There is, without a doubt, a huge array of entrepreneurial talent within the UK. However, given that the latest GDP figures confirm that the the country is back in recession, there needs to be more than just political spin from Westminster about promoting innovation and entrepreneurship within the technology sector.
No project has inflamed more political debate recently than Tech City, 'Britain’s answer to Silicon Valley', based around London's Old Street roundabout, and championed by the government. Despite early promise, with the number of high-tech companies jumping from about 20 to 200 in just four years, including 85 start-ups, the project is in danger of stalling somewhat. Too many politicians have been jumping on the bandwagon without taking the necessary advice from private companies to make the project a long-term success.
Tech City has changed a cheap and dreary part of East London into a creative, vibrant space, but for it to really boost the economy, the project needs to remain tightly connected to private sector expertise, to people who have a heritage and a track record in technology and a propensity for risk.
The emphasis should be on incubating start-ups, with public/private partnerships, tax incentives, financing geared to small firms and extensive mentoring programmes from the Tech City Investment Organisation. There should also be even more focus on sponsored and grassroots efforts in which developers help one other on technical and business matters.
Start-ups are the lifeblood of the recovery as large companies have seldom been innovators. Today, the situation is even more pronounced. Large organisations simply can’t innovate fast enough to keep up with technology. Innovators in the mobile space and other sectors are 'free radicals', in both the chemical and sociological sense. They are highly reactive within their environment. In a time of economic uncertainty, they combust and trigger change. Orderliness is not part of their makeup.
The danger is that the DNA of traditional government doesn’t match up well with the DNA of innovation. Over time, politicians—who must constantly balance the needs of many—tend to turn to middle-of-the-road mediocrity. Tech City is the embodiment of a principle that people are just beginning to understand - that Silicon Valley is not a geographic location but a platform and a set of services and expertise with a highly engaged community brought together on behalf of innovation.
For the continued success of Tech City, government needs to fully release the apron strings on entrepreneurial spirit and allow innovative technology vendors to lead economic recovery.
Robert Marcus is chairman and CEO of QuantumWave Capital, a mobile internet investment banking firm, and author of The Fifth Wave