Cultivating London's next generation of tech entrepreneurs

 
Tessa Jowell
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Tessa Jowell says we need to break down the barriers slowing London’s digital growth (Source: Getty)

Digital technology is changing the world, but the pace of that change is still breathtaking.

In three years, Airbnb amassed as many hotel rooms as the Hilton dynasty did in a century. Ten years ago, Twitter didn’t exist – now it has more than 300m users. And Spotify adds around 20,000 tracks to its 30m-strong music library every day.

Digital technology has reshaped the way we live our lives, with endless possibilities to come. It is a revolution that must include all of us.

London has been at the forefront of this revolution, open to the world and leading it at the same time. Our city is already the tech capital of Europe and we are closing in on New York and San Francisco. There are 95,000 science and technology businesses in the city, employing 700,000 people – just over 15 per cent of the London economy as a whole. And the sector has grown by 10 per cent since 2009 – faster than California.

Read more: It's official - London's the capital of European tech

Could London success stories rival Google or Facebook?

But it isn’t all plain sailing. US mega-firms like Google and Facebook, which were mere start-ups not so long ago, have a huge presence in London. This is good news for our city – they bring opportunities for Londoners and innovation into the heart of our economy.

But where are the big London success stories to rival them? We have a thriving culture of entrepreneurship, but often ambitious young Londoners, some from more disadvantaged backgrounds, are locked out. Finding affordable space to set up a digital business is a high barrier.

London does not offer the space and infrastructure to allow many of London’s potential digital entrepreneurs to get launched. In schools and colleges, not enough young people are picking up the digital skills which serve everyday life or a future business start-up.

How we build "One London"

The brilliant and resourceful people at Somewhereto_ (a Big Lottery Fund project) and Founders Forum For Good have a great proposal to help young Londoners find space to set up their businesses. Today in collaboration with Google and Bloomberg Associates they are hosting an event for young people to pitch their ideas to company founders, and launching a three-month programme of support that provides this burgeoning community with free workspace and mentorship so they can get their businesses off the ground.

This is not philanthropy or 'corporate social responsibility' but a way of recognising the potential value that these would-be entrepreneurs can create. Reciprocal benefit - that is how we bring London together and build One London, where we all share in our city's success.

Read more: London mayoral race is Labour’s big moment, says Tessa Jowell

A space-sharing revolution

I’m proud to be supporting Somewhereto_ today. I want to see London start a space-sharing revolution where we make the most of all of our assets, including the space to put great ideas into action. Because at the moment thousands of young people are finding their ambition held back by something as simple as the need for a space to work. There are already more than 21,000 under 21-year-olds listed as directors of companies in the UK. The entrepreneurial spirit is there - we need to give it room to grow, and help power our economy.

But as Mayor I could do so much more. I want to tear down the barriers slowing London’s digital growth.

London’s broadband speeds are some of the worst in the country, with Westminster and the City of London at the bottom of the table. I want to ensure that London has the infrastructure we need to face the future with confidence, and that means securing proper broadband speeds that can power a world-leading city.

Closing the skills gap

With at least 25,000 new tech jobs in London every year, we have to make sure young people are equipped with the skills they need to thrive in the future. But in 2013 only 375 young Londoners in the maintained sector took Computing A-level. In further education, just 2,400 students chose a technology-specific course. Businesses agree that we are not doing enough to make sure young Londoners are making the most of all the exciting changes taking place in our economy. I want to change that.

As Mayor, I want to bring schools, colleges and businesses together to close this skills gap. We need to get London schoolchildren coding, standards in higher and further education improving, and businesses building London's future talent pool.

Tech London has made great strides. But we cannot rest on our laurels. We cannot sit back while thousands of young Londoners miss out on the opportunities our city is providing and whose contribution our city needs. London should be the tech capital of the world, and Londoners should be leading the way. As Mayor, I will make sure of that.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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