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#LDNTechWeek: The year of the unicorn


In its first year, London Technology Week was an experiment. As a founding partner of the event, I attended many planning meetings and there was always one big question: will this work? If London Technology Week 2014 proved that the capital’s technology community can seize upon an opportunity to come together and showcase the very best of what it is producing, this year has gone even further. This year London’s tech companies have coalesced to provide a clear message to the rest of the country and the global digital ecosystem: London tech is thriving and here to stay.

Amidst the 220 events that have taken place over the past five days it is difficult to select individual highlights. However, specific moments have defined my experience. Martha Lane Fox welcoming an impassioned discussion about diversity in tech in the House of Lords, Reid Hoffman discussing the intricacies of scaling a digital business, Jimmy Wales declaring his love of London over Silicon Valley, seeing the British Consul General of San Francisco in the audience of numerous events throughout the week and hearing Blippar’s Ambarish Mitra’s infectious enthusiasm for tech at Monday’s launch event to name but a few. It has been a tiring, exhausting but exhilarating ride!

Some clear themes have emerged during the week. Interestingly, whilst some of the hot topics have been familiar, others seem to have risen rapidly, consuming the community’s conscious and inspiring unprecedented debate.

Unicorns, narwhals and cockroaches: Time to brush up on today’s tech jargon

The first of these is diversity. We have long known technology has a diversity problem, but this has rarely been so openly addressed. What was an undercurrent of frustration has become a tidal wave of anger and desire for change. From Eileen Burbidge’s condemnation of male only panels to today’s Innovate Finance Diversity Challenge Awards, London Technology Week has put the issue into the headlines and the public awareness like never before.

Fintech has also been a key issue throughout the week. Funding Circle, TransferWise and RateSetter are the champions of our city’s technology sector and this week has given them the recognition they deserve. The fintech entrepreneurs draw the biggest crowds and their valuations generate the most conversation amongst tech experts, investors and professionals. London Technology Week is designed to showcase the best of our sector on a global stage and fintech has been rightly pushed front and centre.

The final overriding theme has been the success of our unicorns. London was declared the home of billion dollar tech companies in Europe at the start of the week and the figures have imbued a renewed sense of confidence in the sector. Not only is London a startup city, it is a global hub capable of growing and scaling genuine international stars. If 2014 celebrated scaleups, this has been the year of the unicorn.

Now the challenge for London is to continue the momentum of London Technology Week over the next few months. Intention and consensus must be turned into action. Significant challenges and unanswered questions remain around diversity, infrastructure and the EU. It is vital the private sector continues to work together to address these issues and help improve the environment for growth

I am proud of the role Tech London Advocates has played. Members of the group organised 28 events throughout the week, demonstrating the commitment to championing and supporting the industry within our group. The new working groups that launched this week within TLA – Cyber Tech, Retail Tech and CreativeTech  –  and the hundreds who attended their events this week are giving us a preview of the ‘new’ FinTechs that will be emerging across London in the next 12 to 24 months.  And the unicorns from these tech ‘verticals’ should not be too far behind.

We have proved London’s ability to create billion dollar tech companies, now we must focus on the next milestones. On the horizon are the ten billion dollar companies that will start to compete with America’s tech giants. London Technology Week has once again acted as a platform to celebrate the city’s digital achievements, now the private sector must ensure it is also a springboard for further success. The journey continues…

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