A Post-Brexit Future for Entrepreneurs: How to Navigate an Uncertain Climate
How entrepreneurs can forge a future in the U.K. after Brexit.
Brexit has been simultaneously the most controversial and common topic in the mouths and ears of entrepreneurs, investors and communities across Europe for the past two years. But as we approach D-Day, whether it’s in April or pushed to June, those conversations are now less hypothetical and increasingly urgent. What does a Brexit Britain mean for entrepreneurs and for fast-moving, innovative organizations working to get their tech solutions off the ground in the U.K.?
I was born in Russia, and my company Ometria is emphatically open to all talent, cross-border and national, as long as our people are the best of the best and align with our ethos and goals to grow fast and deliver exceptional results to our clients. Brexit, for us, is significant, and it brings with it concerns around how we’ll navigate waters such as data laws, talent and trade. We’re not alone -- from discussions around funding to fears of stunted growth, businesses of all sizes in the U.K. are struggling to picture what a post-Brexit Britain may look like.
Whether through a deal or no-deal, or even through another prolonged period of uncertainty, the U.K. can continue to attract tech talent and should still be seen as a fantastic ground for innovation and business development -- but any entrepreneur needs to be strategic in the current environment to navigate it effectively. To that end, I’ve addressed three key problems below.
1. Hiring and talent
The government has attempted to reassure EU nationals and businesses in the U.K. as to continuity in immigration status of EU citizens and their families. For example, they’ve taken away the fee to apply for settled or pre-settled status -- somewhat reassuring for some of the EU nationals already here. However, there is a risk that the U.K. will become less of an attractive destination for EU tech migrants, with restrictions on freedom of movement creating barriers that previously did not exist for tech talent looking to relocate.
For entrepreneurs concerned about this, my message is twofold: there’s always been an entire world of talent out there, and it’s always been worth jumping through various hoops to get the best talent interested and involved. This is a great opportunity to expand the markets you look at for talent. Our employees come from over 18 countries, including South Africa, Uzbekistan, Ireland and Romania, and we thrive on that diversity.
What’s more, from within the EU or not, people will still move to join a great company. Encouraging a great culture of openness, innovation and excitement is therefore more important than ever. I remember the first time someone moved from overseas to join us, and the person told me it was our ambition and culture that attracted them. It showed me that the most important thing to get right in terms of attracting talent was being the kind of place people want to work. Anything else comes second. The government does need to ensure that the conditions are still attractive as far as possible for tech talent to move by lowering barriers for highly-skilled workers, but there’s definitely action to be taken by businesses here to work towards that goal too.
2. Finding funding
Brexit was a vote towards isolation in a world that is more connected than ever, and a key issue we may now face is this isolation applying to funding too. The lack of clarity from the government on trading laws and the kind of Brexit we can expect isn’t helping here, as without the security of a growth market in the U.K., there’s a risk inherent for European funds in investing in a company whose trajectory may be stalled because of economic chaos in London and beyond.
Businesses need to double down on what makes them brilliant in order to avoid this: the capital will always follow those businesses most likely to succeed. For example, our effective AI solution has helped us generate inbound interest from investors from all over the world, irrespective of Brexit. What’s more, the U.K. remains Europe’s prime investment destination for venture capitalists, according to recent research from KPMG Enterprise, even after the Brexit vote. So far, then, Brexit hasn't hit us hard. If businesses here can keep proving to be worth the investment for VCs, then the funding will continue to come.
3. Technology and innovation
A real stumbling block for startup and scale-up businesses in the U.K. comes in the form of huge question marks around data. The government says that the U.K. “will seek to maintain the stability of data transfers between the EU, Member States and the U.K.,” but the lack of detail on how the government plans to deliver this outcome is a major concern. The House of Lords points to worries around what this could mean and the possibility it will put the U.K. at a competitive disadvantage, given that around 75 percent of the U.K.’s cross-border data flows are with EU countries.
Data is one of the most important resources for a successful business of today. For us, it is the most crucial way to enable our clients to deliver personalized services to their customers. In today’s economy, consumer-facing business’ ability to understand and implement an effective data strategy is instrumental to success, and is what differentiates the rocket ships from the ordinary. The average customer now has incredibly high expectations in terms of personalized services and they have to be met by the businesses they interact with -- data is crucial in enabling this. This means that the consumer, not just businesses, will suffer in the case of a trade deal that limits U.K. organizations’ access to data. The government needs to be clearer on this issue, and fast, to enable the kind of innovation we now expect from U.K. tech startups and organizations.
Creating a future in a post-Brexit environment for businesses today means working to ensure that, while we wait for answers, the organization is still attractive to talent and is putting its best foot forwards in terms of culture, experimentation and innovation. Let’s work as hard as possible to create the most competitive businesses in the world, and make sure everyone can see that the U.K. is just as innovative as it ever has been -- if not more.