Since the beginning of the pandemic, the organisers of many annual conferences have had to move their usual “in-person” events to online platforms – London Tech Week has not been an exception to this; and it is fitting that an event focused on the future of technology was held online using the best conference/networking technology that is currently available.
Although we certainly missed the “meeting for coffee” element of the event (which is usually held in the ExCeL Centre in London), LTW was clearly a success and the quality of the presentations and discussions is testament to the UK being a world leader in technology.
Whilst there were a large number of interesting thoughts and ideas coming out of the events that we attended, our key highlights are as follows:
- Blockchain/DLT – the use of blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT) is more pervasive in businesses than we think most of the general public appreciate. Large players in industries such as shipping (e.g. FedEx), banking (e.g. Goldman Sachs) and import/export companies now have dedicated teams set up to explore the use of DLT in their own businesses (e.g. through the use of smart legal contracts, development of cyptoassets, creating a sophisticated audit trail, etc). As the wider business community become use to the idea that DLT is more than just “bitcoin”, and as better and more energy efficient distributed ledger technology gets developed, the use of DLT will eventually become commonplace. However, DLT is certainly not a “magic bullet”; but we do believe that the use-case for many industries will develop over time.
- UK as a global technology hub – although London Tech Week focuses on the technology sector in London and the UK as a whole, it is clear that the event is truly international; and we had virtual coffees with tech enthusiast/entrepreneurs from countries such as India, Latvia and the US. A common theme is that the UK is still, and will continue to be, a global technology hub. The availability of talent with the experience of working for or starting tech-focused businesses, the progressive regulation and Government support to encourage innovate tech companies (the new UK Future Fund supported by the British Business Bank is a clear example of this) and the maturity of our technology ecosystem are some of the key reasons why the UK is still seen as a great place for start-ups to lay down their roots. It is also becoming clear that the UK’s tech-scene is no longer focused solely on the “Silicon Roundabout”; with many exciting technology ventures being headquartered in places such as Cambridgeshire and the South East (Kent, Surrey and Sussex).
- COVID-19 and the future of work – as one would imagine, the pandemic and the future of work was a big feature of this year’s event. It was no surprise to those who are involved in the technology sector as to how well businesses adapted to remote working; and, unsurprisingly, how a new sub-industry has grown out of the need to adapt to the new way of working. Although the technology has been around for a while, we joined a discussion where the use of virtual reality for business/board meetings was debated and overall it was seen as a positive use of the technology – not only during a pandemic, but also to reduce the carbon footprint of global directors and managers who are constantly travelling in order to attend such meetings.
- Consolidation of the Tech market – a number of roundtable webinars included venture capital and private equity investors who often agreed that some tech sub-sectors, such as FinTech, were primed for market consolidation. The rise of FinTechs over the last five to ten years has been exponential, and it is a sub-sector that many VC and PE firms focus their energy when looking to invest funds. As a consequence, the view held by such investors is that M&A and consolidation between competing businesses in FinTech, and the technology sector as a whole, is likely to continue (and grow further) over the next couple of years. This also reflects what we are seeing here at Thomson Snell & Passmore. A number of technology clients we work with have seen significant investment over recent years – from seed/series A&B investment, to majority-share acquisitions.
It is clear from the discussions we had with a number of London Tech Week participants that the pandemic (although tragic both for the individuals and their families who have suffered; as well as the consequences that it has had on the economy) has accelerated both the use of and the need for new technologies to provide solutions to problems which may not have existed this time last year.
In many ways the increased investment that the UK technology industry is likely to see in coming years has been on the horizon for some time, but the need for further development is more apparent now than it would have been pre-pandemic. The discussions at London Tech Week not only proved this to be the case, but also showed that the UK is leading the charge.
Our Technology team at Thomson Snell & Passmore has a strong record of providing legal advice to technology businesses on everything from M&A, corporate and finance law, to employment, property and commercial contracts. Please do feel free to get in touch should you wish to discuss how we can help your business, or indeed, any aspect of this article which might have caught your attention.