How London became a global tech hub June 14, 2019
When Dan Hughes learnt about bitcoin in 2011, he was convinced he could improve its underlying technology. A former telecoms consultant from Stoke-on-Trent, he spent six years in the Midlands working alone on faster and more secure versions of a decentralised transaction network. London was already synonymous with finance,” he said. “If London hadn’t exploded in the way that it has over the past 10 years, I wouldn’t have had that access to the community.
Radix, the “decentralised ledger” company that Mr Hughes launched with his co-founder Piers Ridyard, is one of hundreds of tech start-ups that have set up in London over the past decade. The capital’s tech scene has changed beyond all recognition since the days when “Silicon Roundabout” was a self-depreciating in-joke among geeks in Shoreditch. According to industry group Tech Nation, the UK has now created more unicorns, tech companies valued at more than $1bn, than any other country, besides the US and China. “Best to be avoided, to the extent you can.
“The Cameron government really did embrace ,” said Tom Blomfield, chief executive of Monzo, the UK-based digital bank that has been valued at more than £1bn. “I’m not sure how much it helped, but it was a cause they wanted to align themselves with. Theresa May did none of that. The presence of multiple start-ups achieving 10-digit valuations is “a sign of huge maturity” for the UK’s tech industry, Mr Blomfield said.
Officials hope Mrs May’s rallying speech at Tech Week will be taken as an endorsement for a sector that will be crucial to the longer-term success of the UK when Britain leaves the EU. “We have something like 70 unicorns and 50,000 people with product-level experience, which is testament to how incredibly dynamic the tech sector is in the UK,” said Daniel Korski, a former adviser to Mr Cameron and now co-founder of Public, a venture capital firm. “But the question going forward is the extent to which the levels of investment and the levels of talent are going to be maintained, and frankly speaking, nobody really knows. While immigration remains a threat after Brexit, funding is less of a concern, given the growing piles of capital now available to British start-ups.
The British Business Bank, a publicly owned lender with up to £2.5bn available through its backing of VC funds, has already invested in several unicorns, including Graphcore, TransferWise and Revolut. Many entrepreneurs also credit the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme, tax relief for early-stage investments introduced by Mr Osborne when he was chancellor in 2011, for a surge in tech funding. Saku Panditharatne studied maths and computer science at Cambridge before moving to Silicon Valley to join virtual reality pioneer Oculus and, later, venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. But she came back to London in 2017 to raise seed funding for her own start-up, Asteroid AR.
“The capital problem is less of a big deal now than it was a few years ago,” she said. “It was much easier than I thought to find people who would support an ambitious long-term plan. The government has launched a study into UK tech competitiveness that will feed into the next Budget in the autumn. Part of this will look at whether to support a new tech hub.
“Nearly 40 per cent of the unicorns created in Europe in the last 10 years have been in the UK and that lead is increasing,” Mr Klein said. “We are really seeing that London is becoming a Silicon Valley for the rest of the world.
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