Britain is a global startup hub that has long attracted the best and the brightest entrepreneurs from across Europe. Freedom of movement has meant that those looking to start up can enjoy our position as a leader in this field, benefitting from technology, infrastructure, and the vibrancy of our cities. This in turn benefits our society and our economy – attracting the brightest entrepreneurial talent from Europe helps to spread ideas that inspire British entrepreneurs. Plus attracting the top talent to set up businesses also contributes to the UK economy helping it to grow stronger.
The government needs to ensure we continue to benefit from this partnership. We asked three leading organisations that deal in attracting and spreading entrepreneurial talent about what the government needs to do to ensure Europeans still want to set up shop here – and about what institutions vital to the UK startup scene are doing themselves.
Danny Bartlett, Head of Communications & Marketing at Wayra UK & Telefonica Open Future
Wayra is a start-up accelerator owned by Telefónica Open Future_, a global entrepreneurship and innovation network.
Understanding the result
Wayra's startupDNA project, which was supported by Virgin Startup, was the first study launched to reveal the social make-up of the UK's startup ecosystem. The UK is a global magnet for entrepreneurs – around a third of them come from abroad. While 66% of the participants in the study held UK passports, 20% were from the EU and 14% were from elsewhere across the globe. The three most common nationalities after British were Irish, American and Spanish.
The majority of startups we work with aspire to scale globally and look to access global talent and resources. In that essence, diversity and globalisation are at the core of their being. However, many commentators believe that those who live and operate outside of urban capitals which house many of our startup clusters have fallen victim to the effects of globalisation - for example the collapse of manufacturing impacted our industrial cities in the North, which are now home to high numbers of semi-skilled workers. Opportunities to reskill and adapt to a service industry, which now accounts for almost 80 per cent of the economy, are not openly available.
We need, then, to help democratise opportunities and return hope to members of those communities that don’t feel the same benefits of globalisation that those in our urban capitals feel.
What the government needs to do
There is a digital skills shortage in the UK. 12.6 million adults lack basic digital skills and the UK will need another 745,000 workers with digital skills by 2017. The free movement of people allows UK businesses, big and small, to access talent from 27 countries. If there is any restriction in accessing new talent due to the UK leaving the European Union, nurturing those who make up nearly a quarter of our startup talent will be crucial. Other established hubs, especially those in the Nordics, offer fantastic incentives and have the infrastructure to tempt people away from the UK. We need to ensure we retain the migrant talent we have, while supporting domestic talent at home.
We're looking forward to seeing what comes out of Theresa May's newly formed Cabinet Committee on Economy and Industrial Strategy, who'll meet shortly to better understanding how economic development can reach all of Britain’s regions. For Wayra, our partners and for our startups, we want to see a firm commitment from the Government that re-balancing Britain’s economy by providing opportunities for those outside of London and the South East remains a priority.
If we look at the Northern Powerhouse for example, a recent report by Tech North HQ found jobs in Northern tech are increasing 10 times faster than jobs in non-digital sectors and the productivity of digital workers is 53 percent higher than the productivity of non-digital workers. However, to keep momentum going and to unlock the North’s full potential, Tech North argues that better collaboration with local businesses and public services is essential.
What we’re doing
We're working with Oldham Council and Hack Oldham to launch Wayra North - a digital enterprise hub serving the whole of the Greater Manchester area by providing pre-acceleration services for young start-ups. More collaborations like this, which see local authorities, corporates and accelerators working together will be vital in the coming weeks, months and years.
Wayra launched its post-Brexit Pledge to build up a network of mentors, coaches and investors to help scale businesses in its Wayra North hub based in Oldham, Greater Manchester. It will also do the same in Birmingham where it will launch Wayra Serendip®, a 2,500 sq ft space helping entrepreneurs in the Midlands.
Julien Deslangles-Blanch, UK Regional Director of General Assembly
General Assembly began as a co-working space in 2011, and is now a pioneering global learning experience and community, with campuses in 15 cities and over 25,000 graduates worldwide. Find Julien on Twitter at @jdeslangles.
I still have many unanswered questions around what Brexit means for the UK in general, for the many European expats living here, and for the tech scene in particular. But I am not worried.
A French national myself, I believe what has made the UK tech scene so welcoming and dynamic has been the unique mix of nationalities, backgrounds and cultures of the people within it. I expect the UK will remain an attractive destination for aspiring and established entrepreneurs. The UK tech scene is vibrant and growing steadily, with tech representing 27% of all job growth in London, and the need for talent will remain strong as the industry continues to expand.
General Assembly just celebrated its fourth year in London, carrying on its mission to grow a global community of individuals empowered to pursue careers they love. Along with our 4-year anniversary comes another milestone: the opening of our brand new campus in Aldgate, just minutes from Old Street's Silicon Roundabout. This investment marks our commitment to further develop UK digital talent by providing access to education and opportunity across tech, business, design and data - in line with London Mayor Sadiq Khan's tech talent initiatives. These are the kind of initiatives we need from the government right now.
With London being an international hub, many of our students come from all over the world; some have been in London for years, and some move to London to attend our courses. While a few of our European students opt for distance learning via our online courses, most commute from various cities to attend our workshops, part-time or full-time courses in person. They are preparing for, and committed to pursuing a career in the UK, by learning the most in-demand skills that will allow them to join the industry in rapidly growing fields such as web development, UX design or data science.
General Assembly is working with a vast network of employers in the UK, consisting of companies that have hired and are looking to hire our graduates to join their diverse teams. Many of these companies are not looking to downsize, nor are they freezing hiring.
Mel Fisher and Skye Robertson-James, Escape The City
The UK startup scene is thriving. It is amongst the best in the world in terms of talent, access to capital, and low barriers to entry in the way of startup costs. With more than 600,000 new businesses formed in 2015 alone the entrepreneurial capital of the UK is truly phenomenal.
However, post-Brexit concerns over the free movement of high-class talent into the UK require swift action from the government to reassure business leaders. The issue of talent capital is just one of many, and here at Escape, we feel there are several key principles the Government must consider to ensure that Brexit doesn’t have a negative effect on what is, at present, the fastest-growing part of the UK economy.
Ensure access to talent is not compromised
Introduction of a startup visa could assist here by allowing startup talent from all over the world to pursue opportunities within the UK. This is important for the British economy as it is an English-speaking gateway to European markets for entrepreneurs.
Bring back the Sirius programme
Bring back the Sirius programme, which helps high-growth graduate entrepreneurs start up in the UK from other countries. More than 1 in 7 companies in the UK is started by a migrant entrepreneur. These stats should be celebrated and promoted by the government to help highlight the positive impact migrants have on the UK economy, both in terms of financial capital but also in the creation of local jobs.
Lobby for trade agreements with the EU that will reduce legislation and barriers for UK businesses
If taxation of UK exports to EU countries rise significantly, it is small British businesses who will suffer the most.
Take off the London-tinted glasses
The UK has a plethora of talented, entrepreneurial individuals who are motivated to start-up. Ensure that entrepreneurs outside of London are supported in the same way as London-based entrepreneurs. Invest in infrastructure, startup support and adequate training throughout the UK.
Invest in a new curriculum for entrepreneurship in schools
Rather than reinventing the wheel, together with organisations like Founders 4 Schools and Young Enterprise, the government can determine what programs might be absorbed into national curriculum. Let’s give our young people the information they need to be able to start up when they leave school, giving them as many skills and opportunities as possible.