Could Brexit push London’s European start-up talent towards Dublin?
The thriving London start-up ecosystem is what it is because of overseas talent. Will Brexit wreck that? Image: elenaburn/Shutterstock

Dublin calling: Could Brexit push London’s European start-up talent elsewhere?

7 Jun 2017

Could Dublin emerge as a safety net for UK start-ups’ facing Brexit woes, who want to protect their precious investment in people from the EU?

While funding levels have never been better, Brexit will hit London’s start-up talent pipeline hard, warned the founder of Global Tech Advocates.

London may be the epicentre of tech in Europe, but London start-ups would be nothing without the talented people from the EU and elsewhere who work in these ventures.

‘The money is still flowing and that suggests there is more growth to come, but for that to happen we need sufficient levels of talent to fill that as we step outside the EU

Russ Shaw, founder of Global Tech Advocates, warned that London fintech businesses may need to look at opening offices in Dublin in order to avoid losing highly skilled talent when Brexit becomes a reality.

Shaw was speaking with ahead of today’s launch of Tech Belfast Advocates, a network of technology leaders, experts and investors dedicated to championing Belfast.

The group is the latest chapter of Global Tech Advocates, which has groups in over 50 countries and territories around the world.

The organisation boasts 5,000 tech experts, leaders and investors. Global chapters include Tech London Advocates, Tech Bay Avocates, Tech Nordic Advocates and now Tech Belfast Advocates.

While there is an Ireland subgroup of Tech London Advocates, Shaw said it is a matter of entrepreneurs volunteering to create a Tech Dublin Advocates group or a Tech Cork Advocates group, for example.

Subgroups include women in tech, fintech, creative tech, AR, VR and internet of things, as well as Tech London Advocates China and Tech London Advocates India.

“All of the groups are volunteer-led. It is a not-for-profit and is designed for busy, like-minded people to come together. All I ask of advocates is to make sure they speak with a consistent voice about the good and not so good features of their respective ecosystems.”

Shaw said he is hoping entrepreneurs would emerge to create full chapters for other Irish cities.

In Belfast for example, Tech Belfast Advocates is led by Karena Vaughan, entrepreneur and managing director of Catalina Consulting.

Shaw said membership of the groups provides access to entrepreneurs and founders across the UK, as well as in San Francisco, India and China.

Brexit barrier to threaten the growing London start-up ecosystem

“Each ecosystem has its own attributes. Belfast has a growing cybersecurity community based on major investments. Dublin has a growing fintech sector. All of that knowledge and expertise is really important.

“I hope Dublin sets up its own chapter, but it is down to the right leaders emerging.”

Asked how he feels about the impact Brexit will have on London’s thriving start-up ecosystem, Shaw said that London is still attracting major investments from companies like Google, and its venture capital firms are still raising large funds.

However, this does not mask the unease felt by the large numbers of EU nationals who make the London start-up ecosystem what it is.

He said he felt there was a need for greater collaboration between London and Dublin to help start-ups offset the impact of Brexit.

“The importance of skilled migration is a factor here. The number of EU nationals working in the tech sector in London is enormous.

“A key part of the success of the tech sector in London has been global and local talent coming together, sharing ideas and doing knowledge transfer. No one tech hub has all the answers, so bringing in talent really helps to round out that knowledge base. For example, Belfast has become an important cybersecurity hub for Europe and it’s part of the city’s DNA.

“Dublin, likewise, has a reputation for fintech.”

Shaw said that, speaking as an ex-pat living in London, there are concerns within the city’s tech community about the future, and specifically passporting rights.

“One of the things that will happen is we assume we will lose passporting rights. London fintech businesses will need to look at opening offices in Dublin, and Dublin will benefit by working with London fintech players.”

Crucially, Shaw said that the real pain point will be talent.

“The challenges around talent are real. The investment side has held up: Atomico has raised $765m for its fourth fund – Europe’s biggest tech fund – and Draper Esprit has also closed its new £160m fund.

“So the money is still flowing and that suggests there is more growth to come, but for that to happen we need sufficient levels of talent to fill that as we step outside the EU.

“Dublin has great talent, and the giants of tech understand that. We need to be figuring out how London and Dublin can work together as Brexit becomes a reality,” Shaw said.

Oxford Street, London. Image: elenaburn/Shutterstock

John Kennedy
By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years. His interests include all things technological, music, movies, reading, history, gaming and losing the occasional game of poker.

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