The London Startup Ecosystem: Welcome to a carefully curated summary to get you started
In this deeply researched, comprehensive guide about the London Startup Ecosystem, our goal is to kick-start your knowledge and understanding of this market by touching on the most important topics.
Our vision at startupsoflondon.com is to make London’s Startup Ecosystem and all its key information more digitally visible and accessible to all. Most of what you will read below are derived from real conversations with the founders of London’s top startups and other opinion leaders in the field over three years.
If you are looking for an evergreen startup ecosystem report that will elevate your understanding of the London Startup Ecosystem, you are in the right place. We are more than happy to share our observations and lessons in this guide so that you can get valuable insights and inspiration to update your business growth strategies in 2021. So relax and enjoy this carefully curated blog post. Be warned, though, and it is not a short read, so you might want to bookmark it.
Although London is Europe’s number one startup capital, having a read on this ecosystem with many moving parts can be complicated. Most of the time, it is overwhelming for people just figuring their way out as entrepreneurs, consultants, founders, or as talent interested in working at tech startups.
Staying true to our ethos, after many episodes of mini-documentaries and office visits to top London Startups, we take a break from our usual video publishing schedule to sink our teeth into the juiciest bits of data and statistics about the London Startup Ecosystem.
Enjoy this deeply curated guide we have created for newcomers (and veterans interested in learning more) about the tech scene in London.
(Related: We are ecstatic about having already published 14+ documentary episodes about London’s top startups in the last few months! From PropTech (Lavanda) to Biometric Authentication (iProov), HealthTech (Forward) to FinTech (Soldo), and many more such as ChargedUp, WeGift, JobLab, Feast-it, Elder, SeedLegals, it has been a royal tour of London’s top startups. It was an amazing experience so far to meet with the founders & the team and listen to their startup journeys. Join the Startups of London Youtube community for weekly episodes.)
0. London Startup Ecosystem Overview
After some internal discussion (and feedback from the most popular online communities among London’s tech people), we decided to structure this post into the subtopics below.
0. London Startup Ecosystem Overview
As we heard time and time again from almost all of the founders we’ve interviewed so far, London is the perfect city to build your startup in. With its amazing talent pool, network opportunities, and easy access to investors, consultants, and experts, there are many reasons for founders and businesses to thrive.
That is not the full picture, though. London’s networks can feel like closed systems, sometimes difficult to navigate and penetrate for all the virtues it has. While there is the capital, investment style is more risk-averse compared to San Francisco, for example. As a city, London is very welcoming to individuals with diverse backgrounds but establishing a business takes time.
London’s place in the world economy is thanks to its finance industry, rather than tech and entrepreneurship. In finance, London competes with New York for the title of the financial capital of the world. However, whereas New York’s premise is to enable investors to win big, London’s premise is stability, security, privacy (and sometimes the protection of generational wealth).
Coupled with the key British value of protecting tradition, the whole ecosystem might present itself as cautious rather than curious about new technological advances. It sometimes feels like it is less okay to fail in this culture compared to Silicon Valley. Many people usually question the history (how many years the business has under its belt) and previous clients of a company – or a consultant – before even beginning a business dialogue.
The key takeaway is that London has so much going for it in terms of a great location, language, finance and talent. Even the time zone is perfect for building an international hub of operations… But it is also under many constraints that cap its potential to compete with San Francisco head to head. Whether it is the right choice for you will depend on what you want to build and/or what kind of a life you want to live. Let’s begin with a high-level overview.
Key things to note
1) London is ranked 3rd (tied with Beijing) for the best Startup Hub in the overall global ecosystem, right after Silicon Valley and New York City. (Source: 1)
2) London startup ecosystem is valued at $47 bn (way higher than the global median)
3) London is ranked in 2nd place for Fintech and 4th place for the Edtech industry. (Source: 1)
4) Most startups are located around the City of London (below is a screenshot of the startups we have featured so far).
6) London is a fertile market for consultants, experts, service providers who see startups as potential clients. As a result, 35% of Europe and Israel’s 169 tech unicorns have been created in the UK.
1) There are 11,770 investors in the UK, and 4,489 of them are located in London.
