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Future Fifty and Upscale – some of the initiatives behind the ever-growing tech scene

The UK technology scene is growing rapidly, and initiatives such as Tech City UK’s Future Fifty and Upscale are helping put tech startups on the map

Technology innovation in the UK has been growing over the past 10 years, and since Brexit became a reality, 70% of British businesses have announced they will increase their innovation budgets.

Since 2014, Tech City UK has been running its Future Fifty programme to recognise 50 of the UK’s late-stage innovative technology companies and help them through the last stages to become established businesses.

Out of the previous 77 participants in Future Fifty, five have been listed as initial public offerings (IPOs) on the London Stock Exchange (AIM) after raising a collective £1bn, 11 have undergone mergers and acquisitions, and a total of 23,000 jobs have been created by participating firms.

Firms taking part in Future Fifty must be headquartered in the UK, have annual revenue of more than £5m and be growing by 30% year-on-year.

Previous Future Fifty participant Steve Flavell, co-CEO of conference tech provider LoopUp, said taking part in events was one of the most important things a startup could do on the path to success.

“There is a lot to learn from each other at events and it’s very helpful in that sense,” he said.

Learning from other startups

Current and past Future Fifty participants include familiar disruptive brands such as snack subscription firm Graze, takeaway service Deliveroo and gift website Not on the Highstreet.

LoopUp spent six months with the programme before being listed on AIM, and Flavell said it was an honour to be one of the brands on the Future Fifty list.

“We were very pleased to be invited into the programme,” he said. “It was a very positive thing for the company to be categorised as one of the fastest-growing disruptive tech companies. Just being accepted into the programme is, in itself, a very helpful thing for participant companies.”

Firms taking part in Future Fifty are given the opportunity to attend various events designed to help entrepreneurs run rapidly growing businesses – such as workshops on taking companies global, how to be successful overseas and how to take advantage of work visas to recruit the best talent.

Learn from each other

According to Flavell, companies that attend Future Fifty events constantly learn from each other as well as from mentors.

“In some of the sessions you are giving, because it’s something you’ve actually done as a business while other businesses are thinking about it, whereas in other sessions you are learning,” he said. “It’s a nice symbiotic set-up where you are offering some of your own learnings and receiving other people’s.”

As well as prestige and sharing knowledge with others, Flavell says access to senior influential businesspeople is one of the most valuable aspects of the programme.

Each year, members of Future Fifty are given access to Downing Street to talk to policy advisers, and building these relationships is valuable to businesses of any size in any industry.

LoopUp is now a programme alumni, as its listing as a public company means it must leave the programme, but the team intends to continue participating in the future, aiming to help Future Fifty’s other members.

“You can learn from companies that have gone a stage beyond you,” said Flavell. “As networks go, it’s a very relevant and effective one.”

All companies great and small

To help smaller firms grow at the same pace as Future Fifty members, Tech City UK also runs the six-month Upscale programme.

Upscale enables 30 founders and their teams to meet mentors and experts in their respective fields. To take part, startups must be headquartered in the UK, have a high level of month-on-month growth, and have completed series A or equivalent level funding.

New mentors for the next cohort include David Buttress, CEO of JustEat; Anne-Marie Huby, co-founder of JustGiving; and Jess Butcher, co-founder and director of Blippar – some of which are Future Fifty alumni.

Martha Lane Fox has also recently offered to mentor Upscale participants.

Wendy Jephson, co-founder and chief behavioural scientist at Sybenetix, an Upscale company, says taking part in the programme allowed her firm to discuss the common challenges of building a team, hiring or firing, and other core knowledge all startups will need to acquire.

Jephson said one of the main benefits of joining in Upscale was the opportunity for her whole team to learn and advance.

“In a small company, you might have one person in a department, so to be able to share knowledge with other companies of a similar nature was enormously helpful,” she said. “It meant we all got to know each other and understand each other’s businesses much better.”

Why it’s important for the industry

With the UK voting to leave the European Union, the nation is full of uncertainty, including the technology sector.

Jephson said initiatives such as Future Fifty and Upscale were important in supporting and growing the UK tech industry in these uncertain times.

“You have got to remain competitive,” she said. “Silicon Valley clearly has a massive advantage, but London and its tech scene is really up there competing, but you have to maintain that and have the right infrastructure in place.”

The government’s involvement in Future Fifty and Upscale in the form of mentoring and networking opportunities is also a sign of how serious it is about advancing the UK’s technology infrastructure, according to Jephson.

“The government sponsoring it and talking about tech and how important it is will help attract and retain tech talent,” she said.

“Germany is competing hard, Silicon Valley is competing hard. How is London going to keep that talent base? These types of programme are hugely important for that.”

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Simon Calver, partner at BGF Ventures and an Upscale coach, agrees that a strong technology industry is important for the future, and initiatives committed to helping startups scale will help to build a growing tech ecosystem.

“What is really important to create the tech startup ecosystem is the people who have the scars and bruises to share some of their learnings back to early-stage companies so they can learn from our mistakes rather than repeat them,” said Calver.

As the startups selected for Future Fifty and Upscale are on the “leading edge” of what they do, helping them scale and grow will have a positive impact on the wider tech industry, he said.

Mentoring sessions

Calver’s mentoring sessions have focused on helping Upscale startups implement the organisational and technology infrastructure they will need to grow efficiently, using his experience from his previous role at LoveFilm.

Ultimately, the networking and relationships built via the startup ecosystem is what will help companies to grow.

“It’s really hard being a founder of a startup, probably second only to having a baby,” said Calver. “Just having that network and support structure around you is really important as you begin to grow your business.

“You need to have an ecosystem that learns from itself and just gets better and better.”

Applications for Future Fifty and Upscale are open from 3 November to 7 December 2016 and the successful firms will be announced in January 2017.

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