Highlights from a virtual summit for entrepreneurs and founders of start up and scale up businesses in the technology sector.
Now in its 14th year, the Silicon Valley comes to the UK (SVC2UK) Summit took place over four days last week and, rather fittingly, the event was held virtually for the first time. Through its programme of events, SVC2UK provides a brilliant platform to connect entrepreneurs, founders, investors, experts, influencers and mentors and showcase businesses in the technology sector. Collaboration and knowledge/ experience-sharing is at the heart of many of the sessions and it presents a great opportunity for entrepreneurs and founders to foster new connections and seek advice from mentors that will help them achieve their strategic ambitions.
Optimism for the technology sector
Engaging with over 1000 audience members from across the world, the Summit kicked off with some positive news stories:
- 2019 was a record year for digital investment into the UK (more than £10 billion)
- There were seven times more UK unicorns in 2019 than in 2010
- 2.9 million people in the UK are employed in the digital technology sector (approx. 10% of the UK working population)
- While the pandemic presented an initial shock for UK scaleups, stability in the tech sector soon kicked in and we are now seeing growth
- One positive to come out of the crisis is that it has boosted innovation opportunities – particularly in relation to new digital consumer behaviours – who knew that 6 million people (12% of the UK adult population) downloaded a banking app for the first time during the first lockdown?
- “Every crisis instigates an entrepreneurial boom” and there is an appetite to ‘build back better’, and in a more sustainable fashion, which presents a great opportunity for start up and scale up companies across the UK.
Bringing social mobility, sustainability and diversity to the fore
The second day of the summit focussed on social mobility, climate change, the need for diversity and building back better.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan joined the platform and spoke about the effects of coronavirus and how it had exposed a lot of inequality in London, but that we can use this as an opportunity to reset “some of the structural inequalities”. He explained that good growth “... should be profit with a purpose and thinking about giving the people who work for you the skills to grow”.
(For a full look at the Mayor’s interview, see our separate article HERE.)
London is now the fastest growing global hub for impact tech with investors keen to pump money into purpose-driven tech solutions and various start ups are working to tackle issues like climate crisis and social inequality.
Diversity is another area that needs to be addressed. In the last ten years female founders received just 11% of funding and BAME founders just 3.5%. The issue is now impacting follow-on funding too. Panellists agreed there should be more ethnicity in funds at decision making level and alignment issues should be addressed at leadership level.
Former professional women’s football player for Arsenal and TV presenter, Alex Scott MBE, talked about her experience of growing up in a deprived area of London and using football as her golden ticket. Despite “not sounding the same or feeling that people like her belong on TV” she studied for a media degree after her successful footballing career and has since become an award-winning sports commentator.
Scott highlighted the importance of mentorship. Leaders should help to create more leaders and mentoring provides learning opportunities and hope for others who are disadvantaged. A great example of an initiative to address social mobility and help the next generation of tech entrepreneurs is One Million Mentors – a mentoring project helping young people to grow the knowledge, networks, skills and confidence they need to succeed.
Tips for scale ups from those who have been there
In front of an audience of some of the UK’s fastest growing tech businesses, day three of the Summit saw experts share their success stories on coping with the challenges of rapid growth, feeling out of your comfort zone and the need for resilience. They discussed the importance of surrounding yourself with the right people and that positivity and ambition is as important as skill, and recommended reading; Elad Gill’s The High Growth Handbook, The A Method for Hiring.
Some of the recommendations for scale ups were:
- Articulating a strong work culture
- Hiring people before implementing technology (not the reverse)
- Not rushing growth, take the long-term view
- Choosing investors carefully to avoid conflict between investor and founder interest
- Hypergrowth only comes from having a super understanding of the customer (Don’t under-estimate this relationship)
- If you are a company of 20 people or more, you should have a technology strategy
- As you grow, you can professionalise the experience and lose important features
And what makes a good leader?
- Resilience – a true belief/conviction in what you’re doing
- Willingness to adapt and never stop learning
- Do not try to make people see things from your perspective, find the common ground and experience the world from their perspective
- Ability to take criticism and be challenged, to understand your strengths and weaknesses
- Look at leaders you admire and ask ‘What it is you like about them?’
- Move your role to composer, cheerleader, coach, not day-to-day manager
Attracting overseas investment
Attracting foreign investment to the UK was the topic of discussion on day four of the Summit. It was noted that more Asian investors have their eyes on the UK & Europe and Japanese investors are looking at companies licensing technology in Cambridge. The largest majority of non-British students in Cambridge are from China and Chinese investment in start ups is growing.
Different cultures can present challenges and lead to misunderstanding between parties resulting in deal failures so the need to understand the Asian culture is vital. The panel recommended reading up on doing business with China as understanding the culture is more important than speaking the language.
The panel also discussed London being a ‘single-concept’ city, a one-stop solution for start ups from all sectors to thrive, in a similar vein to Singapore and Hong Kong. London is currently considered the global epicentre for fintech.
Forecasting trends in consumer driven technology
The Summit came to a close with the founders from LinkedIn, TikTok and TechCrunch concluding that 2020 has seen tech shine a light on the power of community, on different cultures and generations.
Humans need interaction and diversity will help fuel creativity. We need to ensure a society where a successful business will genuinely make sure no one is left behind and put time into solving the problem. It will determine at all levels whether unintended bias exists.
Whilst debating consumer driven technology, the panellists highlighted how the pandemic has resulted in a shift in consumer behaviour to ‘live’, live conferences, social networking (i.e – zoom, facetime) and shopping online. In response the industry needs to make a shift in consumer technology from focusing on the tech to focusing on the experience from a customer perspective.
The best consumer tech taps into our basic human needs and brings these to the forefront of the consumer’s minds and fingertips. The heart of a successful business model moving forward should centre around inclusion, removing fraud, convenience and privacy.
It is anticipated that online influencers & celebrities will impact future consumer behaviour and brand trust will be built over multiple channels. Hyper-personalisation will become integral.