2) Many investors are looking into opportunities. VC investment in UK tech topped £6.3bn in 2018, according to the Tech Nation 2019 report (source). In 2019, it increased to £10.1bn ($13.2 billion), the highest in UK history (source).
3) UK tech scaleup investment makes up 80% of total tech investment in the UK (around £5bn), and the UK ranks fourth in the world, after the US, China and India (source).
4) A key theme is the increasing interest from the US and Asian investors in London’s and UK’s startups, as seen below.
5) Investments in startups are growing aggressively, but the growth is more a result of the increase in $100M+ investment rounds rather than early-stage investments ($0M – $10M) in startups. This certainly supports our observation of a certain risk-aversion displayed by the UK investors (compared to Silicon Valley).
6) Investment in non-Fintech scaleups is on the rise. However, the visual representation below paints a clear picture of how dominant it (still) is.
Some of the other (non-VC or Angel) funding opportunities in London worth looking into
- 24 Haymarket
- Angel Academe
- Angel CoFund
- Angels in MedCity
- Angel Investment Network
- Angels Den
- Cambridge Angels
- Cambridge Capital Group
- Coral Reef
- Craigie Capital
- FSE Angel Group
- Funding London
- Grant Finder
- Green Angel Syndicate
- Innovate UK – Gov.uk
- Hotspur Capital Partners
- London City Hall – Crowdfund London
- London City Hall – Good Growth Fund (GGF)
- London City Hall – Culture Seeds Funding Scheme
- London City Hall – Commissioning fund
- London City Hall – Open Project System (OPS)
- London City Hall – Small Projects and Equipment funding
- London City Hall – Development Support Funding
- London City Hall – Skills for Londoners Innovation Fund
- London Co-Investment Fund
- Mustard Seed
- National Enterprise Network
- Our Space Awards – Groundwork London
- Funding Options
- Startup Funding Club
- Wild Blue Cohort
2. Availability of Talent in the London Startup Ecosystem
According to the UK Tech Talent Tracker Report by Accenture, there are 422,000 UK-based professionals in data analytics, artificial intelligence, blockchain, extended reality and quantum computing. Around 37 per cent of them are located in London. In addition, it’s worth remembering that 4 of the world’s top 10 universities are in or close to London.
According to the research, the size of the talent pool in London – with a total of 155K qualified people looking for tech jobs, dwarfs other cities in the UK.
According to the same report, below are the domains and what percentage of the talent pool has skills.
- Data Analytics – 59%
- Artificial Intelligence – 19%
- Blockchain – 10%
- AR/VR – 8%
- Quantum Computing – 1.2%
London has the highest concentration of talent in the world, thanks to its world-class universities and a highly educated workforce and is the 5th most innovative city globally according to JLL’s latest research. It is also the leading global talent hub, with the best-educated workforce of any city globally – nearly 59% have a tertiary education, compared to the global average of just 34% (source).
According to the TechNation 2019 report: “In the UK, insurtech and fintech were the biggest employers among high-growth digital tech firms in 2018, employing 24% and 18% of the high-growth workforce respectively.” However, according to the data presented in the chart below, the ratio of people working in high-growth tech jobs is low in the UK with 5% – especially when compared to the US and China.
Out of the events/platforms we have experienced first-hand, Silicon Milk Roundabout was one of the best and most unique experiences in terms of finding talent. Also, check out Joblab (now Stride) they were the first startup we ever featured. Of course, let’s not forget AngelList which is a great resource here as well. Here are the other top resources to find tech talent in London.
Also, note that London trails behind its competitors in terms of some people and finance based decisions. For example, London-based startup founding teams are much less likely to adopt best practices associated with success – such as offering stock options – to all employees and have a smaller average number of advisors overall.
3. Incubators, Accelerators, Co-Working Spaces and Communities in London
Incubators and accelerators are core pillars of a startup ecosystem because (in theory) they help businesses make better decisions by avoiding the mistakes of others and aggregating key resources, know-how and people to increase the odds of success. However, in our observation, in practice, this works in only some of them.
Transfer of information & experience can be quite challenging when an ecosystem is going through rapid changes, and the future is uncertain. Brexit discussion going on and on hasn’t helped either.
