5 ingredients the UK needs to rival Silicon Valley

What factors make Silicon Valley a hotbed for world-class tech start-ups, and what can the UK learn? Tien Tzuo, founder of Zuora, shares his views

Why is Silicon Valley synonymous with technology innovation rather than the Thames Valley? What is the magic formula for nurturing start-ups and fostering the next generation of wealth creators? What are the carrots we need to dangle before entrepreneurs to convince them that the UK can be the ground-zero for the next big thing?

Myself and a panel of business experts convened in London recently to discuss these and many more questions surrounding the UK’s role in the global entrepreneurship scene.

I was joined by Bernard Dallé, partner at Index Ventures, and leading UK entrepreneurs Piers Linney, CEO of Outsourcery; Glenn Shoosmith, CEO of BookingBug; and Justin Bowser, MD of HTK Horizon. The discussion centred on how the UK should embrace its entrepreneurial culture and the steps the UK needs to take to place it on the global technology map.

On the back of what was a lively discussion, I have outlined five essential ingredients that the UK and entrepreneurs need in order to achieve the success of their Silicon Valley counterparts:

1. Think big

Firstly, Silicon Valley became the heart of technological innovation because it drew creative minds that weren’t afraid to dream big. Whether you’re trying to redefine information technology or change the way cell carriers charge customers, you need to have a transformative idea and the willingness to fight for it.

2. Play to your strengths

Secondly, London has it all. There is a lot that London and the UK can offer. London in particular is the mothership of global finance; the media industry is based here along with government and great universities and business schools.

Also, English is the native language of the technology business, so the UK has the advantage over other countries. Entrepreneurs should use this to their gain as there aren’t many other cities that can offer all this in one place.

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3. Embrace risk-taking

The third ingredient is that UK entrepreneurs need to not be afraid of taking risks. In America if your company goes down you dust yourself off and try again. In many other places there’s a deep sense of inertia and risk-aversion. Closing down a company is no shame; it’s the red badge of courage. Fail fast and iterate. 

4. Attract – don’t chase

The fourth key ingredient is that money should chase innovation, not the other way round. More often than not, entrepreneurs go looking for money whereas in the US entrepreneurs act as magnets for money. This has caused many UK businesses to court the VCs on Sand Hill Road and set up camp in the US.

But now, VCs are coming to the UK and Europe because they see opportunities. Look at Accel Partners, Ariadne Capital, Index Ventures and Wayra. Money follows ideas as long as those ideas are likely to generate a better return than the alternatives. And entrepreneurs should not be afraid of staying in the UK and asking the money to come to them.

5. Create the right environment

And finally, how can the government help? The UK government wants to support start-ups, just look at the investment being made into Tech City. However, more can be done, such as increasing the tax breaks to start-ups so that companies are not penalised for fast growth, as well as easing up on immigration so that companies can attract the best possible talent.

Tien Tzuo is the founder and CEO of Zuora , which offers award-winning subscription billing and payment software, through a ‘software-as-a-service’ model. Before founding Zuora, Tzuo was employee number 11 at software giant salesforce.com, where he held a number of key roles in his nine years at the company, including chief strategy officer, as well as building the company’s original billing system.



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