In a recent speech at Plexal, Michelle Donelan, the secretary of state for science, innovation, and technology, shared her vision for the UK to become a “scaleup superpower” and increase the number of unicorns – start-ups valued at $1 billion or more – within the country. Donelan emphasised the importance of collaboration, trust, and a progressive regulatory framework to drive national economic growth through the tech sector. In this blog, we delve into why these three components are crucial for achieving the ambitious goal of making the UK a leader in unicorn companies.
The UK’s tech sector, currently valued at over $1 trillion, has seen a significant surge, with start-ups employing more than 1.8 million people – a figure that has tripled since 2018. Donelan rightly pointed out that scaleups play a crucial role in fuelling the economy. Collaborative efforts, exemplified by innovation centres like Plexal and Here East, are essential for creating clusters of innovation. By bringing together industry experts, academic institutions, and businesses, these clusters foster an environment conducive to economic growth, job creation, and transformation.
Here East and Plexal are shining examples of successful collaboration, supporting thousands of jobs across the UK and contributing significantly to the GDP. The emphasis on collaboration is not just about the quantity of start-ups but also the purpose they serve. Are these start-ups championing solutions with positive societal impacts? Collaborative efforts can ensure that the UK’s tech sector addresses key challenges, from climate crisis solutions to national security and defence.
With over 150 unicorn businesses, the UK is globally ranked just behind the US and China, showcasing its strong tech and innovation reputation. To maintain this growth trajectory, the focus should be on ensuring start-ups and scaleups have access to talent, both domestically and internationally, adequate capital, and the ability to advance intellectual property from universities. Trusting in the maturing tech ecosystem is paramount for enabling growth in promising young companies that represent the unicorns of tomorrow.
It’s not just about the number of unicorns but also their purpose. The UK’s tech sector is filled with companies addressing contemporary challenges, such as M Squared’s innovative lasers and photonics systems and PQ Shield’s post-quantum hardware and software. Highlighting and supporting these businesses is crucial for achieving long-term growth. The focus should extend to new entrepreneurs addressing issues like family mental health or providing financial education – giving them early market exposure and opportunities.
The UK has a history of implementing progressive regulatory regimes that embrace innovation. The regulation of artificial intelligence is a prime example, with the UK hosting the first AI Safety Summit and setting the roadmap for safe AI deployment. Progressive regulation is vital for unlocking the potential of emerging businesses in the AI revolution and other ground breaking technologies.
Michelle Donelan’s vision for the UK to lead as a scaleup superpower by 2030 is not just an ambitious goal but a necessary one for the nation’s economic growth. Collaboration, trust in the start-up ecosystem, and a progressive regulatory framework are the pillars that will support and drive this vision forward. The UK has the potential to not only increase the quantity of unicorns but also to champion purposeful innovation that positively impacts society and the economy. It’s time for industry, government, and academia to collaborate more closely than ever to bring out the best in the UK’s start-ups and scaleups.