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Silicon Culture in London

Changing the world a business idea at a time. As Julie Hanna, Obama’s global entrepreneurship advisor so aptly said: “If we weren’t entrepreneurs, we would all be activists.”

Last week I had the great fortune to join the London Mayor’s Female Founder Mission to San Francisco. And what an experience it was.

The energy was infectious and every one of us have come back to London with the vision to take our businesses to new heights.

Being in Silicon valley inspired me to have that aspiration and also to look at what London has given to help us get this far, and how the combination of the two cultures is the greatest potential opportunity.

So what is the secret sauce in London that combined with the investment and aspiration of the valley will mean the next unicorns are made?

Start-up Ecosystem

Getting to scale-ups with the potential to come on this trip, is only possible because of the incredible ecosystem in London that gave us the foundations to build some incredible businesses in the first place.

Britain is one of the best places to set up a business- from SEIS which is the most innovative tax policy to support innovative start-ups, to equity crowdfunding where the UK is the global leader, to incredible programs like the Mayor’s International Business program which helps start-ups to grow businesses internationally.

The ability to start a tech-business and get early traction has never been stronger and Silicon Valley could learn from London.

Industry disruption

In our group, we have Prop-tech companies (UnderTheDoormat), Health-tech (Emoquo, Vida and Harley Therapy), Education-tech (BridgeU) and Fin-tech (Zenkai). The convergence of technology and major industries in London means that real disruption is taking place with technology as the enabler to fundamental industry disruption.

Maybe because of its imperial past, or perhaps because of the incredible immigrants who have come to Britain, there is a global outlook, experience and workforce which means startups with global aspirations find success in London- and then take them global.

Silicon Valley talks about how they find diverse teams and London companies already have them- particularly the businesses on this trip who all have gender diverse teams as a given, and international, socio-economic and diversity of experience partly because of the diversity of talent in London.

Bootstrapping mentality

While the investment community is starting to wake up to London and investments are on the rise, British businesses are taking more investment dollars than any other European country by a mile and most companies haven’t been funded at a Series A level in the very early years and investors often want to see proven traction before handing over cash.

The bootstrapping mentality means that companies are poised for growth having achieved so much with very little and that gives UK entrepreneurs an incredible dose of grit and perseverance.

Silicon Valley investors back a team and an aspiration – if British investors learn from that aspirational investment approach, there is no shortage of companies that could be the next unicorn.

Having been on the Mission, I personally take back the ambition, the openness to help my fellow Founders and the belief that if we can bottle up the insatiable optimism and combine that with all the great things we have in London, we will likely have several unicorns amongst the amazing women I had the honour to spend the week with.

Bridging the two cities through this mission means that I have found potential angel investors, partnerships with people who will use UnderTheDoormat, and the aspiration to bring my company to the US much quicker than I had originally planned.

If each of us gives back in the way the entrepreneurs openly offered to do for us, the impact we can all have for our businesses, the jobs we will all create and future entrepreneurs we can inspire at home will be incredible.

Merilee Karr