While we witnessed a dip in overall funding at the end of 2018, the UK remains the European destination for capital looking to cash in on high growth tech. Critically, we are now seeing a diversification of the tech sector and the rise of verticals attracting international attention. UK tech is no one trick pony, fintech and AI may be out in front but there are runner and riders closing the field, and this is nowhere more evident than when crossing the width and breadth of the capital to attend events that span the entirety of the burgeoning ecosystem on offer at London Tech Week.
Day three of festivities came to a close for me at 10 Downing Street with the Minister for Digital, Margot James MP hosting a reception to celebrate ‘Tech for Good’ and its increasing prevalence for Britain’s digital economy. The UK is now a hotbed of start-ups and scale-ups that are combining entrepreneurial ambition with innovation to tackle some of the world’s most pressing issues. Across climate change, social inclusion, urban planning, and many more, we find forward thinking tech businesses driving the global agenda and developing the solutions that will prove critical in our ability to create a sustainable and fair future in the UK.
This isn’t purpose without profit. Take Bulb for example, one of the sector’s scale-up success stories that provides consumers with 100 per cent renewable electricity from solar, wind and hydro. The firm has raised extraordinary levels of growth funding and has acquired over 1.3 million UK customers having celebrated its fifth birthday not long ago. This is a business using the disruptive, challenger model to take on one of the world’s largest industries and use technology to increase choice, affordability and supply energy with a lower cost to the environment.
The UK is now home to countless examples of these purpose-led businesses that are expanding rapidly and drawing the gaze of investors. London is increasingly becoming the source of dedicated capital to help scale these firms and realise the potential of ‘Tech for Good’.
Another example, Bethnal Green Ventures, is backing early stage firms that are on this mission and helping to accelerate progress for Britain’s pioneering start-ups in this space. From what I have seen on show at London Tech Week, there is a real opportunity for the UK to carve out an international advantage here and become a global hub to seed and grow ‘Tech for Good’.
Day four of the mammoth festival of technology kicked off looking at another of the burgeoning verticals playing a role in the diversification of the UK tech ecosystem – PropTech. TLA PropTech, Shoosmiths and Buzzacott hosted a discussion to explore the ‘Digital High Street’ and the opportunities and challenges that we face as technology increasingly integrates with both commerce and communities.
The local and the global, the physical and digital are becoming one and the same as they converge and overlap. There is great potential for Britain to be at the forefront of innovation and build businesses that can define progress – but there are questions which we are going to need to address. The high street and the very nature of retail is transforming, and as one of the UK’s biggest sources of employment we are going to need to put the frameworks in place to find meaningful work as the job market changes and evolves. For the UK we have the thought leaders and research prowess to act and ensure that the digital is one where everyone can thrive.
From Tech for Good to proptech, London is much more than just a hub for fintech businesses. London Tech Week has rightly shone a light on the tech verticals that may not attract the headlines or milestone investments, but are creating jobs, changing behaviours and driving transformation across the city and the UK. The tech community must celebrate these entrepreneurs and showcase that London is home to one of the most diverse range of tech specialisms in the world.