What we learnt from London Tech Week 2022

After making a small return last year, 2022 London Tech Week returned with a bang this year, with a new venue, an incredible line-up of speakers and thousands of people and companies there to connect and learn about how technology can make a positive change and impact. 

Kicking things off we heard about the UK as a leading light for tech innovation from Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer who shared that he had been travelling all across the UK in the past few weeks and had met so many young people who were hungry, ambitious, unencumbered by timidity and orthodoxy, and that was what he also saw in the people at London Tech Week.

He expressed he was optimistic: “The UK has created more tech unicorns than any other country, bar the US and China. We have extraordinary, distinctive strengths in FinTech, life sciences, and creative industries. Our corporate and capital gains tax rates are internationally competitive. And we’re known around the world for our agile approach to regulation, which acts, where needed, to address concerns about large, dominant players - while backing innovation.”

Believing we still need to do more to take our economy in the right direction going forward, he said the answer is innovation. “Just look at our history. Over the last 50 years, innovation broadly defined created around half of the UK’s productivity growth. But since the financial crisis, like many countries around the world, our rate of innovation does seem to have slowed.

“However, I am confident that we can turn this around. With the rise of general-purpose technologies like AI, it is plausible to believe we are on the cusp of a new wave of innovation.”

Digitalisation and the future

“Talent is important but with technology that really allows scaling and using resources in the most impactful way,” Martin Villig, Co-Founder of Bolt.

One of the key messages to come from this year’s London Tech Week was about the future, talent, and digital skills.

There was a talk specifically on Estonia, and how this is a real upcoming place for startups and businesses, and by working on the skills gap and shortages here we may really see some strong things coming from Estonia.

Of course, this is the case for most economies in the current climate there is a massive skills gap, and it just seems to be getting worst. However, shining some light, Guy Diedrich of Cisco explained that 5,000 students have been trained and are being prepared for digital jobs, as he believes there is no better place for digitalisation that the UK. He said: “There is no greater time than now to connect the unconnected. All the opportunities connectivity is giving us, and almost 50% cannot share this opportunity through poverty. We need to change this.”

There is nit a more powerful economic stimulus than connecting the unconnected. Guy added: “Think of how digital and how much more connected we could be, and the impact it would have on people if everyone had this opportunity. Digitalisation is important and is key to a sustainable future.”

Global Leaders Innovation Summit

Rajesh Agraual, Deputy Mayor of London for Business gave the welcoming speech for the global leaders innovation section and was delighted to be there as he referred to the event as “just like Christmas for myself and tech business owners.”

He acknowledged it is his job to protect and help jobs flourish, and to ensure London not only keeps growing but keeps innovating. Even with challenges of a pandemic, the tech sector in London continued to grow and that shows no signs of slowing.

Rajesh said: “London is Europe’s biggest tech hub and if you want to grow a tech business sit is the place to be. Through innovation technology is making the world a better place.”

The UK’s digital strategy

Following on from the Deputy Mayor, we heard from the Minister for Technology and Digital Economy – Chris Philip MP, who again expressed his joy at being at ‘London’s leading tech event’. He also was very vocal in how technology can lead the way in a brighter and fairer future. He said: “By dramatically expanding the reach of our technology, we can help and see innovation grow.”

The UK digital economy is in incredibly good health, and Chris shared that within the first half of 2022 tech companies had raised more capital than the total of the year 2012. The UK is the highest in the world for raising capital, just behind the US. “The UK is a unicorn factory as one is born here in the UK every 12 days. We now have more unicorns here than in Germany and France combined.”

The stats show that since 2015 the tech sector has in fact grown three times faster than any other part of the economy, and this is down to three things Chris believes - ideas, people, and investment.

“These are the three ingredients we need to double down on, and it will lead to thousands of more jobs. I believe with these we will make the UK the number one destination to come to, to work in tech.”

However, there are of course challenges to success, and Chris believes that excessive regulation will kill innovation. “The UK Government will not do this and let this happen, as we are already taking important steps to ensure this.”

Technology of course is deeply international, and therefore international Governance is important, and Chris promised the Government will make alliances with like-minded countries and build up more international partnerships with organisations to work on more free trade and data.

He concluded: “The UK will be both innovative and informative, so let’s work together to build it this way.”

Building a dynamic thriving sector

With record levels of investment, the return of UK IPOs and an ever-increasing number of thriving startups, there is a real sense of energy and optimism in the UK tech sector. So, how will the sector continue to develop and thrive and how does the UK government strategy on innovation and skills support our scale ups and entrepreneurs to achieve success?

Building on his ‘people, idea and investment’ plan Chris Philip said if these are worked on and implemented in the right places in the UK it will have a huge boosting effect on the rest of the economy. “There is a brighter future ahead.”

Agreeing on this, Darren Hardman said our next steps need to be based around building the UK tech sector and allowing it to thrive. “In order to do this, we need get startups and entrepreneurs straight from university moving forward.”

To do this, it is about being practical and giving the right support on entrepreneurship at university level. This is a problem across the UK not just at certain levels either. Priya Guha of Merian Ventures said its all about culture: “At the moment its not accepted to wear both hats at university. We need to normalise academics to also be entrepreneurs, CEOs, and work in startups.”

This needs to be eventually on a global scale, and for that to work we need to ensure we are a platform for going global. Chris added: “Its also about facilitating digital free trade and digital data transfer amongst other countries, such as USA and Japan.”

The UK Government needs to help businesses be truly global, most of the UK unicorns are truly global and this is one thing that has really helped allow their business to grow.

People in power and leaders have a responsibility to ensure they are delivering on support and offering the tools to help also. Darren added: “We need to define where we are now, and where we want to be in the future, and work backwards to getting there.”

One of the first steps the panel agreed on is to ensure the country is being inclusive as we move forward. There is still a massive skills gap and a problem with 27% of women still thinking a career in tech is for them, compared to over 60% of men thinking the industry is for males.

To address this the skills point is fundamental, and if we can get people into tech who weren’t thinking about it before, we can bridge the gap.

The Pledge for change

Finally, EQL:HER a network of female visionaries in the tech space in collaboration with London Tech Week introduced the EQL:Pledge, a global initiative to increase funding for underrepresented founders.

Organised by EQL:HER in partnership with Pitch, the EQL:Pledge is calling on investors to commit an amount, or percentage, of funding to businesses founded by entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds - including women, people of colour, the LGBTQIA+ community, people with refugee status, people from a lower socio-economic status, and people living with disability.

You can read here all about the EQL:Pledge and the announcement made at London Tech Week.