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Article by Ritam Gandhi, Director and founder of Studio Graphene

The tech industry has been one of the UK’s standout performers over the past decade, accumulating significant capital growth and accruing global reputability as a source of innovation and home for investment.

Running in parallel, the industry has also undergone something of an internal makeover, shedding much of its prior bad image and setting itself into a strong position to continue to grow over the coming years.

Just last month, it was reported that the UK’s tech sector had reached a valuation of $1 trillion, becoming the third country to reach this milestone behind China and the US. The UK is now responsible for creating more than a third of Europe’s new tech unicorns, underlining its position as the growth leader on the continent.

In turn, investment in the sector has increased by close to tenfold in the last decade, up to £11.3 billion in 2021, with much of this uptick generated in the second half of the decade. This indicates a sense of security among investors to back scale-ups and blue-chip brands alike. As a founder of a digital agency that develops solutions with businesses at both scales, this sense of confidence certainly rings true.

Of course, an extended period of success does not necessarily mean any guarantees of ongoing prosperity – this has been evident in the varying fortunes of the tech sector over a number of decades. However, the fine health of UK tech today indicates a position of strength moving forward – and some key trends which will likely prove influential in determining the shape of the next decade for tech here.

Tech boom

Technology has never been more far-reaching than it is today. The hyper-capitalisation of the sector has inspired founders and big tech alike to consider which new corners of our lives can be optimised with innovative digital solutions. The previously unthinkable prosperity of the big tech companies in recent years underlines this – and raises the ceiling of possibility for all new ventures.

We hear a lot about ‘disruption’ as a motivating factor for startups, yet too little about how wider conditions can influence this. Following a global pandemic which placed many of our long-held social norms under scrutiny, many believe there is an increased appetite for disruptive technologies, and so more opportunities for the tech industry to capitalise.

This is encouraging for the growth of emerging tech products. Big data, the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence, and augmented reality are all being used in increasingly innovative ways, and with tech literacy on the rise, are connecting with consumers and investors more quickly than before.

In research conducted by Studio Graphene last year, taking in the views of business leaders, we found that big business was particularly keen to invest in previously unexplored areas of technology, including AI and IoT – including more than three quarters (76%) of the largest businesses.

Contrast this with the 2000s, when cloud-based technology was prepared to revolutionise how most businesses conducted their operations – yet there was a muted reception. It took many years of concerted effort to communicate the value-adding benefits of this platform before it took hold. Today, tech startups can expect their products to be more readily received by businesses looking to invest in innovation and steal a march on their competitors.

Culture change

For many years, the tech industry was tainted by image problems. The ‘tech bro’ aesthetic had built a wider perception of the sector as exclusionary, and containing limited fields of background and experience at both developer and leadership level.

Unfortunately, this remains largely borne out in the statistics. The Tech for Diversity 22 report found that a majority of tech workers identified women as holding a minority of leadership roles, while three quarters reported close to no ethnic minority representation. Recent figures indicate that 23% of tech director roles are held by women – compared with 29% in the wider economy.

Addressing the digital skills crisis will naturally remedy many of these issues. Already, there are a growing number of coding and development bootcamps which offer fully-funded places for individuals from under-represented backgrounds. The industry is growing rapidly, and so will continue to look for creative ways to attract, recruit and retrain new talent.

Much of this work is already well in hand. From employer review aggregator Glassdoor’s top 15 companies to work for in 2022, seven were tech organisations. This drive to improve culture is not, as is commonly posited, an optical endeavour consisting of complimentary breakfast and pool tables. In my experience developing products alongside a vast array of new startups, these are substantive efforts to build an appealing culture that benefits their employees while rewarding the business with loyalty.

Increased emphasis on flexibility, particularly when it comes to remote working, has allowed startups to hold up their end of the ‘war for talent’ against the deeper pockets of the big tech brands, and should position businesses well to appeal to people from minority backgrounds considering retraining in tech.

Certainly, the success of the continued drive to attract and re-train employees from different sets of backgrounds will be critical to the ongoing health of the UK’s bustling tech startup culture. The appeal of the industry to investors is now well-enshrined, and momentum is in the sector’s favour. If startups are successful in tackling the skills shortage through embracing greater diversity in leadership and coding roles, the industry looks well set to have a bright future.

About the author

Ritam Gandhi is the Founder and Director of Studio Graphene – a London-based company that specialises in the development of blank canvas tech products, including apps, websites, AR, IoT and more. The company has completed hundreds of projects since first being started in 2014, working with both new entrepreneurs and product development teams within larger companies.