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Technology

The UK tech industry is a key growth sector, growing at a faster rate than the UK economy and maintaining its lead as one of the world’s premier locations for tech of all kinds.

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UK tech captured more than a third of the total (£89.5 billion) investment into Europe in 2021, with £29.4 billion raised by UK start-ups and scale-ups. With more money than ever flowing into UK tech – £29.4 billion in 2021, up from 2020’s £11.5 billion – almost £9 billion of all venture capital invested went into start-ups and scale-ups outside London and the South East. The regions are home to nine of the 29 unicorns formed in 2021.

The combined value of UK tech companies founded since 2000 is now £540 billion, after the biggest year-on-year increase since 2013/14. The UK is more attractive to international investors than ever, with 63% of tech investment in 2020 coming from overseas, up from 50% in 2016.

Opportunity highlights

Artificial intelligence (AI)

There are now many applications of AI across a wide range of sectors, from healthcare to manufacturing. The UK is a powerhouse of European AI, home to a third of Europe’s AI start-up companies, twice as many as any other European county.

The UK now has more than 1,300 AI companies - a 600% increase in the number of firms over the last decade - with a collective turnover of almost £1.47 billion. Over the last decade, venture capital investment rocketed from £88.4 million to more than £1.47 billion. Investment in UK deep tech continues to rise, with £2.3 billion invested in 2020, representing a 291% increase over the last 5 years.

Robotics and autonomous systems (RAS)

It;s estimated that the total economic impact of the application of RAS within UK industries is estimated at £6.4 billion by 2035, based on current adoption trends.

Significant growth is predicted over the next decade with the rise of mobile robots, with a projected compound annual growth rate of 40% per annum between 2020 and 2030. The total market for UK RAS is expected to be worth £3.5 billion by 2030.

Fintech

The UK is third largest destination for investment in financial technology services, holding 10% of the global market share. With over 1,600 firms in the sector, a figure that is projected to double by 2030, the UK FinTech sector contributes £7 billion to the economy annually.

There is an increasing demand for contactless transactions and branchless mobile banking services. The UK has one of the highest consumer Fintech adoption rates in the world, with 71% of UK citizens utilising Fintech services.

Cyber security

The UK’s cyber security sector generated £8.9 billion in revenue during 2020 and attracted record investment, despite the economic uncertainty during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Advances in digitalised services and online retailing have been matched by a significant increase in the rate of cyber crime, resulting in much greater investment in cyber security. In 2020 there were a record 82 investments in digital security, valued collectively at £981 million.

Commercial maturity

The UK’s technology sector is thriving, with the country being the first in Europe to produce 100 tech unicorns, more than Germany (42), France (22) and the Netherlands (18) combined. The UK tech sector’s best ever year took the UK’s total unicorn figure to 105 million meaning nearly 25% of the UK’s total unicorns were created in 2021 alone.

The industry is maturing rapidly, with a further 153 potential unicorns. In 2020, the UK government announced a future trade strategy, with the aim of driving innovation within domestic firms and cementing the UK as a global tech powerhouse.

If you’d like to keep informed on emerging technologies, the technology team at the Department for International Trade is delivering a number of events around the globe this year, with the Science and Tech Superpower Showcase 2022.

Key UK assets

London

London ranks fourth in the world for tech venture capital investment, with $10.6 billion invested in 2020. It’s home to a cluster of technology companies known as ‘Silicon Roundabout’, including Facebook, Intel and Google.

It’s also home to research institutes such as Imperial College London and University College London.

Thames Valley

Thames Valley is often referred to as the ‘Silicon Valley of Europe’. It is a technology hub centred around Reading and stretching as far as Swindon, Oxford and West London. The area contributed £10 billion in turnover in 2019 - 2020 to the UK economy.

The region has over 8,000 tech companies, including Microsoft, with their UK headquarter based at Thames Valley Business Park. It’s also a strong research and development base, with world-class universities such as the University of Oxford.

Manchester

Manchester is the UK’s top digital tech city, with a rapidly growing £5 billion tech ecosystem. It’s home to over 10,000 digital and tech businesses, including Google, Microsoft and IBM, and has a steady flow of graduates from top research universities such as the University of Manchester.

Cambridge

A global centre of excellence in health technology, the Cambridge cluster generated £18 billion in turnover in 2019/20.

It’s a key innovator, with the highest number of patent applications per 100,000 people in the UK. University of Cambridge and Cambridge Healthtech Institute provide a strong research base.

R&D capability

The UK boasts a thriving research and development scene. The UK’s artificial intelligence (AI) research has the third-highest rate of AI publication citations per capita globally. The Alan Turing Institute is the UK’s National Centre for AI and Data Science and has a partnership with 13 of the UK’s most internationally recognised universities carrying out R&D in AI.

In September 2021, the UK government announced its National AI Strategy, with long-term plans for increased investment to increase the frequency and scale of AI discoveries in the UK.

The UK is home to 19 universities that are recognised as academic centres of excellence in cyber security research, accredited by the National Centre for Cyber Security. Each centre has a proven track record of impactful cyber security research, published in leading journals and conferences worldwide.

The UK Robotics and Autonomous Systems (UK-RAS) network co-ordinates collaboration across the broader robotics industry and provides academic leadership. World-class institutions such as the University of Cambridge and Imperial College London are amongst its members.

Business and government support

Support is available in the form of a knowledge transfer partnership. This is available to firms of any size based in the UK. The partnerships are provided by UK Research and Innovation, which provides grants to help businesses innovate, grow and develop, and connects companies with academic partners to address innovation challenges.

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) drives innovation in the technology sector by bridging the gap between businesses and pioneering science. It offers support to tech start-ups by offering business incubation programmes, providing the access to facilities, expertise and networking events.

Case studies

CKF

Gloucester-based CKF is an established robotic and automation solutions provider with a reputation for delivering systems to the manufacturing industry, within the UK and internationally, for over 30 years. Its experience, founded in the food industry, has been successfully transferred across a wide range of industries.

Customers include Muller, McVities and Jaguar Land Rover.

Liberty Global Inc/Virgin Media

The company’s Project Lightning is the single biggest private investment in the UK and Ireland’s digital fabric. It’s a £3 billion investment in the UK’s broadband infrastructure.

It aims to bring its next-generation gigabit connection broadband to its entire network of 15 million premises in 2022.

SambaNova

SambaNova Systems, an AI innovations start-up, announced its expansion to the EMEA market in 2020. This is in response to rising global demand for AI solutions. London was selected as the base for further EMEA and UK-wide business development.

Klarna

Swedish fintech company Klarna, a global leader in banking and payment services, has reaffirmed its commitment to the UK with a new headquarters in London.

This follows a year of substantial growth, with the company being valued at £23.3 billion, serving 14 million consumers and 13,000 retailers across the UK.