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Supporting and growing London's innovation ecosystem

E19 with Janet Coyle, Managing Director Business in London & Partners.

We discussed how businesses stepped up the collaboration in the times of crisis, how London & Partners supports London’s ecosystem, and how business landscape may be influenced by Covid and Brexit.

- Janet, great to have you. We are discussing collaborative business models and how companies build ecosystems. But you're doing something much more interesting, which is building an innovation ecosystem around London. And it is obviously much more challenging. So, today, I would love to talk with you about a couple of subjects. Number one, how do you do that in London & Partners? Number two, how do you see companies engage in collaborative business models these days? And number three is that all is happening with COVID on the backdrop, which we cannot omit in our conversation. It would be great to start with how do you build the innovation ecosystem in London & Partners? What is the vision and how do you do it day to day?

Let me just start by explaining who we are. London & Partners is the International Trade Promotion investment agency for London, essentially. We work really closely with the Mayor of London and his team, and we attract businesses, events, students, visitors into London. But from a business perspective, we help international businesses who are wanting to establish a presence here. But we also help a lot of the London business community. We help startups to scale and grow. And we also help the high growth businesses to scale ups to expand internationally, to win business internationally and to win investment. In that context, we very much feel that we do build an ecosystem in London for business and we work in collaboration with the London ecosystem, whether that's with the big corporates, whether that's with other stakeholders like the City of London. But also with the various innovation hubs, whether that's here in East in Plexal or up in Kings Cross you've got the Digital Catapult or in White City Imperial's Hub that's recently been developed. Everything we do is in collaboration.

- Can you talk a little bit more on what are the key initiatives of building this ecosystem? What are the most impactful things? I know that you personally used to run events, which is Silicon Valley Comes to the UK, which I think is brilliant. Tell us a little bit more about that.

- To get into a little bit more detail. Whether it's an event or whether it's a program, we really need to be listening to our audiences and to the clients, to the businesses, which we do a lot. A few years ago, we built two programs essentially to help the startups and the scale ups. One is called the Business Growth Programme where it's predominantly for startups. It's a three month accelerator to help them to really grow and get that support. The other is the Mayor's International Business Program, which again is a cohort model. Companies join for 12 months, they get access to workshops, to international visits, to bespoke coaching. But we spend a lot of time really learning what those needs are of these scale ups, which markets they want to go into and why, and then we build the program to suit them. We've been having phenomenal results and impact from that program. And a lot of that was modeled on Silicon Valley comes to the UK, which we're still running out of London & Partners. That's now in its 14th year. And Silicon Valley comes to the UK is still about combining and bringing together the two of the most prominent ecosystems of tech in the world - Silicon Valley and the UK. But we're broadening that now into other tech ecosystems around the world. That will continue this year throughout the year with our annual summit in November. We're always looking at ways of supporting the ecosystem in a way that's bringing the companies together, so they can have peer to peer support. But also give them access to the phenomenal talent, to the corporates, to the investors. If you're a scale-up, you need access to all of those things. We try to build programs and events to give them that access. We have London Tech Week next week, as you've just referenced. As you know, with London Tech Week we're now in its seventh year, that's really scaled. London Tech Week, actually, the main festival is in September, but next week we're running a few digital events as a bit of a warm up called London Tech Week Connects. And that's scaled through collaboration with Tech London Advocates, with Informa Tech founders, which includes Founders Forum. And typically we have about 300 events that take place over a period of the week. And we attract about 60,000 attendees from about 100 countries. Clearly we're in a very different environment right now. We're still expecting very large numbers of attendees, but we've pivoted to deliver that content virtually.

- The warm up, which you mentioned, has Hillary Clinton as a headliner, right?

- Yes, Hillary Clinton is actually on the last day on Friday. All these things for next week are centered around those technologies that have been thriving and demonstrating resilience through the pandemic that we're all working and living through. We're going to have a real spotlight on Edtech, on healthTech, on resilience in technology, on the investment landscape. And then towards the end of the week, we have AccelerateHER , which is shining a spotlight on diversity and really exciting. We have Cherie Blair interviewing Hillary Clinton.

- Truly amazing. Going back to scale ups and how companies scale today. Since you have unparalleled visibility of how companies scale, what is your sense on the recent trends? Apart from COVID, what are the recent trends, how they are changing? What companies are actually doing now that they haven't done before?

