Two major events are happening in the British tech industry this week – the EU referendum and London Tech Week. Of course, the possibility of Brexit becoming reality has been a hot topic within the opening speeches at London Tech Week, and the statements and statistics put forward have served to strengthen my belief that remaining in the EU is the best option for UK start-ups.
The UK is the home of the Unicorn
London Tech Week launched with a keynote speech from Gordon Innes, CEO of London & Partners, in which he stated that “London has become the best city in the world to create and scale tech companies”, and backed this up with figures showing that over $10bn has been invested in London’s tech sector.
London has built a reputation as a global tech hub through innovation and applying the productive benefits of technological advances to other areas of production – such as disability and medical aids, emission reduction and innovative building materials. My concern is that, in leaving the EU, London’s tech start-ups will lose access to many of the factors driving this success.
Currently, Europe is leading the way in producing sustainable start-ups, with European tech companies being valued at 18 times their revenue generation, in stark contrast to the US tech companies, which are valued at an average of 46 times their revenue generation. According to GP Bullhound’s Annual European Unicorns Report, Europe is currently home to 47 billion-dollar digital start-ups – a majority of which (18) are based in London – showing that London truly is the home of the Unicorn Start-up.
Brexit would likely destroy London’s ‘Tech Hub’ status.
I am not alone in this opinion, either. Many leading tech businesses have put their names to letters urging the UK to remain a member of the EU. The UK heads of IBM, Microsoft and SAP joined 32 other business leaders in signing an open letter, whilst are among 1,280 business leaders to have signed another and hundreds of tech start-ups and entrepreneurs have signed a separate letter. Former Google Chrome Marketing UK head and founder of the Sup App, Richard Pleeth also shares my sentiments, alongside 87% of Tech London Advocates, as does the highly respected entrepreneur Richard Branson:
This does not mean that voting to remain within the EU will mean that there will be no change to the British tech industry, however. Both potential results will trigger change within laws and regulations and tech companies – both start-ups and established businesses alike, will have to make rapid changes in order to keep up. But it is glaringly obvious that a ‘remain’ outcome is less likely to destroy Britain’s technology-driven capital and will mean less disruption for businesses overall.
If Britain was not in the EU, every stage of the process – from Business Development through to invoicing clients – would have been much harder for my business ‘E-tale’. Doing business in Europe and essentially exporting software was easy. We took this for granted until we began working in regions like Russia and Brazil where the level of paperwork and tax info required is out of hand! Brazil have various import taxes that make it really hard for an international supplier to be competitive, whilst Russia is less about the tax and more about the paperwork needed to ever get paid.
The admin costs of just finding out what the trading rules are outside Europe and the US is a cost that most start-ups are unable to bare. However, trading in the European Union was almost exactly like trading in the UK – sharing many of the same regulations and requirements and making understanding the whole process much simpler. In addition to this, having a strong European client base was a huge factor when E-tale was purchased by ChannelAdvisor in 2014.
I am not saying that I would have dismissed the thought of starting a business outside of the European Union, just that it would have been a lot harder, arduous and more expensive to do so. The opportunities for expansion and innovation would have been severely limited by not having access to EU markets and regulations.
For medium to large businesses, the impact of a Brexit result will be damaging, but will not be as devastating as the effects it will have on start-ups and entrepreneurs. New businesses and those still in the planning phase will be left stranded, lost and in need of severe guidance, should Thursday’s result see the UK leave the EU. A Brexit result would severely restrict, and in some cases destroy, those businesses currently starting up in London’s many tech hubs.