On the other hand, there is a second benefit of these places where people come together: Community. An entrepreneurial journey can be a lonely and difficult one. However, working together, learning from other people, and knowing that you can ask for help contribute to a sense of “we are all in this together”.
The key difference between an accelerator and an incubator is that the first doesn’t always have an office or provide a workspace, and places more emphasis on funding with a pre-set programme, whereas the latter is usually more flexible.
Earlier research of Nesta demonstrates that there are around 250 incubators and close to 200 accelerators in the UK, and some slight variations on these themes in the form of 11 pre-accelerators, 7 virtual accelerators, and 4 virtual incubators. In addition, more than half of all the accelerators are based in London, whereas incubators are more evenly distributed to other UK cities.
Interestingly, whereas accelerators (which support an estimated 3,700 businesses) mostly rely on corporate/private sources of funding, incubators in the UK support an estimated 6,900 businesses at any time and are usually funded by the public sector or universities. Below is a comprehensive list of all three you should take a look at.
List of Top London Incubators, Accelerators and Co-Working Spaces
- Barclays Accelerator (Fintech focus)
- Breed Reply (IoT focus)
- Campus London (Google’s space for entrepreneurs)
- Collider (Adtech focused accelerator)
- CyLon (Cybersecurity focused accelerator)
- Founders Factory (One of the top London based accelerators)
- IDEALondon (UCL and Cisco run Post Accelerator)
- Impact Hub (Social entrepreneurship focus)
- JLAB (John Lewis tech incubator)
- Launch22 (Early-stage focus – small but one of the best communities)
- LawTech Eagle Lab (Lawtech focus)
- Level39 (Tech accelerator for finance, retail, cyber and more – Canary Wharf base)
- The Bakery (Adtech focus)
- Workfrom_Southwark by Hoxton(Co-working, luxurious and affordable)
- The Trampery (Spaces for entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation)
- TrueStart (Retail and fashion accelerator)
- MassChallenge (The most startup-friendly accelerator on the planet)
- Plexal (Innovation Centre & workspace – Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park)
- Rise (FinTech community of rising startups and industry leaders)
- Rocketspace (Co-working space for high-growth startups)
- Startupbootcamp (For global startups)
- Wayra (Telefonica’s startup accelerator programme)
- White Bear Yard (Startup and digital technology and media companies)
- TechHub (Influential community with many events)
- Techstars (Global ecosystem for entrepreneurs)
- Digital Catapult (Featured by Startups of London – great location, great people)
- Grow.London (by JLL and London & Partners)
- CoWorkingLondon (A searchable map of London’s coworking spaces)
- Hubble (Easy online marketplace for finding office space in London)
- Second Home (Workplace with a futuristic vibe in East London)
- WeWork (Provider of shared workspace, community, and services)
Other notable online communities of creative & tech people
There aren’t many of these, but these are the communities that we know of and can truly say are the heart and soul of the London startup and tech ecosystem.
Techlondon Slack Group – Run by Gus Ferguson
4. Key Events in the London Startup Ecosystem
The number of London based events & meetups is too many to count. The top topics of discussion are 1. Software Development, 2. Data Science, and 3. Entrepreneurship. Below is an interesting comparison of the most popular meetup topics by city. Interestingly, London is the least interested in talking about software compared to its position as a startup hub.)
There are around 3,527 tech meetup groups, with over 1.6 million members across 283 locations in the UK according to the Tech Nation Report 2018, and those are allocated as the chart below published by Tech Nation.
Meetup.com and EventBrite are great platforms to follow almost all of the events happening around London. However, the difficulty with those platforms is that there may be too many events and, therefore hard to pick the best ones.
Advertising Week Europe
Cloud Expo Europe
The London Games Festival
London Tech Week
NOAH Internet Conference
Social Media Week
Wearable Technology Show
5. Mentors, Experts, Consultants of the London Startup Ecosystem
Great founders know when to ask for help and use the resources around them in the most optimal combinations. A big part of that is the expertise of people. In London, there are thousands of qualified professionals from various backgrounds who are eager to help startups and founders with their expertise. Some of them operate on a commercial basis, whereas some of them volunteer.
