Tech startups have transformed the UK: Backing Britain's scale-ups is the next challenge

Sarah Wood
Britain can have more unicorns if we build the right digital ecosystem (Source: Getty)

The growth of the UK’s digital industries has been nothing short of extraordinary, and it has had a profound effect on the wider economy. Statistics from last year’s Tech Nation report show that more than 1.46m people are currently employed within the sector.

The UK is increasingly underlining its digital credentials on the global stage. The success of companies like JustEat, Funding Circle and SkyScanner – just three British “unicorns” (young firms with valuations of over $1bn) and members of Tech City UK’s Future Fifty programme – is testament to the strengths of our digital ecosystem and the ability of digital businesses to successfully scale within the UK. The international community is paying attention.

So where next for UK tech? Our startup record stands with the best in the globe, with some 608,000 firms established in the UK last year. Attention is increasingly shifting to ensuring that the right ecosystem is in place to help more businesses scale – not least Britain’s tech firms.

The problem with tackling scale-up challenges is compounded by the diversity of these companies – issues faced by a software firm will be different to those of an analytics business and need to be addressed accordingly. This is true not just within the tech sector, but also among the UK’s manufacturers, creative industries and financial service providers.

But there are some common problems that can be addressed. Looking to your peers for guidance is always a good place to start. Last week, Tech City UK announced the first intake into Upscale, a new free programme designed to formalise peer learning by providing digital businesses with direct access to expertise and advice from entrepreneurs like me who have experience in scaling digital companies.

The unique initiative targets British businesses looking to expand rapidly. The scheme was developed on the back of conversations with technology entrepreneurs across the UK, spurred on by research suggesting founders who are mentored by successful entrepreneurs are three times more likely to become top performers.

But it’s also crucial that we assist small and medium-sized firms in identifying new markets and partners that will help them scale. There is a huge appetite for UK products and services, but we must capitalise on this demand by connecting British firms with the partners that matter and encouraging growth into international markets.

This summer presents a unique opportunity for UK companies of all sizes to network with business leaders from across the globe, with international investors and potential partners heading to Liverpool in June for the International Festival for Business 2016. The inaugural Festival attracted 68,000 delegates from 92 countries and saw thousands of deals agreed, worth a combined £300m. As a direct result, some 6,500 companies exported for the first time, with thousands of jobs created nationwide.

If we are able to channel the same energies that saw us become a nation of startups and unlock the potential of UK scale-ups, we’ll be in a strong position to cement our reputation as a place where all businesses can reach their full potential.

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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