London Tech Week opinion 4: Beyond the unicorns

The latest opinion piece from participants at this year’s London Tech Week is from Tim Rea, an investor into the BGF (previously known as British Growth Fund). Here he looks at how unicorns are not the only success story for London Tech Week.

Here are the opinions already published:

London Tech Week opinion 1: Incorporating diversity in your company

London Tech Week opinion 2: UK tech is more than just London

London Tech Week opinion 3: The coming of age moment

Don’t forget the SMEs that form the bulk of the UK tech industry

By Tim Rea

Earlier this month, the UK capital convened thousands of forward-facing entrepreneurs, business leaders and industry-shapers for London Tech Week (LTW). As the tech sector continues to generate record levels of funding and with a vast array of innovation on show – it certainly attracted the attention of the UK’s investment community.

Yet, make no mistake that whilst London played host, LTW goes far beyond the successes of the capital alone. Prime minister, Theresa May, opened the week with the remark that “British tech is thriving” – carefully chosen words to reflect a truly national story. In fact, recent BGF statistics show that 83% of the UK’s growth businesses from all sectors are outside of London.

The domestic tech industry is expanding 2.6 times faster than the rest of the economy and is now thought to be worth over £184 billion to UK output, so ‘Seizing the Digital Opportunity’ was rightfully thrust to the top of the agenda.

Taking centre stage were Britain’s tech unicorns and the scale-ups hot on their heels – these success stories scream ‘best-seller,’ yet there are also a great many small-to-medium sized businesses with an equally compelling narrative. These businesses are the engine room of the UK economy – they are securing investment, pioneering innovation and creating employment.

From startups to titans and everything in between, a key takeaway from last week was the strength of the UK tech ecosystem. A cause for optimism as the country seeks to understand its new place in the world and showcase its reputation for innovation as genuinely world-leading.

This is in part a result of the ambitious and imaginative ideas that garner the support of early stage investors. Our ecosystem is all the stronger because they are willing to take a risk on what might one day change the world. Undoubtably, some of them will.

It must also be recognised, however, that whilst skipping to find out the end of the story is tempting, we need to take it page by page. Much of last week’s buzz centred on questions around IPO’s, exit strategies and the next colossal round of fund raises but what the tech sector really needs now is an approach to longevity.

The combination of entrepreneurs and backers in it for the long-haul will be critical for realising the potential of the sector – enabling Britain to sustainably scale the hotbed of early stage tech firms that are found in every corner of the country.

The right funding mechanism is a key part of the story – investors will need to support businesses through all stages of the growth journey and for that the market will need patient capital.

The UK tech sector may feel like it is moving at the speed of light, but patience is vital – because whilst tomorrow’s tech stole the spotlight in London last week, we must avoid getting lost in the fiction; distracted by sci-fi or tales of future unicorns.

London Tech Week 2019 demonstrated much of what the UK tech ecosystem has to offer: we have ground-breaking ideas at our fingertips, but we also have an existing community of high-potential SME’s that are already harnessing the technology of today and driving business growth.

Investing in the future doesn’t mean we shouldn’t invest in the present – and many of the brilliant businesses that need support are those shaping our reality right now.

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