On the other hand, finding the right expert can be a challenge sometimes. This is somewhat since London’s founders value the UK experience a lot, and this is a city with a huge circulation of talent. Founders usually decide whether or not to trust a consultant based on referrals and experience with helping other startups. While this somewhat risk-averse attitude is understandable from the founders’ perspective, it doesn’t always help the ecosystem. Whereas it is easy (and quicker) to start and end a professional relationship in the US, in London, these deals are more relationship-based and might take a while to get started.
With these in mind, here’s (a small) subsection of good/reliable consultants, experts, mentors in a range of fields that were recommended to us. If you would like to include your name, mention the Linkedin channel of Startups of London‘s or its Founder with your expertise areas and a request to be included.
- Matthew Brazil (Linkedin) – Helps early-stage startups companies
- Francois Mazoudier (Linkedin) – Advisor for high growth tech companies
- Mike Mahon (Linkedin) – Marketing focus
- Ozan (Ozzie) Dagdeviren (Linkedin) – Helps startups with team building and culture (people focus)
- Eugenio Galioto (Linkedin) – Startup mentor, Startups & AI Enthusiast
- Pier Paolo Mucelli (Linkedin) – Entrepreneur, Investor, Advisor, Mentor
- Mark Elliott (Linkedin) – Helping solo business founders to build their businesses through coaching, mentoring, teaching and Lean Startup
- Duncan Knight (Linkedin) – CEO Growth Mentor, Advisor
- Ron Goddard (Linkedin) – Business Advisor, Investor, Mentor, Founder&CEO of TechVentures.london
- Thomas Schreiber (Linkedin) – Startup advisor (focusing on underrepresented founders with startups based in London that have a positive impact on society), mentor, Director at Google
- Julian Childs (Linkedin) – Careers Expert, LinkedIn Marketer, International Connector, Talent Catalyst, Start-Up Advisor, Mentor
- Bindi Karia (Linkedin) – Innovation Expert+Advisor, Connector, Venture Partner
- Neeta Patel (Linkedin) – CEO at Centre for Entrepreneurs, NED, Board Advisor, Start-Up Mentor
- Wendy Read (Linkedin) – Founder & MD, HR Revolution | Mentor, London and Partners
- Sherry Coutu (Linkedin) – Serial Entrepreneur, Investor, Advisor and NED
- Jessica Butcher (Linkedin) – Co-Founder, Tick.Done; Co-Founder, Blippar; Speaker; Angel; Mentor; Advisor; Media commentator
- Jose A. Somalo (Linkedin) – Help startups succeed, Startup Consultant, FinTech Advisor
- Siddika Jaffer (Linkedin) – Startup Advisor, Venture Builder, Growth Strategist
- Marta Krupinska (Linkedin) – Advisor, Co-Founder, Head of Google for Startups UK
- Ben Ford (Linkedin) – Tech Startup Consultant
- KC Lee (Linkedin) – Marketing Consulting, Brand Consulting, Business Consulting, Management Consulting
- Wayne Gibbins (Linkedin) – Non-Exec Director (NED) & Startup Advisor
- Jon Folland (Linkedin) – Investor, mentor and advisor
- Matt Kuppers (Linkedin) – Consultant, Investor, Speaker
- Illai Gescheit (Linkedin) – Entrepreneur, Mentor, Investor
- Edward Relf (Linkedin) – Award Winning CMO, Co-Founder, Speaker, Growth Marketer, Entrepreneur, Startup Advisor, Mentor, Consultant
- Mark Walsh (Linkedin) – Program Manager / Project Manager / Strategy Consultant
- Ghazala Z. (Linkedin) – Helps entrepreneurs to get their act together before they go out to investors or potential acquirers
- Shruti Ajitsaria (Linkedin) – Mentor, advisor
- Doug Scott (Linkedin) – Investor, advisor
- Yo Percale (Linkedin) – Founder Ai Partners and Rebel Consulting, executive coach
- Marian Gazdik (Linkedin) – Tech investor, board advisor, startup mentor @Startup Grind
- John Fuggles (Linkedin) – Business Growth Strategist: Analytical insight and creative problem solving to deliver sustainable growth
6. Exits and Fails of the London Startup Ecosystem
Aah… The Exit. That elusive end goal is the dream of many founders and entrepreneurs. Once a founder has built a business to a certain scale and profitability, there is nothing more natural than the desire to sell the business to another (larger) company or sell stocks to the public through an IPO. Of course, this is not always the case, and not all founders have to seek an exit, but there are a few core reasons why so many founders seek it and why the success of a startup ecosystem is closely correlated with this.
