Gerard Grech is chief executive of Tech Nation, a growth platform for tech companies and leaders. It has seen start-ups including Monzo through from very early stage to huge success.
Grech is an industry heavyweight – he was recently called to give evidence to the House of Lords on the role of tech in the pandemic and into the future.
He has previously called for UK company founders, the Government and industry leaders to all “gear up to double tech exports by 2025”.
Despite 2020 being “a demanding year with some steep learning curves”, Grech noted it is one of the only sectors seeing significant jobs growth nationwide – and said it is ideally placed to help generate both roles for young people, and a wider economic recovery for the country.
“Entrepreneurs thrive in times of change,” Grech told the Standard. “We’ve been through a pandemic but we can all say that tech is growing at an exponential rate right now.
“Data shows a 36% increase in advertised roles in the sector since June, so in many ways I think tech is relevant in that regard, and can help generate a good recovery from the pandemic.”
Tech Nation offers 89 free online courses helping budding entrepreneurs hone their skills. Grech said the site saw a huge spike during the first lockdown, as people with more time on their hands began to explore.
“It’s ten times faster and cheaper to start a business than it was 10 years ago,” he said. “That will attract all sorts of people with drive and ambition.”
Grech praised the Government’s Future Fund as “very helpful”, and shrugged off the prospect of a no-deal Brexit impacting the sector.
“Brexit is baked in and it’s been baked in for a while,” he said. “We had a record amount of investment in 2019, and it just goes to show the UK is extremely resilient in that regard. The UK tech sector is worth £149 billion to the economy, and has seen 40% growth in the last ten years.
“The UK is miles ahead compared to its European counterparts, and for good reason.
“I think this year we will match last years’ investments.”
Grech, like many tech leaders, is “keen to see as many tech companies list on the London Stock Exchange as possible”.
Recent tech floats on the London Stock Exchange include The Hut Group.
But many tech companies opt for New York IPO instead. London Stock Exchange rules currently discourage company founders from holding special shares to block unwanted takeovers or outside influence.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to relax the rules next year.
“The ecosystem around the LSE is one of most advanced in Europe,” Grech said. “We need to keep fuelling that knowledge, and also to ensure the analysts judge the valuations of companies based on a lot of experience of software businesses – we could do with a lot more of those analysts in London and the UK to make sure valuations are accurate and attractive for companies to list.”
The firm, which has just let go of offices in Manchester and London in favour of a “work from anywhere in the UK policy” for the next 12 months, is offering its employees a life coach on-demand every single day in a bid to ensure staff emotional health is bearing up while working remotely.
The chief executive said: “We all know knowledge worker productivity is linked to happiness and state of mind, and it is all very well to say remote-first, as employers and leaders we have to think what that means.”
Grech spoke as his platform revealed its five favourite early-stage tech companies in London.
A start-up offering productivity suites and a search engine enabling consumers to easily search, discover, compare and shop furniture products across the entire retail market on one website were among start-ups to become London’s winners in the growth platform’s Rising Stars 3.0 contest.
The competition – which has five winners per region and nation – is the UK’s main national contest for early-stage tech companies. It was “designed to showcase the best in the country and to help companies on their growth journey”.
All winners are selected by a panel of industry experts, and will compete for the chance to be named one of Tech Nation’s 10 Rising Stars 3.0 in February. They have the chance to meet leading investors, influencers and corporates, and practice their pitching skills.
Winning a place in the top ten means industry experts are in consensus that a start-up is “on track to become one of the world-leading tech companies of tomorrow”.
The platform’s Eoin Marsh, who leads on the competition, said: ”London’s strength as a global leading tech ecosystem is demonstrated by its position as second in the world behind only Silicon Valley.
“The quality of London applicants to Rising Stars was exceptional this year and for Ufurnish, Vimma, Define, Zobi and Dragonfly AI to be announced as our semi-finalists it is real validation for their businesses in coming through an extremely competitive process.”
Grech said: “I’m excited about the award. We have some people inventing vertical farming software, some inventing blueprints to build net-zero at scale. The evolution of technology is really helping thinking around challenges that are transcending borders.”
Who are the Tech Nation London rising stars?
Ufurnish.com, founded by Deirdre McGettrick and Ray Wright, is an online search and discovery engine which enables consumers to search, compare and shop furniture products across the retail market on one website.
It is “a one-stop-shop for furniture search in the same way Rightmove facilitates property search”. The team aim to create a level playing field for furniture retailers, enabling them to get their products in front of the right consumers.
McGettrick said: “The UK furniture and furnishing market was estimated to be worth £25.5bn in 2019. The online furniture market is one of the fastest growing online retail markets, with a penetration of approximately 30% (up from c.20% in 2018 and 2019). The massive increase in online sales is directly related to Covid19, with a big shift from furniture purchases happening in store to online during 2020.
“The percentage of purchases occuring online is projected to remain and continue to increase long after Covid as consumers are more comfortable than even in making purchases online.”
Define, founded by Nnamdi Emelifeonwu and Feargus MacDaeid, is pitched as a way to make drafting much more simple for City lawyers.
It “optimises the contract drafting and reviewing process by allowing users to quickly access key information in legal documents without ever having to leave the provision they are working on and lose their context of review”.
Define’s mission is to act as a risk management tool and efficiency software, which saves legal minds precious time.
Dragonfly AI, founded by Mark Bainbridge and David Mitchell, uses neuroscience to accurately predict “how the design of any content or experience influences what your audience sees first, across any channel”.
It is able to show users what audience attention is drawn towards, by outputting several attention metrics and visual heat maps over content.
Vimma, founded by Outi Pietilanaho and Mykhailo Loginov, is a productivity suite.
It notes that as 96% of online influencers, so prolific on Instagram, currently do not have access to talent management, they are left to solve their growth and monetisation on their own. Their platform “is building a software toolset to serve their talent management needs”.
Smart home tech start-up, Zobi, founded by Scott Lever, aims to be a cybersecurity measure that puts users’ privacy first.
It offers “brand-agnostic solutions” and builds an anonymous profile for each home. It then uses that intelligence and data gathered to spot unusual behaviour and stop cybercriminals.