London’s start-ups will find it more difficult to find and retain technology talent after Brexit – but tech leaders remain upbeat in the face of uncertainty.
That was the general view from BusinessCloud’s latest roundtable discussion in the capital, which was held at KPMG’s offices in Canary Wharf and heard from a panel of experts and tech companies.
Ben Corrigan is co-founder and chief revenue officer at shopping tool Pouch, which has a team of 11, with the majority being non-UK nationals.
The entrepreneur insists that he remains optimistic providing that access to talent isn’t limited following the UK’s exit from the European Union.
“If very talented tech people decide not to come to London because they fear that it’s too difficult then we’ll all be fighting over the same talent,” he said.
“We have to make sure we communicate as a city and a country that we are open and tolerant and that we want the best and the brightest and that has to be then followed through with a political solution.”
Felicia Meyerowitz, CEO of Akoni Hub, admits there will be “a big bump” but is confident that the UK’s economy is “strong”.
She says most of the clients she meets aren’t concerned and all have plans in place.
“It’s been fascinating for me watching the play-out of the media and then going out to speaking to clients and asking them questions,” she said.
“Of course they have actual work to do but there’s no reflection on what I’m seeing in the media.”
Rohit Mathur (pictured below), who leads Barclays’ venture capital team, warned that businesses “don’t realise” just how much the UK relies on EU trade and funding and that the European Investment Fund (EIF) has begun pulling back.
“Without naming names I know of a couple of UK-based funds who had struggled to raise enough money and actually had to go to the British Business Bank,” he said.
“But there are 50 or 60 micro funds covering the entire UK spectrum and I don’t think they [British Business Bank] will be able to cover each and every one.”
Stephen Martin, manager of TMT corporate finance at KPMG, says he personally believes that tech companies and start-up will find it “very difficult” to recruit top talent from the EU and further afield due to the “negative press and feeling” surrounding immigration in the UK.
“London previously had a sort of bubble, which I think has now been burst,” he said.
“I speak to a lot of business founders and they say they’re finding it much harder to attract talent – and holding onto them. It’s not just about acquisition, it’s retention as well.
“We’re competing globally so if we’re being seen to not want other people to come here then that obviously puts us at a massive disadvantage.”
Among the tech start-up CEOs speaking at the roundtable discussion was Abigail Rappoport, who leads award-winning digital coach Emoquo.
“We’ve done for digital coaching what Headspace has done for mindfulness and meditation,” she said, adding that the five-year-old company is gearing up to bring out its first major product and taking on a number of big clients.
Rappoport (pictured below) admits that the fear around attracting and retaining talent is “a huge worry”.
“In the tech sector there are massive skills shortages, particularly in our area around AI and machine learning, so it’s about how we attract and how do we retain,” she said.
“As a working mother, the other problem is whether I’ll be able to get an au pair to help me at home, because lots of au pairs come from other European countries.
“For anyone who is a working parent who needs help, that’s a massive worry.”
But despite the concerns around talent recruitment and retention, the general view was still one of optimism.
Jonathon Clark, business and technology manager at Activate’s programme partner Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), says the university prefers to remain optimistic and think of Brexit as an opportunity.
“One of the things we want to do is to try and make Liverpool City Region’s small digital and creative businesses as competitive as possible,” he said.
“The benefit for us in doing that is we can establish commercial partnerships, generate research and of course get our students in there.”
Also speaking at the roundtable were MarketOrders co-founder and COO Sukhi Jutla; Sara Simeone, VP of marketing and blockchain at Wakelet; and Danial Daychopan, CEO and founder of cryptocurrency start-up Plutus.