According to the latest Tech Nation report, the UK tech sector has truly cemented itself as one of the world’s leading centres of innovation, employing over 2.9m people and attracting £10.1 bn in investment throughout 2019.
Undeniably, the tech ecosystem is shaping up to be Britain’s front runner out of this current crisis –during the most difficult and uncertain of times, the sector has shown real resilience.
While the Coronavirus outbreak has brought unprecedented levels of disruption to society and the economy, tech companies have adapted swiftly. They have clearly had a fundamental role to play as businesses shifted to remote working and relied increasingly on digital tools to ensure they remained operational.
The outbreak has therefore presented several opportunities for us to accelerate progress across the tech verticals.
The rise of healthtech, edtech and cyber
Renowned for its historic banking sector and pedigree in academia – the spotlight, at times, remained limited to fintech and AI as protagonists in the story of UK tech’s rise.
A year from now however, while these sectors will continue to create headlines, there will be others demonstrating similar levels of investment and employment – with healthtech, edtech and cyber security among the segments of the economy that could well have benefitted from this crisis.
Their rapid growth comes down to three key sources of stimulus: opportunity, capital and government support.
UK healthtech has witnessed year-on-year growth for the last six years – receiving the highest proportion of investment in Europe and increasing the number of companies in the sector by a quarter since 2015.
Now it houses over 100 healthtech startups and scaleups, including front runners, Babylon, Benevolent AI, and accuRx – and employs more than 125,000 people.
The pandemic caps a sustained period of growth – with over £6bn in capital invested over the last five years – that has seen healthtech become the biggest sub-set of the UK tech industry, following fintech.
Covid-19 has accelerated the digitisation of medical services and the public’s openness to innovation in this space – from online GPs to the commercial use of robotics in hospitals. This, coupled with the Government’s commitment to inject capital into modernising the NHS moving forwards, means healthtech is on track to become an increasingly prominent segment of the tech ecosystem, and one where the UK can demonstrate leadership on the world stage.
Edtech has also risen to prominence. The pieces were already in place – last year, the government created a strategy to foster further innovation in the vertical – aimed at improving efficiencies and removing educational barriers.
Government support was in clear recognition of the year-on-year growth edtech firms have been experiencing. According to data from Beauhurst, more than £90m was invested into UK edtech companies in 2018, compared with £66.9m back in 2017.
As a direct result of lockdown, the sector has become critical to responding to the immediate disruption caused by the closure of schools and businesses. As we continue to operate remotely, the edtech industry will remain attractive to investors, entrepreneurs and government leaders over the coming year.
The opportunity is now for edtech companies to capitalise on the mood music and play a central role in providing the digital skills needed as we re-build the UK economy – one where learning and training will increasingly be done remotely.
Tech London Advocates recently launched the TLA Education Hub which includes a focus on edtech and its importance in the ecosystem.
Unlike edtech and healthtech, the cyber sector has been at the heart of UK’s digital economy for some years. Yet until now it hasn’t’ always attracted jaw dropping sums of capital – however, the total sum of investment in cyber start-ups in 2019 has already nearly been matched with the volumes within the first six months of this year alone.
This surge in demand can be somewhat attributed to a rise in remote working, adoption of new collaborative tools and greater dependence on cloud technologies. These are now staples in the collective new normal.
In recent times, the government has been highly supportive of the cyber sector in Britain – both in recognition of its importance to national security but also its growth potential based on the expertise within the UK. Take LORCA for instance – the cybersecurity programme based in Plexal at Here East that’s funded by DCMS – now representing some of the most exciting start-ups anywhere in the world.
The opportunity a year from now
Coronavirus is creating havoc for the economy – but has also brought to the fore new opportunities for investors and entrepreneurs, new challenges for tech companies to address and new ideas to pioneer.
The UK tech ecosystem has the ambition and execution to navigate the choppy waters ahead and lead on a number of the emerging verticals that will be at the heart of a new look economy as we emerge from this crisis. How industry and government leaders ensure diversification of support beyond our usual ‘hero’ verticals will be key to their success and our broader recovery.