This is the first of a two part interview with Jennifer Arcuri…. @, the dynamic London based entrepreneur. Chief instigator of the Innotech event, bringing together entrepreneurs, investors and policy makers in London. Currently working on the missing link between broadcast/VOD.
#Love2playw/video. Living in London; Launching in Singapore. @playboxltd
How do you find living in London?
Ah London. I am no stranger to big cities, but London takes the top for all of them! For a city, steeped in tradition and heritage, its been one of the fast moving, ever evolving places I have ever lived. I first came to London in 2008 for a Bollywood film and then back again at the top of 2011. When I first arrived four years ago, tech was just getting started… and it was such a breath of fresh air to be able to move over and to move into a community that was just starting to formalize itself. And then as the community grew, you can’t help but feel a sense of pride for what you are participating in.
It was soon that I became London’s biggest cheerleader for tech; a walking ambassador of how anyone can establish and build a company in London.
What would you say to someone considering moving there?
London is constantly improving itself and in transition of “makeover.” It depends on what you want to move back here for… If you are looking to join the rat race, then you need to be here. It’s only a matter of time before we start turning over big tech companies. Find your niche here because the city can be quite lonely without some kind of leveling ground. But that’s true for most big cities.
Come stay at the Tech Hotel in Shoreditch! This is the other business I run that welcomes newbies into the community. We are a hotel for like minded entrepreneurs who are looking for a bit of excitement and fun in east London.
What are some of the challenges of being a tech start up in London at the moment? What do you think is going to be the next challenge for entrepreneurs in the UK?
Over the last four years we have seen a multitude of challenges faced by start-ups—all the basics: funding, talent, office space, bandwidth, etc. What’s interesting to note is that there has been a progression of solutions that have appeared from corporates, government and the universities to start solving the problems of our cities start-ups. So no, its not all solved—but slowly bit by bit—things are getting much better. Additionally various focus groups such as Tech London Advocates, Coadec, and various events held by entrepreneurs focus the discussion for implementing change.
These groups help keep a fluid discussion in what needs to happen in the tech community in order to move forward. This is what should happen. It’s part of the process in building an effective ecosystem. Oftentimes I think Londoners and the media like to jump to the prospect of “doom” too soon.. “Why aren’t we like Silicon Valley? Where is the next Google UK?” Etc etc…. To which I always reply “Oh its coming … we are just getting started … and yes, while tech has been around longer in the UK, but “sh*t just got real four years ago? ”
We should celebrate what has been accomplished in London. And the many wonderful companies that are now, just getting good, because we decided to focus our efforts on building a digital economy in the UK.
For example, for years you had a more likelihood of being struck by lightning than to obtain a visa to work in the UK. Ok so I may be exaggerating here—but as someone who waited for three years to get an entrepreneurs visa, I have been through it all!!
Now, after various programs such as the Sirius Program with UKTI or the special digital skills visa made available by Tech City UK, there are other avenues for young people to come over here and set up a business.
Another example of one the “problem areas” has been seed investment. With the advent of SEIS/ EIS funding, raising £150,000 is no longer an issue. The bigger challenge as we start to see our companies grow is, how do we align the proper product development people and team together to scale these high growth companies properly?
How do we give them access to capital to raise series A, B and successful exits to stay in London? Where are our series B Fund competitors?
This will be the ultimate challenge for tech in London in 2015.
The access to talent is another overbearing issue, always complained about publicly.. And while I completely identify with this problem, having experienced my own hiring hangups this year, and after running a series of tech policy discussions around digital skills I can say with confidence that the UK government is not going to let this issue go.
While it is a problem, and will take some time to not only build in talent, to relocate talent, and inevitably home grow talent— we are in the middle of a transition within the skills and job market. So having said that, rather than lament the loss of skill– I would rather focus my energy on training and investing a team to have the skills we need to grow. In otherwords, if this is the greatest challenge—then continue to fight for the best team possible in order to build your company. Just get on with it.
I have no doubt in my mind that London will continue to “evolve” into a better landscape for scaling high growth companies as well as turning out world class talent. It’s a problem now—but after testifying to what has been done in the last four years here, there is nothing stopping London and the greater of the UK to get the skills gap filled and functioning– so that we have a proper work force for a digital economy.
Is there anything you miss about US? Pros / cons. There is a lot of great energy, get up and go over there, people perhaps quicker to just try things out. What are you thoughts?
Of course I miss lots about the USA. I miss clean healthy food in California, the lovely sunshine and yoga on the beach … I miss bagels, pizza and the Brooklyn Promenade in New York. But both New York and California aren’t going anywhere—I’m not fussed b/c I’m not there and chose to be in London instead.
In your video for Innotech 2013, you mention young kids coding. What ideas do you have on how to get more kids interested in things like coderdojo or anything similar?
Oh yes I am quite passionate about this! I am keen to inspire young boys and girls to explore their options. The amazing part of learning about technology is how it continues to open doors to new possibilitis. Whether you want to learn about fashion or history, there is a tech element needed for 21st century society.
When we worked with Founders for Schools, we had the whole day to go in and work with kids in helping them establish the ability to think like entrepreneurs.
Not everyone is going to want to work in “tech” per se—but everyone will need to adapt to the way the job market is changing. And because the jobs that these kids will eventually take on day, don’t necessarily exist yet— we have to keep them open to learning.
Even as adults, we have to stay open to learning new skills. And for that reason alone, inspiring kids to learn as many skills as possible has become a real passion of mine. Stay tuned, in 2015—I am thinking of writing a book on the topic for kids: #YouGotOptions: A teens survival kids to working in a digital economy. ?
We’d love to come and cover the event sometime.
Yes!! Will keep you updated on what we do in 2015 with Innotech Live. More Tech policy discussions surrounding innovative technology in the public sector.Probably a product launch or two. Also we are going to officially launch Playbox Ltd, CTRL+F for video.
Thanks a lot and we look forward to hearing more from Jennifer soon, who is now currently on a two week yoga retreat in Sri Lanka.