting the UK’s job market and rebuilding the economy.
If the tech sector is proving central to current growth, it will be equally important in defining the UK’s post-Brexit strategy with respect to the international economy. As part of London Tech Week this year, the organisation I founded, Global Tech Advocates, brought together fifteen of the leaders from across our sibling organisations from China to Canada, the Nordics, Italy, the US and beyond to discuss connecting London tech to the rest of the world and to garner insights from those hubs that look to the UK for investment, networks, talent and as a source of innovation within many of the emerging tech verticals such as fintech, AI and cyber.
From the outset, it was recognised that despite Covid-19, tech hubs throughout Europe and Asia have eyes on London as a financial centre point. It was highlighted that entrepreneurs founding and scaling tech start-ups in many of the world’s leading economies continue to rely on London as a means of raising investment. The UK’s financial institutions and investor community were praised for backing the sector during a time of crisis and continuing to fuel growth with a pipeline of capital. While there remain concerns about the availability of capital for early-stage firms, at large the UK’s investment ecosystem has demonstrated real resilience and confidence in tech to thrive.
Dubbed “the capital for investors” during the session, despite both the UK’s upcoming exit from the European Union and the Covid-19 pandemic, London looks set to retain its title as a premier destination to seed, scale and grow tech companies. Tech leaders in other European countries pointed to the UK’s depth of vehicles and options for financing fast-growth businesses, stating that virtually nowhere else can entrepreneurs access the breadth of angels, venture capital firms, seed investors, private equity funds and the world’s largest banks. High praise indeed from the rest of the world when it comes to cash.
Yet, it isn’t all about the financial capital. London was equally put on a pedestal when it comes to human capital and the abundance of expertise and diverse talent within the UK’s shores. Again, tech leaders from across Europe emphasised that the UK would remain critical to their tech ecosystems as a place to find some of the best coders, developers, product managers and cyber experts available.
Despite growing fears of second waves of Covid-19 across the world, collaboration and the transfer of knowledge between tech hubs was still said to be deeply important to the growth and prosperity of the various digital economies involved in the panel discussion. There remains a genuine hunger throughout tech sectors in Europe, the US and Asia to utilise Britain as a bridge between nations, a home for tech networks and a means of collaboration on the major challenges and opportunities facing the sector internationally.
Optimistic, ambitious and confident in London’s continued success as one of the world’s foremost centres of technology – London Tech Week so far is demonstrating that despite Covid-19, the rest of the world looks to the UK as a critical destination of global tech and will utilise the capital as a means of reaching overseas markets.
Russ Shaw is the founder of Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates