If You're Building the Next Big Thing in Tech, Britain's the Place to Internationalize It
Bragging may not come naturally to the British, but as someone who has spent the past 25 years operating on both sides of the Atlantic, I have no hesitation in saying that the UK is now the best place in the world to build a global business.
This week I will be meeting with some of the fastest growing technology companies in the US and their advisors on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, whilst I am here in New York to launch HQ-UK – a new initiative, which demonstrates why we think the UK has the world’s most competitive package for the world’s fastest growing businesses. All of the businesses we are meeting are thinking about how to grow their operations internationally. It may surprise some just how strongly I’m going to maintain that there really is no option to compare to the UK. And I want to make it as easy as possible for companies to choose the UK. More on this later.
Ask anyone why they move to Silicon Valley and they’ll tell you about a place where, as Thomas Friedman said, “breakthrough ideas are born... where people think big... where there are no limits on your imagination.” In 2000, when I made London my home, that didn’t sound familiar even of the capital city. Today, it’s what defines the United Kingdom.
This didn’t happen by chance. The UK has always been a top destination for business builders, but four years ago the government realized that the only way to ensure the UK becomes the world’s headquarters was to remove every obstacle there was to growth and to create the conditions for businesses to thrive.
Having built international businesses for some of the world’s largest technology companies, including RealNetworks, AOL, Google and Facebook, I know all too well how challenging it is to scale a business internationally. Infrastructure, talent, access to capital, immigration, privacy regulations and tax transparency are just some of the complexities you need to manage.
So the government helped make it easier for talent to move to the UK: 98% of skilled worker visa requests are granted, and 96% of applications are processed within 15 days. In the UK, we have also improved our R&D Tax Credit regime, introduced the Patent Box, established the High Growth Segment on the London Stock Exchange and reduced the equity required to list. We established the Open Data Institute, the Alan Turing Institute, focused on big data; created the Tech City UK Cluster Alliance, and the Innovate Finance organisation… The list goes on.
The results speak for themselves. There is huge momentum in the UK tech and digital sector, and the government has created an environment that has rapidly transformed the country’s start-up scene. Since 2010, the tech and digital economy has contributed 24% of all new jobs in the UK and fuelled the economic recovery. Britain leads the G20 as the most digital nation with an estimated 12.4% of GDP expected to come from the Internet economy in 2014 and we offer the lowest headline tax rate in the G20 with a fully reformed tax system.
London might be the digital capital of Europe, but there’s a bigger story all across the UK. Last week Tech City UK published its ground-breaking Tech Nation report, which revealed that, in addition to the strength of the capital, 74% of digital businesses are located outside of London with rich tech capabilities in clusters extending across cities like Edinburgh, Cambridge, Belfast, Bristol and Bath, Manchester and Newcastle. More than half of those businesses have been formed since 2008, with an incredible 90% expecting their revenue to grow next year. This is supported by the heritage of Britain’s great universities, four of which rank in the world’s top 10.
The evidence is proof the UK is highly advanced in terms of its digital development, offering all this talent and the benefits of a supportive ecosystem. What other distinct advantages are there to a company seeking to make the UK its ‘home from home’?
With over 63 million people living in the UK, the nation represents a major market opportunity in its own right (not least as the world's leading e-Commerce exporter). But more than that, it’s also the gateway to Europe, the world’s largest single market, with more than 500 million consumers.
Then there is the well connected business culture: availability of superfast broadband and office hours that overlap with countries that account for 99% of the world’s GDP. It’s also easy to travel between our tech hubs, and reaching international locations couldn’t be easier. UK airports serve more destinations on a daily basis than any other European country.
Finally, let’s not forget culture and lifestyle. The UK is Europe’s most stable, sophisticated, environment, full of tech-savvy early adopters. We have amazing arts, sports (even NFL), entertainment, shopping and fantastic food. You could easily enjoy a spot of sightseeing in your time off, in the UK and across Europe.
What can our new HQ-UK initiative bring over and above all this? It can connect companies to these opportunities and help them make the move successful. It shows how much the UK wants international business. Companies signing up for the initiative will receive a dedicated relationship manager who will help optimize their expansion, connect them to a specialist support network, provide them with impartial advice and help them reach their target markets faster. Additional benefits include priority border control at UK airports; accelerated access to UK bank accounts; assistance with visa applications and supporting company incorporation, which can often be completed within a single day.
While I’ve been far too enthusiastic to be particularly British in making my case, I hope I’ve been able to persuade you with all the zeal of a convert: if you’re building the next big tech thing, there’s no place better than Britain to internationalize it.