London is increasingly recognised as a global leader in technology, a hotbed for SMEs and a centre for innovation. The huge array of digital skills both in London and across the UK has led to huge industry growth, so much so that Brits working in the tech sector now account for 7.5% of the entire UK workforce - that's roughly 1.46m people. Job growth in this area is predicted to outperform all other occupations by 2020.
Despite all this, it's not a completely rosy picture for start-ups in London. Aside from raising capital, hiring talented people and developing a credible business model, SMEs face a whole new challenge: access to quick and reliable connectivity. In Tech City we've heard stories of companies choosing to deliver videos by jumping on a bicycle rather than uploading it via their broadband connection. MPs have joked about carrier pigeons being faster than the internet. It's high time things changed.
Last week we hosted an event in Shoreditch that explored the challenges and opportunities faced by London's SMEs. Our own Peter Kelly joined a panel discussion which included a handful of ambitious start-ups, Gerard Grech, CEO of Tech City UK, Emma Jones founder of Enterprise Nation, and key SME influencers and experts.
We talked about the crucial importance of getting the right people on board, with one entrepreneur comparing having a co-founder to 'being in marriage'. There was also broad consensus about the difficulty of securing early stage funding - 'even if you do everything right'.
Both our panellists and audience, were in agreement that both businesses and government need to invest in getting faster internet into the capital. While the collapse of the dotcom bubble in the late 1990s can be blamed for the more conservative investment in technology, business demands today means that improved infrastructure needs to take priority. It's clear that the UK's growing businesses need better connectivity to work quicker, smarter and seize the opportunities available to them in the early stages of growth. It's the bread-and-butter of operating a successful start-up.
That's why we've launched a new offering, specifically tailored for this audience, to bring better internet connectivity to businesses in Tech City. In London the project will benefit at least 2,000 businesses initially, and will later be extended to a further 6,000. Ultimately, it's about giving businesses stronger, simpler, quicker and cheaper connectivity so they can get on with the things that really matter.
"The digital sector is a national success story and London is a shining example of what we can achieve in Britain." So said Boris Johnson in response to a new Tech Nation report from Tech City UK. To build on this legacy, we need to make sure the UK's burgeoning SME sector is supported every step of the way, from angel investment schemes to peer-to-peer support and providing real investment in our digital infrastructure.