Government plan to boost digital trade, UK reaches one unicorn a week and other news from London Tech Week

Government plan to boost digital trade, UK reaches one unicorn a week and other news from London Tech Week
Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events

Posted: Mon 20th Sep 2021

Newly appointed international trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan and digital and culture secretary Nadine Dorries were among those speaking on day one of London Tech Week 2021. Dan Martin summarises the key news.

Plan to 'break down digital trade barriers' for businesses

Anne-Marie Trevelyan used her first speech in her new role to pledge that the government will remove barriers to digital trade so businesses can successfully export their services.

"All of us depend on digital trade, she said, "yet British businesses face digital barriers in countries who take a protectionist approach. I want the UK to break down these barriers and open up new, exciting opportunities for businesses and consumers so we can see improved productivity, jobs and growth."

The government forecasts that demand for digital services will more double in the next decade but many businesses, it says, face stumbling blocks when it comes to benefitting from digital technology such as paperless trading, or are forced to meet "unjustified requirements to localise data or disclose...intellectual properties such as source code".

In her speech, Trevelyan unveiled the governnment's new five-plan on digital trade.

It focuses on opening up digital markets by using negotiations with other countries to include digital elements in free trade agreements. "Restrictions on where data can be stored and processed are harmful to fair and open competition, increasing costs, and often preventing SMEs and start-ups from doing business in other countries" it says.

The government also intends to promote the adoption of modern tools such as digital customs processes, e-contracting and paperless trading to cut red tape and remove the need for burdensome paperwork.

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UK creates almost one unicorn a week

New data released to coincide with London Tech Week shows that the UK is now home to 105 unicorns - private companies worth $1bn or more - with 20 created in the past six months alone. The UK, which took 24 years to create its first 20 unicorns, now has more than France and Germany combined.

The figures, compiled for the Digital Economy Council and Tech Nation by Dealroom, showed that the UK tech industry raised £13.5bn in the first half of 2021, almost three times more than in the first six months last year.

A number of "mega-rounds", those over £72m, drove the record rise, including £289m in series C funding for online events company Hopin, which is the fastest-growing European tech company ever, and £577m series E funding for banking app Revolut, the UK’s single largest tech company.

In total, 1,700 tech start-ups and scale-ups have received venture capital backing so far this year.

Firms in London have continued to attract the most in VC finance so far in 2021 and the city is also home to 71 of the UK's 105 unicorns. After the UK capital, the cities with the most funding are Oxford, Bristol, Birmingham and Cambridge.

Nicola Mendelsohn, vice president EMEA at Facebook and member of Digital Economy Council, said: "The UK tech sector is fast maturing and the country now has leadership status alongside Silicon Valley and China. This is an exciting time to be part of this industry and we should be encouraging talented young people to understand that the best careers of the future can be found in those companies that are creating innovative products and services that help businesses and individuals."

Russ Shaw CBE, founder of Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates, added: "Record levels of investment and unicorns show that tech companies are driving the economic recovery in cities across the country and consolidating the UK’s position as the world’s third global tech ecosystem – alongside the US and China. This is no longer a story just about London, or just about fintech – UK tech has proven it is capable of producing world-class tech companies in AI, biotech and cyber nationwide."

'We’ve cracked start-ups. Now it’s time to go big'

Nadine Dorries made her first speech as digital and culture secretary after her surprise appointment in prime minister Boris Johnson's Cabinet reshuffle.

She described her new role as "a baptism of fire" as she addressed Europe's largest technology conference less than a week after taking on the job.

Dorris applauded the new tech investment figures saying that "this is the country to start a trailblazing tech business", but added that more needs to be done. "I want all of those businesses to stay in the UK, to grow in the UK, and to become global brands, based right here in the UK," she said.

"We’ve cracked start-ups. Now it’s time to go big, and to begin paving the way for a new generation of British tech titans."

The MP said some tech entrepreneurs see the UK as "stuffy" but proclaimed "that era is officially over. To this government, it doesn’t matter what you look like, it doesn’t matter where you came from. What matters is who you are. You are the entrepreneurs of today."

Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events
I'm a freelance content creator and event host who helps small businesses and the organisations that support them. I'm also Enterprise Nation's Local Leader for Bristol. I have 19 years of experience as a small business journalist having interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurs from billionaires like Sir Richard Branson to the founders behind brand new start-ups. I've worked for a range of leading small business publications and support groups, most recently as head of content at Enterprise Nation where I was responsible for the prolific output of content on the company's blog and social media. I now freelance for Enterprise Nation including hosting the Small Business sessions podcast. I'm based in Bristol where I run and host regular events with the local small business community in my role as Enterprise Nation's Local Leader for Bristol. I also have strong connections with other major business organisations in the south west region. In total, I've hosted over 100 events including conferences with an audience of hundreds for international brands like Xero and Facebook and live web chats from inside 10 Downing Street. With my partner, I co-run Lifestyle District, a lifestyle blog focused on culture, art, theatre and photography.

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