Why London Needs Tech Entrepreneurs

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London could be a hotbed of tech innovation, if it could generate more of a local buzz, says Martin Warner

Tech investment works in Silicon Valley, but over here in the UK it is fragmented and goes nowhere, according to investment guru Martin Warner. He’s hoping to change that with an event that will bring together the different partie involved in turning tech ideas into start-ups companies.

“Things are so bad here, that recently a good VC company left London and went back to Boston, because it preferred to be closer to MIT,” he told eWEEK Europe. “There is plenty of innovation and there are capital firms here, but there is more of a focus over there.” VC firms, it seems, find it easier to do business in the States.

“In Silicon Valley everyone knows each other – they live on the same street,” he says.

Gathering the best ideas?

Warner is running Tech Entrepreneurs’ Week in London, an event designed to get investors and entrepreneurs together in London, building on David Cameron’s call for a Tech City community in London, generally referred to as “Silicon Roundabout“.

At the centre of the event is a contest with a prize of £50,00 investment, which will be judged by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. But the prize is not the main point of the event, he said. The £795 entry gets access to an opportunity for networking and gathering advice and guidance.

Every finalist in the contest will be exposed to the view of the UK’s investment community, and could come out with a greater sum of money in investment, if they put their ideas across well.

“Twenty of the world’s largest VCs will look at the last fifteen finalists,” said Warner.  He expects to hit his maximum number of 200 entrants, and says that a number of them will be “investible” . It will also have up to 300 non-competition delegates, who pay a lower price to come along for the networking.

London needs this event, while established investment communities don’t need such pitching competitions, he said.  In other places, the avenues of communication already exist. “There is a lack of structure in Silicon Valley, and a true network effect. It is a very different market, because it has already built density.”

London is trying to change its image through things like Silicon Roundabout, and wants to be known for something other than financial services, said Warner.

Seed funding, not growth

The competition aims to provide seed funding – a figure of £50,000 would normally be seed funding – but growth funding in the millions would be the next thing firms would want when they have established what they are going to do.
Panelists will coach the finalists and the last 15 will make a pitch to the 20 investors in the room. “If they have come that far from 200 entrants, many will enter into due diligence,” said Warner.

Why is Jimmy Wales on the jury? “Wikipedia is an inspirational story,” said Warner, citing Wales’ ability to see what will work and put his effort behind it. “He knows crowdsourcing, and he is an obsessive thinker.” Wikipedia is a charity but it is a model that clearly works, he said.

What does he want to see from the event? “A home grown winner, originating from somewhere like London, that is persuaded to stay there.” If the next Facebook is being thought up in London, he’d like to see it grow there.

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