With London attracting more venture capital investment during the first half of 2017 than any other European city, it appears the city’s tech sector is thriving. Russ Shaw, Founder of Tech London Advocates, took some time out to explain why he founded the company, as well as sharing his thoughts on what makes London unique as a technology hub.
What led you to form Tech London Advocates? And, what is the premise of the organisation?
After spending much of my career in the tech sector, including stints at executive level for Skype and Telefonica as well as running a later stage startup, my aim was to establish an organisation that would offer me a chance to give back to the tech community. I wanted the private sector to have a voice in the technology debate, in particular those who could not afford expensive lobbying and communications investment.
Tech London Advocates is a private-led independent network of over 5,000 tech experts, committed to championing London as a world-class digital hub. We look to connect people from the UK and the London tech sector amongst each other, as well as with hubs and tech professionals across the globe, facilitating growth and prosperity for UK tech.
How do you see the current tech landscape across London? What is it about London that gives it a real competitive advantage?
London is one of most diverse cities on the planet. It’s a place where tradition meets innovation and a melting pot for different cultures, views, ideas and creative thinking. In the tech sector, this has been reflected in the diversity of the sub-sectors that are springing-up all around us. From fintech to foodtech and everything in-between, London is home to almost any tech sub-sector or ‘vertical’ you can imagine. Over the last five years, the city has reinvented itself as a global technology hub by becoming a fertile bed for new ideas from across the tech spectrum, creating a culture that rewards risk and encourages innovation. Whilst the strength of the city’s fintech sector often makes the headlines, we have also seen a number of less visible, but equally fascinating, verticals grow alongside the existing ones.
Recently we’ve seen a rise in creativetech and deeptech, for example. As we look to secure London’s future, revolutions in new verticals can be a resource for new ideas, playing a crucial role in establishing the city’s status as an international tech hub.
At what stage in a company’s development would you recommend they contact TLA? And where does your involvement end, if at all?
Since starting the organisation in 2013, the objective of TLA has been to support technology companies to find new investment and talent, and to achieve high growth. We welcome everyone, from startup and scaleup founders to industry veterans, investors and professionals working within the sector. This allows for the sharing of ideas, support and networking that the organisation set out to facilitate for the London and UK tech community. We are here to provide a forum for collaboration, as well as access to the right infrastructure, thus ensuring that the UK’s tech sector is allowed to thrive, with every tech company having a chance to reach its full potential.
FinTech companies continue to flourish in and around London with some notable successes, what other tech areas do you feel are starting to disrupt and make an impact?
As mentioned, I would particularly point to the rise of deeptech and creativetech.
Deeptech has developed an appetite for investment, attracting capital from venture capital investors looking to bet big on Europe’s next tech success story. As a result, verticals like AI (artificial intelligence), the Internet of Things (IoT) and augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) are beginning to mature, growing in scale as potential gradually becomes reality.
Deeptech is operating at all stages of the ecosystem, with firms turning the heads of investors by innovating in areas that have previously been the domain of the tech giants. This has led to London developing its credentials as the location of choice for deeptech start-ups and scaleups, building on its successes in digitising historical strengths. Because of this, London is set to be at the forefront of a new wave of breakthroughs, playing a leading role in development of technologies that will precipitate a fundamental transformation in the way we live.
Similarly, an explosion in creativetech has typified the city’s ability to use its history as a resource for innovation. Forums like Createch 2017 help to shine a light on the creativetech ecosystem by examining how, through co-opting existing legacy strengths, London has built a new tech vertical with creativity and innovation at its core. Tech London Advocates launched the CreativeTech 50 during London Tech Week.
We have seen new creativetech businesses — Metail, FrontRow, GreenShoot, Slido, Bubbl, Adbrain and so many more–start to disrupt London’s established creative industries, with the city’s startup culture driving transformation in sectors like fashion, games, design, media and marketing.
What makes a company investable to you?
Every investor works differently, so inevitably the approach varies from person to person. For me the first step is to do plenty of research, and make sure the company has a sounds business model.
Based on the business model of a tech startup, I can understand its viability and potential for growth. But above all else, it is the diversity of its personnel and culture that I value the most and it is often what tips the scale. I like to meet the CEO and management team to understand their ethos and approach to the business and to the industry. If all the components are there and they are offering and innovative and exciting product or service, it becomes fairly straightforward.
And finally, what key advice would you give to any early stage tech company?
Finding, hiring and managing the best people are the greatest challenges for early stage companies. The technology Skills Gap remains an issue for the government and Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) at a macro level, and for the tech sector and individual startups at a micro level.
I would advise founders to build and cultivate a network in the sector, learn as much as they can from those who went before them and find a management style that suits them. Attracting and retaining talent is crucial.