What do tech businesses really need from the next Mayor?
London is home to a thriving population of tech entrepreneurs and innovators thanks to the rise of Tech City and other digital hubs. The next mayor must take positive action to retain the talent and entrepreneurial spirit that has recently brought so much to London.
Access to sufficient capital for start-ups in their early stages of growth is critical. The next mayor must ensure start-ups can access necessary funding be this through government grants, increased public and/or private sector lending or other innovative ways to put money in the hands of promising start-ups. Tax reliefs encouraging corporate venturing should be explored to strengthen relationships between corporates and start-ups. This will feed innovation back into corporates whilst providing start-ups with the exposure to help them succeed.
The next mayor should champion an “open data” approach across London (and wider) government which will enable start-ups to tackle the customer experience issues associated with services, e.g. TfL has a well-established open data policy that led to CityMapper and others. As more government service providers publish data sets and create open APIs, entrepreneurs will bring innovative apps and ideas to the hands of Londoners. The next mayor should consider hiring a London Chief Digital Officer to collect, share and analyse the data made available in order to help improve public and private services.
The next mayor should lead efforts to move away from monolithic IT contracts with established suppliers and engage more with SMEs. This will help tech start-ups penetrate the public sector and provide opportunities for new entrepreneurs to bring a fresh pair of eyes to the difficulties government is facing. At the same time they should conduct a comprehensive London-wide innovation audit to assess the effect of regulation on new digital services and feed this into local and national decision making.
Talent pools are vital for business growth, driving R&D which in turn increases the pace of development. The next mayor needs to be bold on visas for tech professionals and reduce frictions when roles are best filled by people from abroad. They should empower educational institutions to organically develop necessary skills, particularly in STEM subjects, by providing funding for scholarships and courses in relevant areas whilst supporting grants for students to take up coding and related skills. Affordable housing and excellent transport links are essential factors to allow London to attract and retain skilled tech workers.
Clusters bring tacit benefits to businesses located in them. The next mayor should create incentives for further clusters to be established outside of Old Street and Kings Cross, where growing companies can locate themselves and still take advantage of the tacit knowledge transfers which occur in technology hubs. These clusters should have flexible tenancy agreements and work spaces which don’t slow company and employee growth.
The next mayor must engage with disruptive tech start-ups and create an environment and eco-system that empowers the start-ups to grow. This will allow London to continue to excel as a digital city and fundamentally succeed as a world-leading technology hub.
Artwork by award winning British Artist JJ Adams