Startup culture in the United Kingdom is booming, with more billion dollar 'unicorn' companies than ever before. But the rest of the world can benefit too. Phil Ellis reports from Connect day at London’s Digital Shoreditch event.
“Innovation has to come from a need,” says Pedro Rochavieira, co-founder of Lisbon Challenge. “Going through a crisis can be a great thing.” And while he refers specifically to the challenges facing startups in the troubled Portuguese economy, a genuine argument could be made that the aftermath of the financial crisis in the United Kingdom has sparked a new wave of entrepreneurial behaviour, with less reliance on traditional employment and business models.
All eyes on the UK
“London has gone from being pretty sleepy when it comes to technology, to being one of the top three cities in the world,” says venture capitalist Saul Klein, citing the city’s talent and access to capital. Not convinced? London boasts the most billion dollar companies (or ‘unicorns’) after Silicon Valley and China.
And this is no fluke. There are 36 technology accelerators and up to 70 co-working spaces in London alone. Additionally, a progressive regulatory environment and general incentives like the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS), capital gains and R&D tax credits make the UK one of the best places in the world to launch a startup. It’s not enough to simply help start-ups survive, says Jon Kingsbury from the Knowledge Transfer Network. It’s about making them thrive: “That’s when they bring significant economic benefit to the UK.”
Today: London. Tomorrow: the world.
The UK may well prove to be an ideal incubator for startup from other countries, as the government continues to support inward investment. It could even become a springboard for startups to achieve penetration elsewhere in Europe and the wider world, thanks to the aforementioned money, talent and regulation, not to mention its relative political stability and access to English-speaking countries.
“We’re on the doorstep of Europe,” says Tech City’s Gerard Grech, who delivered a State of the Union talk on the technology industry, and depicted the country as a large-scale accelerator. “The UK is a very good test market,” says angel investor Sarah Turner. “If it works here, it is likely to export well.”
The opportunities in the UK are pretty much limitless, according to Taylor. Any potential challenges thatstartups may face lie entirely in the culture. “Be bolder and less clubby, less myopic,” she says. “Think global, think disruptive… and collaborate.”
For startups with their eye on world domination, London could well be the new silicon centre, a gateway to international success.
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