How can Silicon Roundabout compete with Silicon Valley? London's digital edge depends on diversity

Russ Shaw
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London’s reputation is built on innovation, cultural openness and diversity (Source: Getty)

This year I have attended and hosted events in Bangalore, Copenhagen, Berlin and New York all with a single purpose – to celebrate London’s thriving digital sector. Speaking to technology professionals abroad it is clear that London’s reputation is built on innovation, cultural openness and diversity.

London’s diversity sparks ideas, welcomes new thinking and encourages competition. It is the perfect environment for the digital industry and has led to some of the most exciting tech startups in Europe.

Today I will be hosting a Tech London Advocates event in San Francisco. A recent poll of London’s tech community showed that almost half believe London is more diverse than San Francisco, and one in three feel that the city’s diversity makes it easier to recruit international talent to London’s digital tech sector than the Bay Area.

Diversity has been a defining issue for the Bay Area in 2015 following the difficult Ellen Pao suit for unlawful dismissal from Reddit. Whilst the case was eventually dismissed, it brought to light the behaviour of investors in the Bay Area. Entrepreneurs and public figures have been looking at ways to address this challenge but the perception has stuck – Silicon Valley is mainly a man’s world.

Read more: Tech entrepreneurs tell Cameron: Welcome skilled immigrants to keep the UK a tech hub

Now, London will not be replacing San Francisco in the short term, but the optimism of our technology community is good news for the capital. In the growing global demand for digital skills and talent, a reputation for diversity must be nurtured. For years we have been struggling to find ways of competing with San Francisco’s digital dominance. Maybe the answer has been here all along.

The UK’s education system is central to our ability to draw in international talent. Also, the importance of our culture should not be underestimated. It is no coincidence that East London is home to both our best technology companies and a culture that includes great coffee, nightlife and history.

A Shoreditch coffee shop can have a startup founder sitting next to an aspiring poet, and this spirit of creativity attracts the kind of talent that creates great technology companies.

Of course, more needs to be done to attract international talent to London.

Serious problems remain around immigration legislation, the cost and availability of housing and offices and the looming threat of Brexit is not making matters any easier. But the success of London’s technology sector has been accelerated by a drive to celebrate our attributes and specialisms.

Read more: Unicorn or donkey? Investors need to forget mythical valuations

Now is the time to understand that diversity is a crucial component of our digital community and should be referenced in the same breath as the likes of fintech and unicorns as a key facet of our city.

International talent is driving growth and innovation in London’s digital tech hub, bringing complementary skills and unrivalled creativity to the industry. San Francisco still has the world’s largest tech scene, but London’s creativity and diversity means it will continue hot on the Bay Area’s heels.

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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