Despite the challenges of the past 12 months, there has been one undisputed success story to emerge from the pandemic: the growth of Britain’s tech sector. All in all, 20,000 tech entrepreneurs took the plunge and created a new business last year, according to figures from Tech Nation. This has helped tech start-ups and scale-ups in the UK to more than double their collective value since 2017. In all, they are now valued at $585bn (£422.6bn), which is more than double the next most valuable European scale-up ecosystem, Germany.
‘Even in the midst of a global pandemic, the UK’s entrepreneurial spirit cannot be dampened,’ said Gerard Grech, Chief Executive of Tech Nation, who recently released their 2021 annual report. His comments perfectly sum up how the past year has gone for many of our best tech innovators – and those who are seeking to reach that level. As an agile law firm specialising in supporting ambitious businesses from start-up to scale-up, Harper James has witnessed this tech revolution first-hand.
While we have been helping newly formed tech businesses to start out on their business lifecycle, we also provide counsel to those enjoying rapid expansion. Hopin, the biggest tech success story of the past year, are among the hundreds of tech clients Harper James supports. The online events platform raised $150m in 2020, but has gone on to raise a further $400m Series C round from American venture capital firms, Andreessen Horowitz and General Catalyst. Now, it is valued at an incredible $5.65bn.
Rob Cobley, an IP and commercial technology partner at Harper James Solicitors, has led the team advising Hopin. He believes their success and of the tech sector in general will only continue as we move into 2021: ‘Last year was a turning point for fast-forwarding technology adoption across all sectors of the economy, at work and at home. Necessity is the mother of invention, and time and time again the tech sector, and our customers, have shown entrepreneurship and innovation in challenging times.’
‘While uncertainty remains, as we move into an increasingly hybrid world, the growing demand for digital services and consumers conditioned to next-day convenience means the importance of technology to business success will continue to drive innovation into 2021 and beyond.’
This increase in tech businesses has also contributed to a rapid growth in job vacancies across Britain’s technology sector. Vacancy levels have risen sharply since the beginning of the year, from 85,500 live vacancies in January to 116,000 as of 5 March. Overall, tech employment in the UK has increased by 11% in the past two years, now reaching almost three million people. And this success is not just being played out in London.
In the tech sector specifically, four cities outside of the capital – Glasgow, Oxford, Leeds and Newcastle – achieved record levels of VC investment in 2020.
Rob is clear that this nationwide surge in tech should not be overlooked or underplayed: ‘This momentum, coupled with government grants, a buoyant VC sector and investors looking to support entrepreneurs means you could say there has never been a better time to start a tech company. As we’ve seen in the last 12 months, those tech businesses both big and small who have prospered have been the ones who are not only grounded by hard-wired sustainability but who have also shown the ability to be dynamic, to innovate and to adapt and scale in a changing market.’
For those looking to make the leap and join this tech revolution, Harper James Solicitors is ready and willing to support them, as the law firm for entrepreneurs: ‘We are perfectly placed because we understand the challenges faced by early-stage start-ups. We as a business have lived it, and continue to live it, not just as part of our own exciting growth but sharing in the experiences of the hundreds of start-ups who are our customers. As a start-up in the tech world, it’s not a question of if you will have to consider the legal issues affecting your business, it’s a question of when. For some start-ups, that means getting to grips with what is sometimes a complex legal framework. To really support start-ups when they need advice most, lawyers need to be accessible and great value. Those are two of the things we are really passionate about. But the real value at HJ comes from our experience, having been there before and having a legal team who can support you with anything from day-to-day queries to investor relations and getting a trademark.’