There are clear parallels between the 2016 London Mayoral election and the 2013-14 New York City changeover from Michael Bloomberg to current Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Succeeding America’s Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Michael Bloomberg quickly established himself as the “Tech Entrepreneur’s Mayor” – a comfortable role given his founding of the Bloomberg media and information empire. He presided over a period of unparalleled economic growth in NYC tech. Numerous venture capital firms launched or opened NYC offices, NYC saw its first billion-dollar VC-backed tech exit, and VC investment into NYC startups soared. Tech had become NYC’s second-largest industry by the end of Bloomberg’s term in late 2013.
While the direct impact of Bloomberg’s efforts can be debated, he actively promoted and advocated on behalf of NYC tech. Among other initiatives, the Bloomberg administration created the official post of Chief Digital Officer, offered incentives to entrepreneurs to expand and hire in Lower Manhattan, championed hackathons, and supported the establishment of the Cornell-Technion technical school.
As Bill de Blasio’s term began in January 2014, some in the NYC business community viewed him with skepticism. His background didn’t necessarily suggest any particular interest in tech or entrepreneurialism, and concerns were raised about NYC tech’s economic momentum.
However one feels about Mayor de Blasio and his policies, the NYC tech sector continues to thrive and VC investment into NYC tech startups remains strong. Reasonable people might differ as to whether the de Blasio administration should actively do more to support NYC tech, but tech’s expansion in NYC has continued largely unabated.
In terms of presiding over unprecedented tech sector growth, Mayor Boris Johnson has been London’s Michael Bloomberg. Regardless whether one believes that growth is due to, in spite of, or unrelated to Mayor Johnson’s policies and programs, London’s emergence as a global tech powerhouse is real.
Annual VC investment in London tech companies increased from $100m to $2.3bn in five years, there are more tech company employees in the South East of England than in California, and London now ranks as the second-largest non-US startup ecosystem (No. 6 overall). Even Mayor Bloomberg recognized London as a tech ecosystem on the rise, acknowledging in October 2013 that London – not Silicon Valley – is NYC’s biggest tech competitor.
There’s clearly a debate to be had regarding the policies the next Mayor of London should enact to support London tech. But it seems clear that, at a minimum, he or she should seek to do no harm.
As one observer noted of Mayor de Blasio: “With so much momentum in the [NYC tech] industry already, there’s only so much damage a new mayor can do.” As a so-called NYLon, my policy recommendation is thus a recommendation as to what the next Mayor shouldn’t do: whether he or she is a tech London advocate or agnostic, don’t interrupt the momentum driving tech in the Big Smoke to more than hold its own against the Big Apple.