With the divorce date for Britain and the EU closing in, Russ Shaw of London Tech Advocates argues for more international tech collaboration
As we usher in the new year, there is one item that dominates the agenda – Brexit. An inescapable impasse in Britain’s future that remains dominated by questions and not answers.
2018 laid to bare the creativity and resilience of Britain’s tech ecosystem in the face of the Brexit blues. Political turmoil was trumped by the innovators and entrepreneurs with further growth, dominant European venture capital and globally significant exits. Investment grew to £6.2bn in 2018, double that of 2016.
It cannot be ignored, however, that the UK tech sector must react to challenges that cast shadows over immigration policy, the future of EU nationals working in tech and access to international markets. Rather than residing to standstill in the face of uncertainty, we need entrepreneurs to do what they do best – reinvent, adapt to a changing climate and take the challenge as an opportunity.
2019 then, the most important year for the tech community to date? Brexit has left the future of UK tech unpredictable and uncertain, and the next three months in particular will be a definitive moment in the trajectory of British tech companies.
In her ambitious Global Britain plan, the prime minister championed international cooperation and presented the need to encourage and foster global economic partnerships. The tech sector must be at the heart of this effort, as it is intrinsically outward looking in nature. In particular, it needs to hold true to an attitude that embraces a holistic approach to international collaboration.
No easy feat. A survey from Global Tech Advocates of tech leaders based overseas found that two-thirds of investors, entrepreneurs and business representatives in tech hubs such as Shanghai, Singapore and San Francisco believe Brexit will have a negative impact on the UK tech sector. These are worrying signs – international hubs are seeing Brexit as a substantial challenge for doing business with Britain.
It would be uncharacteristic for the private sector to stand on ceremony and wait on the goal posts to stand still. What can be done then to sponsor the international success of Britain’s tech community?
The ecosystem must showcase an eagerness to build on international links and work towards future-proofing London’s industry prowess by creating immoveable interconnectivity - that holds strong under the weight of political anxiety.
In December, Global Tech Advocates launched the latest of its 12 international sibling groups in Paris – an ambitious initiative to bind the two cities and showcase the strengths of working together post-Brexit.
Paris has been pegged by many as the leading rival tech hub to London. However, this is the wrong attitude to take when it comes to technological expertise and innovation – collaboration rather than competition is crucial for tech hubs to grow, exchange resources and ideas.
With both France and the UK experiencing fast-growth in the digital economy – and developing cutting-edge technology in such fields as fintech, artificial intelligence and creative tech – there is a clear-cut opportunity to develop links across industry, academia and government.
Global collaboration and international connectivity are key then to ensuring the success of the UK’s tech sector – Paris is not alone in what it can offer – we can think further afield.
A prominent example, Colombia is rich with ambition and investors have taken note – the country is fast becoming the access point for investment opportunities across South America, and the gateway for European connections with the continent. And, if we look to the east, China and its abundance of capital, combined with a determination to work with European firms, offers a unique opportunity for British firms to gain access to funds that will facilitate high-growth.
Mirrored with the launch of GTA groups in 2018, such as Tech Shanghai Advocates and Tech Bogotá Advocates, these are the steps being taken to help secure the UK as a principle, integral and authoritative member of the global tech community.
As Britain looks set to withdraw from the EU and we take steps ever closer to the deadline for completing a deal, the challenges will intensify. Now is the time to work towards converting the political predicament into opportunity.
The private sector must take a lead on this front, joining forces and deploying inroads to European and global capitals on a commercial level, to offer British tech the best possible platform for growth in a post-Brexit world.