First, an exit means a huge payday for the founders and the rest of the team. The “high reward” moment justifies the “high risk” people have been taking in the run-up.
Secondly, the experience and know-how of building a business from scratch are precious (and expensive in terms of time, money, personal and psychological resources). So it makes absolute sense that a founder would want to use this hard-earned skill again. Your second startup is not a walk in the park either but is considerably easier (mostly because you now have more money, more connections, are known as a success story and filled your psychological well).
Having done an exit is good for the founders, but it is also a sign of a mature ecosystem. More exits will inspire more people, and you have a virtuous cycle in your hand that will keep growing the economy and concentrate more talent into your ecosystem.
The most succinct analysis regarding exits came from the Startup Genome Success Factor assessment among the resources we have searched through. The first big takeaway is that Silicon Valley “stands head and shoulders above other ecosystems” compared to others. When it comes to London, it is ranked 3rd, but more interesting are the sub-factors of that ranking…
Whereas Silicon Valley is a 10 in all these four factors, London is a different story.
- Ecosystem Value: 6
- Exits: 7
- Startup Output: 8
- Startup Success: 5
Based on the data of Tech Nation – Dealroom.co, there have been 6,917 exits (Buyout, IPO, Acquisition and Secondary rounds) in the UK since 2013, and 2,218 of them are located in London.
Although London trails behind Silicon Valley, it is by far the best place in Europe to build a business, as the data shows. Below is a chart of London based startup exits 2018 to 2020 (from Dealroom’s public domain data).
Here are some notable ones.
- TransferWise, valued at $3.5B, May 2019, acquired by Vitruvian Partners, Andreessen Horowits, Lead Edge, Black Rock, Lone Pine Capital.
- Flyt.io, valued at £22M, Jan 2019, was acquired by JustEat.
- City Pantry, valued at £16M, Jul 2019, was acquired by JustEat.
- Look After My Bills, valued at £13M, was acquired by GoCompare.
- WorldPay, valued at £6.3B, Oct 2015, £2.2B IPO.
Beauhurst, a great resource in itself, has published a blog post where they analysed their data to lay out a few predictions about future exits by focusing on companies with 5 fundraisings and a total value of over £100m.
It could be incompetence, mismanagement of funds, pricing/cost issues, poor marketing, lack of experience in the industry, not building the right team, personal problems or another one, but reasons to fail are not few. In fact, many reports and resources point out a consensus about a 90% fail rate for startups.
According to the report on Small Biz Trends of all small businesses started in 2014:
- 80 per cent made it to the second year (2015);
- 70 per cent made it to the third year (2016);
- 62 per cent made it to the fourth year (2017);
- 56 per cent made it to the fifth year (2018). (Source: 12)
Beauhurst again has a great post about this where they have gathered a top 10 of the UK’s biggest startup failures. It is worth checking out. Another good resource is failory.com, where founders talk about what went wrong and what they have learned.
Bottom line: If you are a founder, you are doing a disservice to your ecosystem every time you decide not to share a mistake or a fail story you learned something from.
7. List of Commonly Used Resources
- Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2019 by Startup Genome (Link)
- UK Tech On The Global Stage – Tech Nation Report 2019 (Link)
- Tech Nation and Dealroom.co Report – The UK has become the world’s hottest tech hub in 2019 (Link)
- Silicon Valley Bank Startup Outlook Survey-UK Report 2019 (Link)
- UK Tech Talent Tracker Infographic by Accenture (Link)
- Business Incubators and Accelerators: The National Picture by Nesta (Link)
- London Tech Scene at a glance by London&Partners (Link)
- Tech Nation Report 2018 (Link)
- UK Startup Ecosystem – ITA (Link)
- Tech Nation & Dealroom.Co website (Link)
- JLL Jones Lang LaSalle – London leads the global ranking for talent concentrations (Link)
- Small Biz Trends website (Link)
- NN Investment partners website (Link)
- 2019: A Record Year for the UK Tech (Link)
- Financial Stability Review 2019 (Link)
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