What London has to do to be “Europe’s digital capital”

Tech London Advocates founder Russ Shaw on the capital’s tech start-up scene and what TLA is doing to support it…

Launched in April this year, Tech London Advocates (TLA) has already attracted over 350 investors and entrepreneurs from the UK and overseas in its mission to bring big corporates and small businesses together.

A private sector-led ‘advocacy group’ of expert individuals (advocates) from the tech industry and broader community, the TLA seeks to support the growth of London’s tech sector by helping early-stage tech and digital businesses to find new investment, new talent and channels for growth.

In the last seven months, the TLA has formed a number of working groups looking to tackle issues facing the tech sector, has seen its members submit white papers calling for change, and is set to launch a one-to-one mentoring service, Triage, early next year.

With several inroads made already, it’s hardly surprising its founder, ex-Skype international VP and Telefonica’s Global Innovation division director Russ Shaw, believes the capital is well on its way to becoming a “world-leading technology city”.

Here, Shaw shares TLA’s journey and discusses how it is working to support emerging tech start-ups within the space…

Creating change for London’s tech industry

How is Tech London Advocates working to accelerate growth of the private sector in London and bring together the start-up community with larger businesses?

“First of all, TLA is a very diverse group, there are many founders, entrepreneurs and angel investors in the group and there are also a number of big corporates and large banks represented. So, the diversity of the group in itself is bringing together big and small. There have also been some partnership initiatives where TLA has helped to play this role. Several Advocates have been mentors for IBM SmartCamp and other Advocates played an advisory role helping Barclays Bank with their Open Innovation Day last month.”

What has TLA achieved so far?

“TLA has come together as a private sector-led group of senior leaders who represent the broad tech ecosystem in London and beyond. This has not been done before. On top of that a number of working groups have formed since launch and several more are just starting to come together to address the challenges that London will face on its journey to be a world-leading technology city.”

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What advancements have some of the individual advocates made?

“Individual Advocates have already been great contributors to working groups. For example, The TLA ‘Triage’ set to fully launch in 2014 has come from an Advocate, James Clark. The Talent & Immigration group has submitted a paper to the home office back in August. There are huge amounts of energy in the Supporting Education working group. There is no shortage of ideas when such talented leadership comes together.”

What challenges does the TLA face over the coming months?

“1) How do we ensure that there is enough talent to run a growing number of start-ups, particularly later stage start-ups?

2) How do we ensure there is sufficient capital and funding to support a growing number of start-ups?

3) How do we ensure that over the coming months and years we see a growing number of companies achieve successful exits?

4) How can we ensure that London becomes a ‘magnet’ for overseas start-ups to come here as part of their expansion plans?”

Becoming Europe’s digital capital

What are the indicators that London is becoming “Europe’s digital capital”?

“I see more and more companies forming across the capital and in other parts of the UK. For example, I see a growing number of ‘tech hubs’ being created all over London…not just around Old Street and Shoreditch but in places like Canary Wharf, Kings Cross, Bloomsbury, Farringdon, Notting Hill and beyond.”

How is TLA working to attract the best overseas tech start-ups to the capital?

“One of the great aspects of TLA is that we have nearly 50 overseas Advocates in places like Silicon Valley, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, Copenhagen, Johannesburg and Mexico City. Having these connections is a great way to encourage start-ups in those cities to come to London. Organisations such as London & Partners, which has a number of Advocates in TLA, play a great role here, too.

“Back in May we partnered with the Mexican chamber of commerce to support Tech Mex 2013. There are now some great linkages in place so that as start-ups in Mexico look at expansion beyond the US, London will be a natural destination.”

Supporting tech entrepreneurs with IPOs and exits

How are you working to ensure successful entrepreneurs stick with their ventures and don’t sell out early?

“It is up to the entrepreneur (and the investor) to determine when it is best to sell. Ideally, I would like to see more companies build size and scale before selling (or going to the public markets). That takes a number of things: confidence, talent, capital, and a savvy tech investor community that is willing to spend the time and investment to build high growth tech businesses for the longer-term. It will come.”

Is a pipeline of stronger tech companies developing for AIM?

“We are still in the early days of creating some great tech start-ups, and we shouldn’t rush anything. There is a growing number of early stage businesses in London that have great prospects for the future. There are excellent entrepreneurs like David Richards of WANDisco who has listed on AIM – which demonstrates clearly that good tech businesses started and built in Britain can have a successful foray into the public markets.

“We will see more of these companies over time; we also need to be prepared to see that some companies may not succeed. There is nothing wrong with this. The tech ecosystem has winners and losers all the time.

“We must celebrate the successes and learn from the failures and say that is okay, tech has some degree of risk to it, it is the nature of the industry. But I am confident that we will see a growing number of tech companies have successful exits, either high value trade sales or high profile listings on the LSE (and NASDAQ).”

The future of London’s tech scene

Of all the emerging tech start-ups operating in the capital, who are your favourites?

“Some of my favourite tech start-ups include the following: Shopa, Taggstar, TransferWise, Quill, The Bakery, Trampoline Systems, Songkick, Unruly Media and Funding Circle.

“They are all good, quality businesses with robust business models and excellent leaders and management teams. Watch this space!”



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