What the new mayor means for London’s tech scene

Joe Svetlik

Tuesday 7 June 2016

A new mayor means a new era for London. But what do people who work in the London startup scene want Sadiq Khan to prioritise and promote?

Sadiq Khan seems committed to supporting tech as London’s economic engine, but what do members of the IT community want to see him achieve? We spoke to a handful of industry movers and shakers to find out.

Tai Alegbe, co-founder of wine search and discovery platform Baacco

“The number-one policy change has to be a shift towards thinking big, especially around long-term sector investment. The Mayor’s Fund is quite small compared to other city funds. For example in New York, they’re redeveloping Roosevelt Island. Now that’s thinking big.

“One way to do this would be through sustainable development. It would also help to reduce our reliance on American companies to finance our sector. It would make sense to diversify the companies we court.”

Malan Jacobs, community manager at on-demand jobs platform inploi

“We are excited about Khan’s pro-business stance, and particularly interested in the Skills for Londoners taskforce that he wants to establish. For us, policies that promote skills development are of paramount importance.

“In the growing ‘gig’ economy in which we operate, policies that create forums for open dialogue are vital in order to promote innovation and ensure companies are unencumbered by regulation and bureaucracy.

“The issue of the right to work in the UK is a contentious one. Any efforts to lobby the Home Office to make it easier for foreign students to remain in the UK after their studies – even if they’re working for companies that are not large enough to sponsor visas – would be a welcome step.

“Finally, the cost of hiring in London (and the associated high cost of living) puts huge pressure on a startup’s budget. Policies that address this will indirectly promote the London business environment and its competitive advantage over other global tech hubs.”

Hayley Smith, owner of Boxed Out PR

“SMEs and startups should be at the forefront of the mayor’s priorities, as they’re the ones who’ll change the economy.

“As a startup, funding is a key factor for my business and is necessary to create business growth within London. There is a massive funding gap between the amount needed and the amount available. Entrepreneurs and businesses who have the power to play on a global scale are struggling to raise local investment. So they are turning to overseas investors for funding.

“The mayor has described himself as the ‘most pro-business mayor London has ever had’, so I’d like to see him address this. It’s vital investors can access local investment opportunities and entrepreneurs can seek out investors suited to their business.

“This could also go hand in hand with a London-based mentor scheme, allowing startup entrepreneurs to create and expand their networks, experience and knowledge, and apply it to the London business scene.”

Oli Johnson, co-founder of on-demand hiring platform Catapult

“Khan has made all the right noises about supporting tech startups so far. During his campaign he demonstrated a commitment to trying to understand the issues facing businesses by meeting with a number of key industry bodies, such as Tech UK.

“In addition to this, he has already committed to creating a business advisory board, which will be made up of independent, experienced businesspeople. Such a board can only be a positive thing for London and can keep the new mayor connected to London’s ever-evolving tech scene.”

Rich Pleeth, founder of friend-finder app Sup

“As a tech founder, I’m going to be tremendously interested in who will be appointed chief digital officer and what their remit will be. They really need someone young, who has done the startup scene and knows how corporates work. Ideally, they’d have lots of learnings from the scenes in San Francisco and New York.”

“It’ll be interesting to see how this will complement Tech City UK. A key factor is how we can ensure that funds are readily available for startups and that they get the support they need.”

Quentin and Alex Bargate, founders of online dispute resolution platform Ajuve

“Continued tax breaks and business rates relief for startups and small businesses is a must if London is to remain at the centre of innovation – particularly in the technology sector. Relaxed planning laws could also encourage businesses to invest in expansion.

“However, perhaps more importantly, the new mayor needs to reduce the cost of living for budding entrepreneurs and their employees in order for the capital to be a viable option for establishing a new business. We’ve already seen a rise in talent being priced out of London, and if the trend continues, productivity could grind to a halt. Support could come in many forms, such as aid with the cost of housing or reduced congestion charges for limited periods.”

The new mayor has a big job ahead of him. London might be one of the most dynamic cities in the world, but it’s also one of the most expensive to live in. This is just one task Khan must tackle if he wants London’s tech scene to flourish.

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