- For scale ups to succeed and keep growing and having the reach, they need to access the four things. They need access to investment, access to talent, access to corporates, so they can sell their stuff, and access new markets. We are helping with all of those four challenges, if you like, to support the scale up community. Now what we're seeing in terms of maybe new trends and new ways of scaling if you like. The businesses, the scale ups I see are doing very well, who are thriving, are those who are managing what I would call a smart partnering. They are very strategic in who they're going to partner with during this period. And think about how they want to come out into the recovery mode in the next few months, and who they want to come out with. Who are really going to help them have the reach that they want, have the profile and help them to build their story. So partnering is one. The scale ups that I'm seeing that are successfully building diverse teams, and that genuinely is a new trend. And it's a very positive one that we are absolutely advocating. Those are the scale ups that are going to be more profitable. McKinsey did a report a couple of weeks ago that you might have seen that showed businesses that are managing to have diverse teams. Particularly at the exec level are potentially going to be 25% more profitable. There is genuinely a shift in the ecosystem to try and support that. Companies like The Dots. I don't know if you know Pip Jamieson. who runs The Dots. She's built a whole business around helping companies build diverse teams. But you've then got companies who are thinking about that international footprint now. They're not waiting until we come out of the pandemic. You've got companies like Onfido, the cybertech company that just raised 100 million pounds. That money is going to expanding in the US. We are seeing certain sub sectors within technology that are actually really growing through the pandemic. FinTech being one, CyberTech being another, AI and robotics. Although there are some sectors that are really struggling, like tourism, hospitality. We really recognize there's a huge need to support those industries, and especially those small businesses. And I can talk a little bit in a second about how we're doing that. But then on the other side, you've got some of these tech industries, we're on Zoom now, these virtual platforms are having to pivot in a very positive way to meet the demand right now. It's a really interesting ecosystem. So we're looking to see how we can support those businesses that are scaling and give them the right connections and the right platforms in order to continue to grow. This helps our economy, they create more jobs and they also become ambassadors for others. But we also need to help those businesses that are absolutely in survival mode right now. We know there's quite a large percentage that only have about three months' cash runway. We want to make sure that as many of those small businesses survive as possible.

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- Talking about small businesses, how London & Partners helps them and what do you see is actually helping them?

- Initially we set up a business resilience program where we segmented all our different audiences, the different industries. And we hosted a series of round tables, conversations like this, with relatively small groups of businesses who were at the same level of growth, and listened to what their challenges were. We worked with our partners, brought in the expertise to help them understand how to access the grants, the funding, and how to do workforce planning. How to look beyond their three months cash flow, how to help them build their story when they move into recovery? So that continues. We also are working very closely with the Mayor's office on Pay It Forward campaign, which is where we've created for London companies a platform where they can crowdsource investment. And you as a consumer can maybe pre book a dinner in your local restaurant or a haircut in your local barbers or whatever. It may be in three months time, but it means that they're getting the investment now to help their cash flow. We've had really good success with that so far. And then the third thing we're doing is building a new alliance to really support and amplify consumer confidence and consumer spending. To make sure that as we now move into our recovery, and we know that it's a marathon not a sprint, then we want to be able to support those consumers and give them confidence that they can go back into the London economy and spend money. Go into their local shops and start to buy things, but do that in a way that's safe. Safe for their health and safe in terms of the broader challenges that we've all been facing in terms of social distancing.

- I really like your Pay It Forward campaign. It is not just a charity. It's a way to actually pay businesses, make sure that they're relevant and signal them that they're actually going to be relevant in the future. From your perspective, how do you think this marathon of change will influence London's innovation ecosystem?

- In a number of ways, really. I think a lot of these new ways of working - the way we are having a conversation now, the virtual events we're doing, I think they will continue in the future. About two weeks ago we kickstarted a series of virtual trade missions. Because we have businesses who are ready to do business in New York, in Shanghai, and we wanted to continue to support them. We had 12 businesses and we took them for a day in New York, all via a digital platform. And we connected them to corporates, to investors, to influencers in a series of meetings, and we made it very interactive. And what's interesting in terms of the learnings from this virtual trade mission, is that it's going to open up this opportunity to more entrepreneurs. Because typically we take about 15 companies on a trade mission. We go for four or five days, we fly halfway across the world, they have to pay for their own flights. This is completely changing the landscape. If we're able to take more companies out to Shanghai, San Francisco, to Berlin, they don't need to pay for flights, they don't need to leave their workplace and their family for a week. What we're hoping is that it opens it up to possibly more underrepresented entrepreneurs. They may not have the finance or may not have the opportunity to travel around the world for a whole week. I feel that it's creating opportunities, that we're all pivoting, but I don't think it's just for the short term. I think for some of these, the new ways of working are going to be here for the longer term. Another opportunity we have, which has been discussed quite a lot, is obviously climate change and the way emissions are lower, the air is a lot cleaner. We should be looking to come out of this as a city that is fairer, that is cleaner, that's more inclusive, it's more sustainable. So I think if we can collectively all work towards that common goal, then I feel as if we're coming out with some real positive goals at the end of this. And I think there's a lot of real ambition to do this across London and probably more broadly across the UK.

- I do agree with you that there is some blessing in disguise that will experience hopefully in the future. With all of this becoming digital, democratizing access, I think it could bring a lot of positive effects.

