The UK’s recent London Tech Week saw Chancellor Rishi Sunak make no apology in his opening address for being a “tech geek” – something I totally applaud being one myself. He also rightly stated strongly: “What really matters for economic success – is innovation.”
And since I started covering technology and digital in 2001, the UK’s appetite for technology innovation – and its ability to support it – has grown and grown. The country has powered forward under various governments to make a positive contribution to the global tech industry and develop world-altering digital advances.
It’s more than just London-centric too. Fast-growing ecosystems support this evolution from Bristol to Belfast and Leeds to Edinburgh, making the entire UK a welcoming place for tech and digital SMEs to set out their stalls.
At LTW, other Government ministers praised the UK’s growth in technology leadership and cited new data from the UK’s Digital Economy Council which said £12bn+ in venture capital funding had been secured by UK tech start-ups and scale-ups so far this year.
It was a week also notable for a new Digital Strategy for the UK being launched, and new digital trade deals being announced, a move designed to demonstrate the UK is the place globally where tech companies large and small should want to be based.
Of course, it will take time to examine the small print of that strategy to see how it can back that aim, because there are still problems. This piece I wrote in late 2021 for IT Pro looked at issues with recruiting enough talent from abroad with the right skills, while this Raconteur article I penned for its report in The Times/Sunday Times discussed how digital transformation could contribute to the Government’s levelling-up agenda.
Levelling-up will be an important factor in ensuring the UK remains at the forefront of the sort of innovation Mr Sunak is desperate to achieve.
It is true though that the UK is now a great place for tech-focussed SMEs to set up home. Founding Chief Executive of Tech Nation, Gerard Grech, talks here of how 10 years ago people “scoffed” at the idea of the country becoming a top five global centre for digital technology. The huge changes I have seen since, while covering UK tech, has been phenomenal – creating a lively sector where there is always something to write about.
As Mr Grech points out in his foreword to ‘A decade in UK tech’: “The UK tech ecosystem is valued at just under $1 trillion (more than seventeen times its value ten years ago). On top of this, we have more tech ‘unicorns’ than any other country on the continent, and our tech sector employs nearly five million people across the UK.”
London Tech Week appeared to reconfirm the desire for this success to grow rapidly thanks to a wide-range of partners and organisations each ensuring the right measures, support, training, and investment are in place for it gain even greater pace.
My fellow UK tech journalists and I will certainly keep a close eye on that – and on how regional infrastructure continues to improve. In many places it has been slow and lacking in enough investment.
But as the UK continues to open its arms to technology companies settling here, there will be more opportunity for regional investment to further boost the diversity of founders and their colleagues, while encouraging a new generation of homegrown talent through local relationships with schools and universities.
The BBC’s recent relocation of its technology reporting team to Glasgow was another sign as to how start-ups can start up, scale-ups can scale up, and unicorns can magically appear to underpin the sector in all four corners of the UK.
We also see how the UK is now taking centre stage in defining the future of work, automation, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. As Labour’s Darren Jones – chair of Parliament’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy select committee – recently told me, the UK does have a huge opportunity to carve out a critical and leading role within the global AI sphere.
What never changes though is that need for a “good idea” – and that’s what every entrepreneur founding a company in the UK will always believe they have.
But whether you’re a unicorn or successful start-up, the biggest ace up the UK’s technology sleeve remains its strong and knowledgeable tech media.
They can spot fast who is likely to be a winner, and who will be a loser, and the instincts and insight my journalistic colleagues deliver within this space are among the best in the world. The UK tech media never shies away from asking the tough questions and giving leaders and founders a rough and challenging ride when required.
When I write about tech companies across all sorts of industries, from HealthTech to FinTech and GovTech to ClimateTech, I look for those who can advocate their vision in a simple and clear way, easily outlining in messaging and answers as to how their product or service will change people’s lives, without the buzzwords or jargon.
As the Chancellor also told London Tech Week, it’s that next new idea “that will shape our lives and change the world” – and I look forward to hearing from even more SMEs coming to the UK to achieve that.
Jonathan Weinberg is a freelance journalist and media consultant – and a former national newspaper technology editor. He specialises in how digital transformation impacts business, industry, the future of work, and the health, wealth, and well-being of societies.