They say the convert makes the strongest evangelist. As a naturalised Brit who has called London home for almost his entire working life, I feel a particular passion for the United Kingdom. I think we live in one of the greatest countries the world has ever known, and I am hugely bullish about our future.
Meanwhile, I have very little love for the European Union as a set of institutions. It is rather soulless, Byzantine in its bureaucracy, and it tends to balance the competing interests of 28 member states by coming up with solutions with which no one is entirely happy.
But frustrating as the EU may be at times, I am convinced that Britain is stronger inside it, and I will be voting to “Bremain” on 23 June.
Everyone sees this issue through a slightly different lens, and mine is that of an entrepreneur. As co-founder and chief executive of Seedrs, the London-based investment platform for early-stage businesses (also known as equity crowdfunding), I have the experience both of being an entrepreneur myself and of working with the hundreds of amazing entrepreneurs we have helped finance.
Over the last five years, the most remarkable entrepreneurial ecosystem has emerged in the UK. In 2011, folks in Silicon Valley couldn’t have found London on a map, and the idea that we would be creating world-beating businesses across multiple sectors was hard to imagine. Today, Britain is seen as one of the world’s entrepreneurial hotspots, with money and talent flowing in like never before.
There are a number of reasons why this has happened, but high on the list has been our unfettered access to Europe.
Entrepreneurs need big markets to which to sell their goods and services: startups are a high-risk game, and people only start (and fund) them if the potential upside is big enough. The UK is a great country, but there is no getting around the fact that we are only 60m people. Turn that into the 500m people living across the EU’s 28 member states, and now you have a level of scalability that attracts the attention of would-be entrepreneurs and investors.
But it’s not just that we’re a part of a large market. Critically, Britain’s unique position as the most business-friendly nation in Europe means that we are the chosen gateway to that market for investors and partners from all over the world. Everyone from the Americans to the Chinese wants to back and work with entrepreneurial British businesses because that is the best way for them to get exposure to Europe as a whole.
Does all of that disappear if we Brexit? Of course not. There will still be plenty of scope to trade with Europe, and plenty of people from around the world will still want to do business here.
But it will be much, much harder. British startups that have had easy access to European customers and talent will find that they are now navigating a series of complex bilateral treaties, where selling into the Netherlands is slightly different from selling into Belgium, or hiring a Dane involves rules that don’t apply to hiring a Swede.
And foreign investors seeking exposure to Europe will take a much closer look at our English-speaking peers in Ireland (or the newly-independent Republic of Scotland), or at the growth-hungry startup communities in Germany, Scandinavia or Iberia.
We have built something amazing in the British entrepreneurial ecosystem, but the vote on 23 June will have a meaningful impact on where we go from here. Leaving the EU would undermine the great work we have done. Remaining as part of the EU – for all its annoyances – gives British startups the best possible opportunity to thrive in the years to come.