- I think what is also done, I've noticed it from a local community level, but a broader London ecosystem level, is this spirit of collaboration. We have been inundated with businesses wanting to support the crisis if you like. Whether that's a company from overseas wanting to donate face masks, or whether it's Claridge's hotel opening up to NHS workers and giving them free dinners and rooms for the night. I think this spirit of collaboration, it's always been there, but I think it's been really exaggerated during this crisis. Some of the businesses on our programs, there is a company called What We Want, I'm not sure if you heard about them. They've been pivoting to manufacturing face visors that they've been giving to the NHS. And you've got a health tech company Medic Bleep, founded by Imperial, a great London University. They're working with BT and rolling out "WhatsApp for doctors", and it's a messaging service across the NHS to help them communicate. As with any period of crisis if you like, there's always this great entrepreneurship that comes out of it. London as a city has been reinventing itself for hundreds and hundreds of years. And we will continue to do so. And I think if anything, this provides an opportunity to rethink the way we work, the way we travel perhaps, and the way we collaborate with others across the city. There are some really positive stories.

- It's actually very exciting. When it comes to partnerships. it’s generally very important to figure out who you should partner with and how to prioritize different partners. Who you partner with and how do you prioritize different partners for London & Partners?

- Really good question, because as you can imagine, we've got a fantastic network. Not just in London, but internationally. For us we identify partners who share our common vision and our common goal and our values. When I look for a partner, I look for a partner who actually embodies good growth and diversity and inclusion. And really understands the need to actually champion this going forward with that collaboration. Whether that's a financial partnership, whether that's co-hosting an event. Or whether that's a partnership to support the businesses on our program. I think it's really important to set out what you're wanting to achieve from that partnership. And then be very targeted about who you want to partner with, who you want on your journey if you like.

- A couple of months ago there was a huge wave of conversation about Brexit and now all of that is not obviously dominating the news cycle anymore. How do you think London will feel compared with other big cities in Europe, and how do you make sure that it will actually stay the center of the innovation ecosystem in Europe in a similar manner like Silicon Valley does in the US?

I genuinely feel that the fundamentals of London have not changed. We have an extremely strong talent pool, we have a very light regulatory system, we have an incredibly creative workforce. And when you look at that combination of what the offer of London is, that's not really changing. What we're doing as a city is continuing to build those really important strategic partnerships across Europe, that we've been doing for many years. That's Paris, Berlin, Madrid - we are continuing to build partnerships with all the other European cities, and we will continue to do that. Even today, we've had a joint event with London and Berlin. We called it The Bridge. And it was all around the FinTech industry, and really highlighting some fantastic businesses from both London and Berlin. We'll be doing more of that. It's about collaboration rather than competition. And, again, we continue to have a lot of interest from businesses all around the world, whether that's Silicon Valley, whether that's China, whether that's India. We have very deep relationships and I think the world still sees London as very much a global city. And also with the work that the government is currently doing in developing those trade agreements in different parts of the world, I'm really interested to see how our businesses can leverage the opportunities that are going to be ahead of us in the months to come.

- Imagine I'm a scaleup CEO, wanting to actually connect better with the London ecosystem and use these opportunities more. What is your advice on who do I follow, where do I plug in, where do I go?

- Well, I would encourage them to come and talk to us initially, because we can help the startups or the scaleups navigate the broader ecosystem, understand what their needs are and plug them into the ecosystem. And we can also help to introduce them to other businesses in their sector, because it's so important for them to get advice and support from peers. If they're looking for support particularly around the current pandemic and how they can find support, we have a business resilience portal on our London & Partners website, its - very straightforward and we've got all the information there where they can access the grants, the funding, the webinars, et cetera. Do direct people there. We've got a Twitter handle @businesslondon. But I would say use us as the first point of call, because it's quite a complex ecosystem, but it's hugely supportive one for business. I feel very fortunate to be working within this ecosystem. I think pay it forward is very strong here, whether it's working with universities like yourselves or whether it's working with the investors, the co-working spaces, the innovation hubs. We can access all of that and really help our scale-ups to have the right introduction.

- Last question. Emerging from this string of events with COVID, what do you think a crown jewel of the London innovation ecosystem will be? It's been historically FinTech, cybersecurity and so on. Where do you think strengths will remain or maybe new strengths will be gained? And what makes you actually excited about the next chapter of growth?

- I've already highlighted some of the trends we're seeing in terms of the sub sectors that are starting to really shine out in terms of growth. As you said, it's FinTech, it's robotics, AI, healthtech. Some of the EdTech is shining through as well. There are some growth sectors. There are obviously businesses that are showing, about 77% of UK businesses are showing a bit of a drop in revenue, which we would probably expect right now. But in terms of the future, and what makes me excited if you like, it's really supporting and nurturing those businesses that are really able to come out of here with a strong story. A strong story about their resilience, but also how they've collaborated, and how they have accessed this phenomenal ecosystem to actually help them to the next stage. And also, I think the other thing that really excites me, is what I talked about earlier. Is this opportunity that we genuinely have as an ecosystem, to be more diverse, to be cleaner, to have a fairer ecosystem for everybody. And if we don't get that right, I think that’d be a real shame. I would really encourage anyone listening to let us know if they want to be a part of that journey.


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