Despite the uncertainty of Brexit, one thing is certain: It has never been a better time to be backing UK deep-tech.
According to the latest 2019 Technology Innovation Hubs report from KPMG, the UK now sits at No 3 in the global ranking of countries producing technology breakthroughs with a global impact. Rising one place since last year, the UK is now only marginally behind the US (ranked No 1) and China (ranked No 2) for Innovations, Disruption and Technology.
The UK’s considerable investment in artificial intelligence, robotics and autonomous vehicle technology has largely contributed to our increasing recognition and respect on the world stage. Unsurprisingly, we are considered the most promising market for technology breakthroughs in Europe. And not even Brexit can change that.
Last year, more than $7.7bn was invested in UK start-ups – 1.5 times more than in German start-ups and 2.6 times more than in French start-ups.
And in the first six months of 2019, a record $5billion was invested in UK tech companies following a flurry of major deals.
Over the last five years (2013 – 2018), a total of $35billion was invested in the UK tech sector. And not without reason.
More than a third of all Europe’s tech start-ups are based in Britain. The tech scene is now the UK’s fastest growing sector, growing at a rate of 10 per cent year on year, more than one-and-a-half times that of any other economy. It employs some two million people in the UK and contributes more than £130billion to our economy.
According to the latest Tech Nation figures – which have been released ahead of London Tech Week – the UK tech sector produced at least one unicorn company a month over the past year. That is, a total of 13, taking the UK’s overall unicorn tally to 72!
The UK has now created more unicorn tech companies than any other country apart from the US and China. Some of the most exciting include:
Darktrace, the world leader in Cyber AI, reached unicorn status last year with a valuation of $1.7bn. They already count the NHS, BT, T-mobile, Metrobank and TSB bank amongst their high-profile clients.
Graphcore, valued at $1.7bn, invented the Intelligence Processing Unit (IPU) with the aim of accelerating AI applications and lowering their cost. AI chips with humanlike intuition now looks set to revolutionise computing as we know it.
Benevolent AI, valued at $2.1bn, uses AI to process research papers and clinical data, enabling better medical recommendations.
Blue Prism, valued at $1.3bn, saves its clients processing costs through robotic process automation (RPA).
And Improbable, valued at $2bn, offers a cloud-based SpatialOS platform for video games – but has big plans for future clients wishing to simulate tests in their environments.
Within the UK, London leads the way – boasting 45 digital unicorns based in the city, including 18 fintech firms, such as Monzo, Revolut and OakNorth. London is now globally respected as a leading hub for Big Data, Fintech and a variety of digital technologies. And while New York is predicted to steal Silicon Valley’s tech innovation crown by 2023, London is expected to maintain its same position over the next four years.
Cambridge, Oxford, Manchester, Leeds, Bristol and Edinburgh, too, are firmly on the technology map, and home to at least two tech unicorns a piece.
So the future is indeed looking rosy with global technology companies pledging to invest more than £1billion in the UK over the coming year, and the British government additionally pledging to invest £154million in the development of quantum computing. A further £205million has also been pledged by industry – with a focus on how the high-powered computing system could be used to accelerate drug development.
So our challenge is now twofold:
How do we continue developing UK tech and producing world-changing ideas so that we maintain our position as a global leader?
And how do we hang on to our home-grown talent, and stop them moving across the pond?