Monday, June 13, 2016

What Brexit might do to London's High Tech scene

There is an interesting guest article on political betting today here about what much tighter border controls in the event of Brexit might do to London's place as the world's beggest centre of high-tech startups outside Silicon Valley.

It is worth noting that the author of the piece is not particularly bothered about most of the issues which concern most supporters of Remain. He is concerned that if strict immigration controls are put in place the most likely result in his field is not more jobs for British people but fewer businesses, fewer jobs, and therefor fewer jobs for British people.

Like many British people I have long had conflicting concerns on immigration. On the one hand, too high a level of net migration can put pressure on housing, public services and social cohesion. On the other hand some of the same public services, and parts of our economy, are desperate for migrant labour for jobs which we don't have enough people qualified and willing to do. Like many people I have therefore ended up with an uneasy compromise of supporting in principle the aim of managing migration levels down to the tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands, but not wanting drastic measures which might damage the economy or public services to do it.

I don't think anyone has all the answers on immigration, and I certainly don't want to go down the road of shutting off the debate by calling anyone who has concerns about it a racist. But I think this is a lot more complex than people sometimes think and there is no simple solution.

Here are the first couple of paragraphs and the conclusion of the Political Betting article

"Let me start by putting London’s tech scene in context. London has the second largest concentration of technology start-ups in the world, behind only the corridor between San Francisco and San Jose (“Silicon Valley”). Some of these start-ups have been enormous successes (Deep Mind, from my friend Demis for example), many are best known outside the UK (Draft Kings in the US), some are in pure technology (Mastodon C), and others are revolutionizing existing industries (like Deliveroo). In some areas, like FinTech, London is the undisputed world number one: the next generation of financial technology – whether in the Bitcoin space, peer-to-peer FX, or in next generation trading networks – is probably being built in a cheap, un-air conditioned office in Shoreditch or even Dalston.

Why are these firms in London? Like most things in life, there is no single reason. London has a combination of cheap office space, a lot of incubators and venture capital firms, and – most importantly – a very deep pool of technology talent. When we started our current firm we were in a large building full of three to five man start-ups near Old Street roundabout.

London’s technology start-up scene is among the most vibrant in the world. And it’s the most vibrant because it attracts the brightest and the best developers from across Europe. It’s worth remembering just how recent this success is. Fifteen years ago, there were a fraction of the number of start-ups. We haven’t yet produced the next Google, but it’s only a matter of time.

But that success needs both an entrepreneurial culture and a concentration of young, hungry, raw talent, fresh off the Megabus from Krakow. If we put up barriers to prevent people coming to work in London’s tech industry, then somewhere else will spring up, and we’ll have missed a historic opportunity.

Of course, I know I’m biased. I know that my business depends on being able to find these people. I know that skews my perspective. But I also know that my developers didn’t have to come here. They could have gone to Berlin or Stockholm, or – if they’re going to fill in a visa application form – Sydney or San Francisco.

We are building the world’s second Silicon Valley. I don’t want to lose that, both for personal reasons, but also because tech hubs like London or the Valley are so rare and so wonderful."

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