London Tech Week is the largest technology festival in Europe and so, as you would expect, the capital is awash with ideas, demonstrations, announcements, statements of intent – that all fundamentally ask the question: how is technology transforming Britain, the way we live and the way we work?
On day three of London Tech Week, I spoke at Bloomberg’s flagship technology event, Sooner Than You Think, exploring the role the tech sector is playing in transforming business, markets and the global economy – and how we position the capital as tomorrow’s international tech hub.
The foundations from which Britain can lead the field are already here. In recent years the UK has continued to top Europe in attracting the greatest sums of inbound investment capital and producing the most digital unicorns. On Monday, Tech Nation launched a new report which shows that the UK has given rise to 72 companies that have now achieved the coveted $1bn valuation and more than San Francisco over the last 12 months.
Britain’s tech entrepreneurs are all too aware of the damage that Brexit is causing – recent data from Tech London Advocates revealed that one in four have missed out on investment opportunities due to Brexit – yet the innovation that we are seeing across tech verticals and the ability of tech to attract investment across the UK is great cause for optimism.
This is why the Chancellor told the audience at Wednesday’s (12 June) Bloomberg event that investors should set aside Brexit concerns and invest in a city that will remain “one of the great destinations for tech and innovation over the years to come”.
However, while there is real cause for celebration and much of what I heard was a reflection of the ambition that resides in the tech sector and an understanding that these great feats are not for tomorrow but are happening today. There is a compelling need to equally recognise the challenges we face in the short-term.
The main concern across the tech community is talent and the extent to which the future of these bright businesses is utterly reliant on the individuals that are needed to scale them. The simple reality is that despite the calls to action, we are not moving fast enough to realise the innovations and opportunities that have underpinned all of the remarkable objectives that have played a big part of London Tech Week to date.
We need to nurture our home-grown talent and take very tangible steps to aligning the education system with the demands of the modern economy. There has been progress and news from the PM on Monday that the government has created 2,500 places for AI and data masters conversion courses is welcome. But these are measures to address the upper echelon of tech talent and in the near future there is a need to re-skill and up-skill huge swathes of the population that are facing digital displacement.
Often at the events I have attended, tech giants are heralding the great steps they have taken to address diversity and inclusion, but the impact of these initiatives is not playing out on the frontline of the industry. Gender equality remains too low, ethnic minorities are woefully under-represented and young people aren’t applying for tech jobs.
I am hoping to see tech leaders, from both the private and public sectors, engaging with this key challenge in the context of innovation and committing to increase the intensity of action.
Today, new research from Tech Nation revealed a startling truth, 20 per cent of all job vacancies in Britain are in the digital economy – and yet there are so many underrepresented groups in society that could unlock the sector’s potential. We need tech companies to reflect the clients and communities they serve, to expand their recruitment pools, to increase the inclusion of women and BAME tech talent and to do this at every level from training to C-Suite. We will only become a truly sustainable global tech hub if we end the diversity crisis.
Day Three has been all about the innovation and transformative change that is redefining both the economy and society alike. The ambition that Britain’s entrepreneurs are exhibiting this week is exceptional. Yet, we mustn’t forget the importance of human capital and recognise that money alone cannot scale digital businesses. We need diverse talent.
Russ Shaw is the founder of Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates. Read more of Russ’s London Tech Week columns here: