By guest blogger BRENT HOBERMAN
Executive Chairman and Co-Founder of Founders Forum, Founders Factory, and firstminute capital.
To coincide with London Tech Week, Brent Hoberman shares his views on why London still leads the way as a global tech centre, the impact of COVID-19 on tech innovations, and the role of tech as the globe starts to ‘Build Back Better’.
It’s hard to imagine a better catalyst for innovation than a week-long collision of the top entrepreneurs, investors, and thought leaders in the wake of a global pandemic. A physical forum would, indeed, triumph. But, given the current context, London Tech Week’s virtual offering will be the next-best reminder of the city’s unique status as a testbed for innovation and entrepreneurship.
That ByteDance is considering London for its global HQ is symptomatic of the UK capital’s prowess as a world-leader in tech: London’s ecosystem provides access on tap to growth capital, policymakers, infrastructure, established corporates, world-class universities and vast and varied networks of talent – all in one city. London Tech Week distils this offering.
You’ve been living under a rock if you missed the wide-scale digital acceleration and adoption that occurred during lockdown – even the Queen managed to get herself on Zoom. And start-ups closing rounds during the pandemic have proved the abundance of capital buttressing this growth: London-based tech companies raised $4bn from January–May 2020, more than any other European city. Onfido’s $100m and Octopus Energy’s $360m are exemplary of this achievement.
Equally loud are the actions of the UK Government in their dedication to the UK tech ecosystem. The extra funds for Innovate UK and the Future Fund are testaments to the actual and potential value that innovation and entrepreneurship add to the UK economy.
We particularly owe it to those who have witnessed loss as a result of this pandemic first-hand to build on the momentum of rapid digital transformation in the healthcare sector. London is now home to nearing 1000 HealthTech companies. This number will continue to rise as we witness disruption across everything from digital health to supply chain, drug delivery and diagnostic or analytic equipment. We know years of development were achieved overnight, but where do we go from here?
Thankfully EdTech will be carried by the Covid tailwind that has forced adoption of digital education platforms. Before COVID-19, UK EdTech companies attracted $289m in venture capital investment in 2019, up sharply on the $151 invested the previous year. I’m confident that this increase will look paltry once we are able to compare post-COVID-19 funding of this sector.
London continues to be a global leader in ClimateTech innovation and sustainable solutions, embracing and testing new ways to reduce carbon emissions. The Mayor of London has set out an ambition for the UK capital to be zero carbon by 2050 and the convergence of world-class expertise in technology, engineering, energy, finance, and environmental research makes this achievable. The city is a global hotspot for urban innovation. It’s great to see a growing cluster of clean technology innovators around The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, including the £13.4m Smart Mobility Living Lab.
Founders Forum continues to hold global challenges like this at the core of its mission. The hope is that serendipitous connections made between corporates, entrepreneurs, and policymakers at these forums will ignite new ventures and there is the funding to do so. London is second to Silicon Valley as the largest source of capital for CleanTech in the world, and in May 2020, the UK Government launched a new £40m Clean Growth Fund to supercharge green startups. We will no doubt see many more sustainability-focused funds raised in the coming months.
Furthermore, London is home to the top universities tackling these environmental challenges. For example, Imperial College’s Centre for Cleantech Innovation has supported 80 new CleanTech businesses since 2012, raising over $140m of investment. Then there are the likes of the London Business School and UCL launching the CleanTech Challenge – a global competition for innovative business ideas in the space. You can’t help but feel optimistic given the concentrated efforts in this area.
I’ve harped on about the need to unlock more entrepreneurship in our world-beating universities, and I’ll continue to do so. The newly launched Creator Fund, backed by Founders Factory, is a huge step in the right direction: diverse teams of PhD and masters students learn the venture capital ropes as they scout the brightest technical founders directly from the labs and classrooms. The Oxford Foundry, which I’ve chaired until recently, also continues to excel at commercialising university teams.
This week’s Founders of the Future Forum will do wonders for this mission. Stars including Google’s Former CEO Eric Schmidt, music legend Nile Rodgers, 400m Olympic Gold Medalist Christine Ohuruogu MBE, Calm’s Co-CEO Alex Tew, and Skyscanner’s founder Barry Smith will galvanise exceptional entrepreneurial talent to build tomorrow’s high impact startups. No doubt this year’s finalists of Wednesday’s F Factor competition (14-25-year-old founders) will once again go on to raise millions in seed funding.
Of course, Mission ‘Build Back Better’ needs to have its foundations laid with diversity front of mind. Last time I shared my thoughts on the eve of Founders Forum I wrote ‘there is still so much more to do... far too few women are entrepreneurs in technology’. This is still the case. Unlocking entrepreneurialism in underrepresented groups continues to be an economic imperative.
accelerateHER’s agenda for Friday is characteristically star-studded, but it’s worth highlighting the session ‘Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is’. Beyond the rhetoric, how is the tech community responding to the Black Lives Matter movement? We’re convening entrepreneurs, policymakers, corporate leaders and investors for a roundtable to pinpoint how we meaningfully invest in Black and underrepresented minority businesses and communities to drive sustainable change.
I’m by no means surprised by the reception of such a brainstorm nor the hunger to create tangible goals. But, it still delights me that simply bringing together the right people like this can dramatically accelerate impactful innovation. We will continue this mission through Black Tech Fest (co-founded by an ex-Founders Intelligence colleague) later this year and hope that in-person forums are just around the corner.
So as we embark on ‘Build Back Britain’, let’s continue to capitalise on London’s diversity, strong educational institutions, serial entrepreneurs, government support and access to top corporates and capital. Let’s continue to cultivate this activity and galvanise entrepreneurial talent, programmes, and ventures across Great Britain.
We’ve proved that, despite significant global geopolitical headwinds, momentum has accelerated in tech. We will never be short of geopolitical headwinds, ergo entrepreneurs will never be short of challenges to tackle. So, let’s run at these opportunities armed with the renewed confidence in tech that COVID-19’s digital adoption has engendered us with. London Tech Week should both remind us of this year’s progress and inspire the next generation of start-ups – enjoy.
All views expressed in this blog are the views of the guest blogger and do not represent the views of the GREAT campaign.