London tech has already surpassed San Francisco – and it can do better yet
London beats New York for finance, Boston for universities, and has the world’s most exciting arts scene. But it’s tech innovation that has the greatest potential to drive London’s future growth.
No other city in the world can match our cluster of ideas, talent and capital. The potential is dizzying. If we can bring together London’s inventors, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and creatives on a grander scale, our enterprise and technology capabilities could soon surpass San Francisco’s.
By some measures we are already there. The London-Oxford-Cambridge golden triangle has more science and tech workers and faster industry growth than California. More Londoners work in tech than finance. The capital’s consumers are tech-savvy early adopters. As London Tech Week this week has shown, the city’s tech scene is one of Europe’s success stories.
But we have real challenges ahead: unlocking capital, sustaining talent pipelines and management capabilities, delivering smart infrastructure and helping startups to scale up.
We’re exceeding £1bn a year in venture capital, a figure that looks set to rise significantly over the coming years, but it’s dwarfed by Silicon Valley. More collaboration between the City and tech entrepreneurs – as advocated by mayor of London Boris Johnson MP, Martha Lane Fox and Joanna Shields – will help us reach the next level.
It’s not just about money (though venture capital really matters). When technologists and financiers innovate together, the results are stunning. London is leading the way in fintech and digital payments, as exemplified by the rapidly growing mobile payments platform Yoyo.
Tech innovation is changing London itself. It will have to. We’ll have 9m residents before New York. New jobs, new homes and new commuters will create pressures on transport, healthcare, energy and digital infrastructure.
The mayor’s bold decision to make so much of the capital’s data open and accessible has unleashed a wave of innovation. We have become a laboratory for smart city ideas. The London DataStore lets anyone visualise the “pulse” of the capital – and utilise that data in countless ways. Social entrepreneurs, startups and academics are empowering Londoners by mapping tube delays, property prices, crime rates, pollution and health.
Our lead in digital infrastructure will also keep Crossrail’s maintenance costs low and punctuality high.
As with any successful city, space is at a premium. Firms need the right environment to scale. That’s why Imperial College is developing a 25 acre innovation district in White City. We’re bringing together academics, entrepreneurs and investors to create value from ideas. One of the first companies to seize this opportunity is DNA Electronics, founded by my colleague Chris Toumazou. The spin-out is transforming academic discoveries into serious commercial propositions. Professor Toumazou’s research into low energy technologies and multi-disciplinary synergies between engineering, digital and medical capabilities has become a fast-growth business. It offers affordable “lab-on-a-chip” devices that can test for genetic diseases and drug intolerances within minutes.
Many more tech innovators will follow. From Stratford to Shoreditch, King’s Cross to White City, London is embracing its tech potential.