London tech start-ups are the future of post-Brexit Britain
Founder of cleantech company Pavegen, Laurence Kemball-Cook believes the capital's tech start-ups have the ability to flourish "even after Brexit"
I always knew that starting my own company in 2009 was going to be tough.
The term “start-up” was unheard of and the recession led to a lack of funding and support from the government to bring ideas to life.
This was especially the case when seeking potential venture capital (VC) investors – they either believed in my product but wanted to take advantage of my idea, or disregarded my request altogether as they no longer funded pre-revenue businesses.
Seven years later and, in London, the story is completely different. Today, the term “start-up” is well known; it has transformed into something that is positive, promising and revolutionary.
London’s record of start-up success
There are more millennials in London than anywhere else in the UK, and due to the great support available, our city remains the most appealing when it comes to starting an entrepreneurial business from scratch.
In 2015, London based start-up companies raised £1.3bn, creating 20,000 new jobs.
Since my business has been based here, London has flourished with the tech start-up scene rocketing into success. Accelerators and investment platforms are now widely available, with Crowdcube, Techstars, Shell Livewire and The Bakery among those initiating and supporting the journey of start-ups.
Crowdcube enabled Pavegen to raise a total of £2m and accumulate 1500 investors, allowing us to launch our new product and transition our company from five employees to a global 40-man team.
Therefore, much of our success is owed to being based in London, the most connected city in Europe, and the availability of these support systems for start-up companies, like Pavegen, to thrive.
The momentum of London’s start-up success needs to continue. The recent EU referendum has caused companies to become unsure as to whether London remains a successful and safe place to conduct business.
The potential threat of declining investment and trade flows as a result of Brexit has tempted businesses in the UK to cross-borders to maintain these relationships. The full effect of the referendum won’t be felt properly in the UK for roughly two years, creating uncertainty as companies are unsure about what the future holds for business in London.
Microsoft informed the UK that they were less likely to invest due to the Brexit circumstances, with Bill Gates claiming that the UK would be “a significantly less attractive place to do business and invest”. This attitude is something that we cannot let become the norm. We need to ensure that businesses in London will thrive, especially young entrepreneurial businesses, despite the referendum outcome.
The voting result may also negatively and disproportionately affect millennials. Young people today are earning less, owning less and receiving less from the government, and there is an increasing worry that the Brexit vote is going to exacerbate this trend.
Investment to high-growth millennial-led businesses is important, to avoid the disparity of income between the younger and older generations becoming larger.
As well as US tech investment potentially declining in post-Brexit London, European countries are trying to encourage companies to move to their headquarters.
Berlin has hired a bus (see below) to advertise the benefits of relocating there, whilst the mayor of Paris says that he will welcome any financial technology (fintech) companies relocating from London.
The people of London have to take a stand and encourage the inflow of labour into our capital city, allowing tech companies to flourish despite the Brexit circumstances.
Tech start-ups should be the top priority for future jobs in the city, made possible through increased tech investment. Smaller entrepreneurial companies attract millennials as they tend to have a vision of positive social impact and humanitarianism, which most of the larger and more profitable companies lack.
I was proud to join Sadiq Khan’s recent #LondonIsOpen campaign, promoting London as a city of growth, innovation and creativity even after Brexit. Global brands such as Google, Hilton, Virgin and Merlin Entertainments all backed this notion, agreeing that London remains the most connected and attractive city in Europe to conduct business.
We will support Sadiq Khan on this journey, aiming to maintain the high levels of investment and global talent that we always have done.
The need for businesses to unify, encourage and support entrepreneurs is increasing, especially due to the recent and predicted decline in overseas investment.
We need to trust in young companies and believe that their aspirations and dreams can become reality with London, the UK government and Sadiq Khan supporting them.
Laurence Kemball-Cook is the founder and CEO of cleantech company Pavegen, the flooring technology that turns wasted kinetic energy from footsteps into renewable electricity. You can follow him on Twitter at @laurencekc