By Adam Hale, Fairsail CEO
There’s been a lot in the press lately about ‘Tech Nation’; an interactive data project that shows the growth of digital businesses within specific areas / regions across the UK. The project has been developed by Tech City UK, a government-backed organisation focused on the UK’s digital economy.
David Cameron, Prime Minster said, “Tech Nation shows the great innovation and thriving entrepreneurial spirit that is driving the sector forward across the country.”
The Chancellor, George Osborne, also commented, “The UK is a world leader in the technology and digital sectors and what’s so exciting about today’s Tech Nation report is that it shows how we’re seeing the growth of tech businesses right across the country.”
While I think, yes, we should be very proud of how technology has grown in the UK, we’ve barely started with tech in comparison to the likes of the US - and there is such a HUGE opportunity to capture. The UK definitely has the capacity to be a tech nation and an influential one - there are many fast growing, agile and innovative UK companies up and coming on our home turf – but how many FTSE 100 / 250 tech firms are there? Not many – in fact there’s only one IT company listed in the FTSE 100.
Yet the global technology IPO market posted its best year of the decade in 2014 with the highest number of offerings (118) and highest proceeds (US $51.2bn). China led the tech IPOs with 45 and proceeds of $29Bn, the US had 37 with proceeds of $7.9Bn, while the UK had just seven but with proceeds of $3.2bn. And, there’s promising news that British rail-ticket booking website, TheTrainline.com, is moving forwards with plans for the first UK tech IPO of 2015; with a potential valuation of more than £500m.
So we’re making progress, but not enough, how can we build on this initial momentum? Well first things first, we need to get more young people interested in science and technology. Tech is such a massive part of our everyday lives now so why isn’t coding taught as part of the national curriculum? ALL children should learn coding – but, then, the ability of schools to deliver this at the moment is extremely low. ICT in education needs to be stepped up a gear and fast - so far it’s been pitiful. And, while reports show a 12% increase in those studying computer science – the highest total in a decade - we need to get more girls interested. The current percentage of females on computer science courses is 16%, the same as when I took it 30 years ago.
Our ‘Tech Nation’ is also too B2C focused, we need more great B2B enterprises. People need to stop worrying about the funding and investment for businesses; good companies will find their own capital - it's not the Government’s job. It’s the city’s responsibility to focus on technology (and the Government’s job to encourage it). We’re the world's number 1 financial centre but the level of understanding of tech and tech businesses there is extremely low. That’s why there are so few IPOs here – we need more tech savvy bankers!
But what the Government could do is to stop taxing people so heavily – reduce the cost of public sector instead. It could also provide greater leadership in driving STEM initiatives in UK education, especially in encouraging more women to participate.
These outdated ways of educating our future talent and running the country’s economy are constraining our ability to meet national and global organizational goals. The UK needs to get up to speed, and lead, on technology in order to support modern business.
The time has come for stronger action and that time is now.