“This changes nothing,” he told me. As the results of the historic EU Referendum started to sink in, it wasn’t long before I received a call from my CEO telling me that the plan for the business remained unchanged.
Being the head of a French firm’s UK office, I admit to having concerns about what my colleagues in Paris thought would happen next.
As the dust starts to settle on the UK’s surprising decision to leave the EU, I’m determined to remain optimistic and am mindful of the unexpected positives that might be found in what happens next.
They say adversity is often the catalyst for great progress. History shows us that innovation stems from unlikely sources – space exploration gave us the technology to develop artificial limbs and solar energy whilst a simple mistake in a French vineyard wine paved the way for the multimillion pound champagne industry.
This rule is certainly true of the British technology industry. Whether it proves to be a mistake or not, there is no doubt that Brexit will transform the UK’s tech landscape in coming years.
Rather than being phased by this process, we must look to the opportunities it will create. Technology will endure, and with it, so must London’s thriving tech community.
The UK has one of the strongest technology industries. Indeed, in 2015 it was Britain’s fastest growing sector – expanding at a rate 32% faster than any other industry, contributing over £161 billion to the national economy and accounting for over 1.56 million jobs.
With some commentators warning of a reactionary ‘Techxit’, we must focus on the factors that invite innovation into the city, building upon them to create a nurturing environment that, in turn, fosters a thriving ecosystem of world-class talent.
Fifty-five helps advertisers use their data to overcome challenges and enhance their performance. So when making the decision to open our UK office, we considered everything you would expect: access to customers and facilities, access to finance and skilled individuals.
London offers tech companies all of this and more in abundance, and I’m confident this will remain the case.
For me there are three key components that drive London’s success as a digital hub – or, in our case, three main reasons why adversity will be the catalyst for great progress.
First, there is a sense of community here. Be it in the heart of London’s Silicon Roundabout or Manchester’s health-tech hub, people are connected – and in the finite world of tech entrepreneurs, that is far from a given.
This is one of London’s core business strengths, not least compared to the US. The Bay Area is home to technology and software development, LA to the film world, financial industries are clustered around the East Coast and government is centred in Washington. Yet in the UK, all of the above can be found within the parameters of the M25. Unhindered by distance, the connectivity within UK is unparalleled.
With this connectivity comes collaboration, and many of London’s most successful entrepreneurs dedicate time and experience through mentorship schemes and free event platforms. The businesses shaping the future learn from the mistakes made by the firms of the past.
From Tech City UK’s Future Fifty programme to numerous Code Clubs up and down the country, the UK is home to a support network for tech businesses at all stages of their growth.
Secondly – compared with the rest of Europe – London is a fantastic source for alternative finance. For any business looking to grow, access to crowdfunding platforms and seed capital is a key part of the process. With many leading funds based within a few miles of each other in London, the appeal of the UK as a centre for entrepreneurship is strongly supported with a network.
Finally, despite the Brexit vote, it’s in our culture. The UK has always welcomed the immigration of skilled workers and recent years have seen some fantastic developments in terms of the incorporation of much needed digital jobs into the occupation shortage visa scheme.
In addition, London itself provides access to a fantastic pool of talented individuals, with world-class universities supplying a stream of bright-eyed graduates who have the skills and the drive to succeed.
At fifty-five we have directly benefitted from the warmth of the UK’s willingness to nurture and encourage tech businesses. Upon opening our London office we found ourselves in need of several software developers, people I couldn’t source in the UK due to a chronic shortage of talent. The visa scheme helped us, and it must continue to help others in coming years.
The future of Britain’s technology sector and its continued success depends on the free-flowing movement of talented individuals who make up the truly international workforce based here. That means continuing to support visa schemes such as those that directly impact the tech community. It is crucial we continue to welcome all talented individuals into the UK’s digital ecosystem.
While many will no doubt be disappointed by the conclusion reached by the British people, only time will tell how much the now inevitable Brexit will affect the UK’s technology sector.
I’m choosing to take solace in the fact that it’s in the long-standing tradition of technology – both here in the UK and overseas – to transcend borders. Multiculturalism is at the heart of technological and scientific progress, with the best results achieved by collaborating with partners around the globe.
I’m confident that the UK’s digital heritage will remain intact and that, despite the result, Britain will continue to be an attractive partner – with the talent, expertise and ability to go from strength to strength.