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Back to the classroom for entrepreneurs who want to change London tech

·4-min read
 Old Street, London ( Samuel Regan-Asante on Unsplash)
Old Street, London ( Samuel Regan-Asante on Unsplash)

London’s tech investors have been sitting pretty in the last couple of years, raising record amounts of capital and watching their investments - including companies based in the capital like Revolut, Checkout.com and Gousto - reach unicorn status in record time.

The capital’s tech companies raised £18bn out of a total £29.4bn across the whole of the UK last year and London is home to 20 new unicorns, a third of all those in Europe.

But there are a few critical voices gathering force that suggest the tech world is just another tight-knit boys club, and a pretty white one at that, just like the City in its 80s and 90s heyday.

A 2019 survey by pressure group Diversity.VC found that just 30% of VC personnel were women and that only 24% of the venture workforce is non-white.

Another report from Extend Ventures, which looked at how VC has been invested in the UK between 2009 and 2019, shows the consequences of a lack of diversity in the sector. During that time, all-ethnic teams received an average of just 1.7% of the venture capital investment made at all stages, over the decade.

Increasingly, concerned voices in tech and government are saying that if the UK’s tech sector is to succeed, it can’t just be a career or industry for people who all look and sound alike.

A new course called Newton Venture Program, a joint venture from London Business School and early stage investor LocalGlobe, backed by Silicon Valley Bank, is seeking to change that by teaching investing skills to people who don’t come from the backgrounds typically associated with the sector. To do so, the course intends at least half its students will come from overlooked gender groups (not just female) and half from overlooked ethnic backgrounds.

Applications are now open for the first in-person course to be held at London Business School in April. A further 60 trainees can join Newton’s digital course, which starts in March.

The Standard talked to two entrepreneurs about their experience of learning to be a VC.

Vinit Patel (VP) co-founded Filtered.com, a learning tech company that already works with global companies including Novartis, Shell and AstraZeneca. While Stephen Bediako (SB) OBE is a social entrepreneur who has set up businesses in London and the US.

Can you learn how to be an investor?

SB: I’m early in my journey but there are a set of methods, approaches and calculations you have to learn. It’s also about judgement - is this the right leader? Is this the right organisation? Do they know their customers? Is there really a market? When you break it down - it’s a lot about people and their behaviours.

Why this course?

VP: I liked its focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, addressing bias and building networks. If you have a strong foundation like this, it makes the deals you source so much better and diverse.

What have you learned?

SB: I’ve learnt a core set of modules that act as a step-by-step guide on my investment journey. I’ve also learnt that I can do it, although it’s going to take weeks, months and years of commitment to master investment. Finally, I learnt that some parts of the sector are committed to making investment more diverse.

Is there a problem with VC in London?

VP: The main issue VCs in London face is their London bias. It can’t be the case that the best companies are founded/based in London; there are great companies and founders across the UK!

SB: It’s dominated by a small homogeneous group of people, and it could be doing so much more for good. It could be driving so much more innovation and value if it was more diverse. However, VC moves and learns fast, and I think it’s changing fast.

Isn’t being an entrepreneur the best education for investing?

SB: The reality is investing is about being able to see a market, its customers and understanding that a business can grow to meet that market/customer needs. For me investing and entrepreneurialism are like siblings - deeply connected but still unique in their own right.

What one deal do you wish you’d done?

VP: Hofy, Remote Equipment Management platform - I’m a customer and came close to investing. Great team, great investors, and huge problem that they are successfully solving.

SB: My close friend started a scooter business three years ago - I thought it was a fad. It’s now one of the fastest growing scooter businesses and it’s transforming travel in the USA and Europe!

Tell us what will be the next Apple?

VP: If you mean the next most valuable company in the world in say the next 10 years... then it either doesn’t exist today, will come from China or might just be one of FAGMA still.

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