Q&A With Tech Nation’s Mike Jackson: Joining an Incubator is The Best Route For a Startup
Technology is not just about gadgets that you can buy and the software that you may use on these gadgets, at home, and in office. There is a great deal of focus on digital tech that may be able to solve problems which otherwise may remain not tackled. Startups play a critical role in that space, and the United Kingdom has been playing a leading role in ensuring that digital tech gets the promotion it needs. Tech Nation is a national network for ambitious tech entrepreneurs offering growth programs, visas for exceptional talent from overseas; digital entrepreneurship skills, a visa scheme for exceptional talent and more. At the London Tech Week 2019, News18 sat down with Mike Jackson, the Entrepreneur Success Director of Tech Nation, to discuss the startup ecosystem in the UK and how India ties in with that.
In fact, the UK leads the rest of the world in FinTech—the investment in high-growth Fintech firms touched as high as £4.5 billion in the period between the years 2015 and 2018. Tech Nation’s story began in Shoreditch in 2011, launched by the then Prime Minister David Cameron. Last November, Prime Minister Theresa May and Chancellor Philip Hammond announced the launch of Tech Nation, consolidating Tech City UK and Tech North’s impact. “Tech Nation is a part of the rich eco-system of tech support, talent, and creativity that makes London and wider UK global leader in finch and other wider technologies. It is this ecosystem on which the India UK living bridge partnership is built and sustained,” says Amo Kalar, Deputy Director, Trade and Innovation, British High Commission.
"The UK-India partnership is strong. British and Indian companies, research institutes and universities collaborate across many industries, bring their minds together to innovate and design, improve skills and develop cutting-edge technology," says Crispin Simon, Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioner for South Asia. Here are the edited excerpts from the conversation with Mike Jackson.
What exactly is the role Tech Nation plays?
Tech Nation is a government supported agency to help in scaling digital tech companies. So it's quite defined, and that we're not general tech. So if you aren't doing biotech, you're doing pharmaceuticals. If you building robots and hardware, that’s not us. We are digital tech, so if you are building software, if you are doing a SAS product, making a FinTech product, an AI product, a medical device, if it's got, if it's a device, it needs a software or an app, that is us.
How is Tech Nation funded?
So we're about 80 percent funded by the UK government and 20% perfect is funded privately. And what that allows us to do is to be semi-independent. And it is quite good because it means if the government comes to us and says that we'd like you to do an AI program, which they did a few months ago, we can go, okay, we should be this is rather than what you want us to do. So, we’ve got more independence.
What is the biggest challenge, particularly in the UK?
Tech Nation came about from something in the past that you may have heard of. It was all about money. And it was all about London. But what about Manchester? What about Leeds? What about Cardiff?
What sort of programs do you have for startups?
And we have two types of programs. We have programs that are all about the stage of growth. We have a program called upscale. Sometimes we call the scaling inflection and this is the point where things can go really well go really badly. But it's kind of the point of the journey. That's a program with about 30 companies on it. And it's trying to pick across all different sectors, but all within digital tech, and the best 30 companies at any given time. And it's competitive to get on. So we have had about 120 applications this year, which went through the judging process, we get down to the 30. And they come from all over the UK. But they largely reflect the 50:50 balance between London and the rest of the UK. So the important thing, and this is what we believe is our secret sauce is that we have come up with a hear-the-need system. So we don't claim to be able to teach how to scale up. I know no more than frankly any of us do. So what we do is we get 30 companies and their founders in a room. And we talk to them about issues and challenges. Within the room, we agree to come up with all sorts of events. So someone might be talking about expanding to India. And someone might say, Oh, well, we've just done it. And we've worked with these people and they went right. And that peer learning works really well. But then the real extra band is then bringing in the peers that have just done the job and are two years ahead into the room to say, okay, so we did this and it didn’t work, so we found these guys, went to this place and it was great.
Do you work with people looking to invest in the UK, including individuals?
So, I guess there are two kinds of investment. There are proper investors and VC funds that are looking to come into the UK, whether they're American or Chinese. They are often looking for curated deals. So quite often we get an approach to say, could we come and talk to. And in fact, corporates, when they're looking at doing kind of corporate investment often do that as well. So we'll set up evening receptions, dinners and invite them along. Its most companies, even if they've just raised a big round, they're always racing, always looking for that next round. So to meet a proper, you know, and again, we've got to do a bit of due diligence on the investor, are they real, do they really invest on a really good investment in the UK company, are they going to try and take that company to wherever they come from?
If an Indian startup wants to invest in the UK, can they? Or does it have to be an established company only?
So, there are obviously fantastic individuals and companies that come to us, but still, have the ideas of what earnings want to come into the planning. Some of those have gone on to become some of the biggest companies in the UK. So we do not want to stop those people who work really well. But from the Tech Nation’s point of view, we have got to see results too. What we are good at are signposts. A few months ago, the UK government set up a new visa system for both individuals and companies coming into the UK. Individuals with an idea join an incubator, and they get a two-year visa to see if it is going to work. I always believe it is best to join an accelerator to get on the inside.