When Guy Levin left his job as a government adviser last year – where he’d worked since 2010, jumping from the Conservative Campaign Headquarters to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and finally the Department for International Development – he was passionate about bridging the gap between startups and government.
“I’d always been interested in the startup scene. This went back to when I used to work with Rohan Silva [former Downing Street policy adviser who went on to join Index Ventures and recently founded two start-ups in London], we both worked for George Osborne before the election,” says Levin.
“Too many MPs and policy makers think of startups as just a silly app and not actually the transformational companies that are changing the way we do business, so when I left government at the end of 2013, I was looking for an opportunity to do something different in that space.”
Indeed, the UK has witnessed the creation of 11 $1bn-plus tech companies over the past decade, and by 2025 smartphone app developers are expected to add £31bn to the UK’s GDP (up from £4bn currently).
Levin stumbled upon the Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec), a policy advisory group started by Mike Butcher, editor of tech news website TechCrunch, and Jeff Lynn, chief executive of equity crowdfunding Seedrs, in 2010.
Coadec had fallen dormant after the previous executive director had left and Levin saw an opportunity to rise to the challenge when he became executive director in March. “I think this government has done a huge amount of really great stuff for startups, introducing new visa routes for entrepreneurs and graduates, the patent box, increasing entrepreneur’s relief, setting up the government digital service. It’s done a tonne of really good stuff and this manifesto today is really just saying, do more quicker,” he says.
“These changes are key because other countries are catching up. The UK is seen as having best practice in the area of tech policy.”
This, Levin says, is the key risk to London’s title as the digital capital of Europe. He says delegates from other European countries come to visit London’s startup scene every year, including the hub of activity based around Google’s campus in Old Street, and are constantly looking for ways they can improve.
“The UK is one of the best places outside of Silicon Valley to launch a startup, and I think our manifesto points are key in maintaining our prominence,” he said.