What does Britain need to produce the next Google or Facebook?

Does Britain have the talent, infrastructure and support to create the next tech titan?

This feature is sponsored by Royal Bank of Scotland

The sun-drenched San Francisco Bay area rightly enjoys global prominence as a centre for high-tech industry. Apple, Facebook and Google – the holy trinity of modern tech leviathans – all began life there.

Now, hundreds of start-ups have populated the area that’s become known as Silicon Valley.

Meanwhile, this side of the pond, London has waged a valiant fight in recent years, with soaring numbers of financial technology (fin-tech) firms in the City, and a host of tech companies based in the nearby Old Street area, that has earned it the glamorous soubriquet Silicon Roundabout.

But why has this concentration of tech firms occurred in California, and what can Britain do to produce the next Google or the next Facebook?

This was the key question facing delegates at London Loves Business’s Dynamic Enterprise Summit 2015’s digital technology roundtable.

The roundtable was chaired by Casis Media sales & marketing director Jenny Knighting and was sponsored by Royal Bank of Scotland.

The talent drought

Immediately, the issue of talent reared its head. Matt McNeil, of software firm Sign-Up.to, said that the number one concern the UK’s tech companies face remains access to talent. There are not enough skilled engineers available in Britain, he said, and no easy way to solve it.

“There is currently a massive skills shortage and I can’t see how it will end,” he said.

The Supper Club director, EJ Packe, highlighted how the talent crisis has been compounded by the slow visa process in the UK which is a detrimental factor in attracting the best people to Britain.

The Canadian government, she said, had taken decisive action in attracting tech workers by offering state subsidies to top-up wages in order to bring in talent. This, she argued, was something Britain must consider.

This sentiment was echoed by many at the table, including Xoomworks COO Steve Jackson, who said “we need borderless access to tech talent”.

But it was also pointed out that there is plenty of talent lurking in Britain, but the problem is in luring talented workers out of the shadows and into environments where they can flourish.

Battle royale – mentors vs consultants

In the entrepreneurial world, mentoring has become a larger part of the landscape. However, our delegates had a few words of warning for small firms considering taking on a mentor. The main concern being that many consultants, who are paid, are now branding themselves as mentors, and will therefore not impart the disinterested advice business owners and entrepreneurs need.

Melwin Mehta of Bee Good, said: “Mentors have been cast badly, as many consultants set themselves up as mentors because they are trying to extract a fee.”

Maria Chanmugan, director at Clevercoms, noted that the British government had attempted to address this need. “The government has helped set up a number of mentoring services that have largely been unsuccessful,” she said. The mentors often don’t have the direct experience required, or they are not able to meet frequently enough with the business to have a detectable impact.

EJ Packe agreed, adding “it’s great in theory, but a nightmare in practice. Often there’s just not enough of a framework to support it”.

Maria Chanmugan added: “A mentor should not be someone you pay. That’s a consultancy.”

Unrealistic expectations

One major bugbear that was aired was the impact of the huge tech companies like Snapchat, which made money very quickly, and also programmes including Dragons’ Den and The Apprentice, which, it was argued gave would-be entrepreneurs unrealistic anticipations about business.

“Some think, ‘if I can’t start another Facebook, I may as well not bother’”, Steve Jackson said.

“Dragons’ Den has created unrealistic expectations. It’s turned entrepreneurship into entertainment,” railed Dave Nurcombe, business development manager, Royal Bank of Scotland Invoice Finance.

“Entrepreneurship is not a get-rich-quick business,” added Seth Hawthorne, director at Parker Design. “That should not be young people’s ambition.”

Infrastructure and the human touch

Finally, two concerns touched on by those present included Britain’s woefully inadequate technology infrastructure. The snail-like internet speeds available for businesses in central London were singled out for particular criticism.

Royal Bank of Scotland’s Sean Wood said: “We don’t have the necessary tech infrastructure in Britain, and that is now becoming a seriously big problem.”

But many delegates also pointed out that start-ups and big business alike, who are embracing technology, or working in the technology sector, must remember the human touch. Anastasios Moros, MD of AGM Hotels, said that in the hospitality sector, new technology can be incredibly useful, but “it is the smile that people will remember and come back for”.

A huge thanks to Royal Bank of Scotland for supporting the Dynamic Enterprise Summit 2015, and to all our guests for their thoughts and time:


List of attendees:

Amy Foster, Director, Skinny Dip Productions

Dave Nurcombe, Invoice Finance, Royal Bank of Scotland

Mike Daniell, Head of Fin Tech, Alium Partners

Peter Richards, Owner, Trip Tide Ltd

Matt McNeil, Brand Director, Sign-Up.to/HEG

Emma-Jayne Packe, Director, Prelude/Supper Club

Sean Wood, Business Development Director, Royal Bank of Scotland

Melwin Mehta, Investor, Bee Good

Maria Chanmugan, Marketing Director, Clevercoms

Seth Hawthorne, Director, Parker Design

Anastasios Moros, Managing Director, AGM Hotels

Steve Jackson, COO, Xoomworks

Jenny Knighting, Sales and Marketing Director, Casis Media

Mark Middleton, Corporate Director, Royal Bank of Scotland

Harry Cockburn, Senior Reporter, London Loves Business

To find out how The Royal Bank of Scotland could support your tech business, contact Mark Middleton on 07810 756 094 or email mark.middleton@rbs.co.uk

This feature is sponsored by Royal Bank of Scotland

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