THE BLOG

Going Beyond Unicorns: Growing a UK Tech Powerhouse

30/11/2015 15:17 GMT | Updated 27/11/2016 10:12 GMT

There's been a lot of media attention over the past few months around the topic of unicorns. Until recently, for most people they were simply mythical creatures from childhood or the Harry Potter universe.

But what's all the fuss about? In June this year, the respected columnist Jim Edwards wrote a blog about these so-called unicorns - privately owned tech companies created since 2003 and worth more than $1bn (£650m). In the article he estimated there were 108 unicorns worldwide. Within two months that number was already out of date. Fortune, which publishes and updates its own highly regarded "Unicorn List," named 136 companies that fit the description. Who knows what the total is now?

It's this sudden surge in growth that's got the sector chattering excitedly: the tech industry is booming and that's great news.

But what really matters about this boom lies within the bigger picture. It's not just about the unicorns. As important are the much smaller - at least so far - tech startups where talented young entrepreneurs are coming up with new disruptive ideas and working into the small hours to bring them to fruition. It's these small startups that need to be carefully nurtured: they are the green shoots on which the future of our sector in the UK relies.

To my mind, nurturing means two things. The first is financial support.

Thanks to the attention that unicorns are generating, venture capital is flowing into Europe. But to secure the tech industry's future in the UK, this funding can't be based purely on making a fast buck: the investments also need to be about creating long-term success stories. Fortunately there are funds doing just this, with funding criteria based on long-term technology bets.

The second part, nurturing tomorrow's tech powerhouses involves supporting the talented individuals behind these startups and helping them to create their own professional support networks.

Just because a founder demonstrates strong entrepreneurial drive and vision, doesn't mean they do not need support as they grow into well-rounded business leaders. Unlike working in an enterprise, these people aren't automatically surrounded by peers with a diverse set of experiences to offer. And, as they often work in very small, tight-knit teams, having external perspectives and sounding boards is even more important.

Many current 'techpreneurs' will vouch for this. Cloud9 IDE, for example, is a fast-growing and highly successful UK tech startup. Its co-founder and CEO Ruben Daniels has said: "Our investors provide not only the funding, network and introductions, but also mentorship, and this has been vital in helping us grow."

So, while we celebrate the addition of more and more unicorns to the UK economy, let's also focus our attention on nurturing small startups to become the British tech giants of tomorrow.

Behind every great business idea or tech innovation is a person. It's up to all of us to nurture that talent - it's as critical as a robust VC pipeline in helping ensure our sector's continued growth and success.