February 11th, Level39 hosted its first virtual panel of 2021; Inclusivity, Accessibility and Recovery: What will 2021 hold for the UK tech ecosystem?


Joining us were three leading influencers and leaders in the UK tech landscape, sharing their insights and predictions of what will be top of the agenda for the next twelve months.


Our Panellists:


Russ Shaw CBE, founder of Tech London Advocates & Global Tech Advocates. Russ first founded TLA in 2013 and has since built it into the largest independent tech body in the UK. Russ is also a founding partner of London Tech Week and London Tech Ambassador for the Mayor of London.


Naomi Timperly, Founder of Tech North Advocates. Naomi also serves a variety of roles across Manchester based organisations helping business and entrepreneurs to grow – including Chair of The University of Salford’s Business School Industry Advisory Board, Chair at FutureEverything and Director at Alt Theory.


Julian David, CEO of techUK. As CEO, Julian has led the development of techUK as a trusted, recognisable brand that represents the UK technology industry across Government, as well as promoting it internationally.


The Discussion:


The lively morning discussion centred around a core theme – how can we ensure the UK tech ecosystem remains robust in the face of tough challenges? And how do we ensure groups and areas in the UK are not being excluded from the digital economy and its potential to generate investment, innovation and employment?


Spanning from combating digital poverty, to securing a Data Adequacy agreement with the EU, and overseas expansion, the three panellists debated the immediate issues facing tech entrepreneurs in the months and years ahead.


Kicking off the discussion, Russ, Naomi and Julian discussed how the pandemic has made us think differently about location and geography in the UK. Whilst London has held onto its place as the tech hub of Europe, there is now a real need to recognise the creativity and innovation coming from other centres of innovation across UK regions. So often tech ecosystems outside of the Golden Triangle do not receive the recognition they deserve – but will prove crucial for creating a roadmap for recovery in the UK this year.


Naomi was quick to single out Manchester for the stellar collaborations between businesses, academic institutions, and creatives at Media City currently taking place, making the city an attractive alternative to London to those looking to relocate north.  Likewise, Leeds, Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Belfast were all namechecked for game changing work in the likes of biotech, healthtech, and robotics.


Of course, the pandemic shone a light on where as a country we are falling short, with panellist urging issues such as digital poverty, lack of digital skills and poor connectivity to be placed at the top of the agenda in 2021 for both the public and private sectors. Russ Shaw was particularly keen to highlight the disservice being done to those excluded from participating in the digital economy, pointing out that project managers from the retail, hospitality and travel sectors – those hardest hit by the pandemic – have the skills that tech start-ups are hungry for. With enhanced digital skills capabilities, new employment opportunities could be presented for those exiting industries that are in decline. Panellists pushed the need for more education in technology related subjects and skills at both the school level through to the older generation.


Lastly, the panel considered the future of the UK on the global stage. Although most tech start-ups are not facing Brexit issues yet, the panellist agreed current travel restrictions were masking the problems it will cause for labour movement and employment, with Julian and Russ also strongly calling on the government to establish a data adequacy agreement as a priority.


International expansion, however, was touted as an exciting future opportunity for UK tech. Julian offered advice to fast-growth businesses to “go global” or risk a competitor beating them to it – and to look truly outwards to the USA, Singapore, China, and Australia where possibilities and potential is everywhere.


Finishing up the session, Russ Shaw concluded that, “British entrepreneurs are probably the most resilient in the world,” having dealt with four years of Brexit fuelled uncertainty and then an unforeseen pandemic, and yet many have powered through with grit, creativity and determination – succeeding in making the UK tech ecosystem a global leader.


You can re-watch the discussion here.


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