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How the UK built a world class tech talent pool

“London has a very good talent pool for everything you need,” says Dan Vahdat, chief executive and founder of Huma, a medical technology platform. “From medical people to technology, and software engineers, there aren’t many cities like that where you can actually hire talent cost-effectively and still live in one of the best cities in the world.”

On the path to unicorn status, Huma allows doctors to monitor patients remotely through a mobile app that integrates their data into a dashboard for clinicians to monitor. Since its founding in 2011, it has grown to support a network of more than 27 million patients, and more than 3,000 hospitals and clinics.

In its series C funding round, it managed to rake in $200 million from a group of investors, led by Leaps by Bayer and Hitachi Ventures. The group also included Samsung Next, Sony Innovation Fund, Unilever Ventures, and HAT Technology & Innovation Fund.

Over the past decade, the UK has become a powerhouse in the tech sector, being the third country in the world to pass 100 unicorns.

With more startups valued at over $1 billion than Germany, France, and Sweden combined, the UK has seized the crown as the “startup capital of Europe,” home to some of the best and brightest thinkers in the world.

Access to talent is just one of the many factors that sets the UK apart when it comes to the tech scene, as businesses look to problem-solve, pivot and scale fast. Here’s how the UK is perfectly positioned to attract, retain, and grow talent.

A deep, natural talent pool

The UK is ranked third in the world for attracting, cultivating and retaining talent across the globe, successfully bringing in entry-level applicants from renowned universities.

Home to four of the world’s top 10 universities; Oxford, Cambridge, University College London and Imperial College London, it also has the most leading MBA institutions in Europe. With a higher percentage of STEM graduates in college education compared to the US, England was one of the first G20 countries to introduce coding into the primary school curriculum.

Such conditions means that founders themselves sometimes develop concepts for their businesses while still in college.

Mansoor Hamayun, chief executive of energy company Bboxx, explains that his company began at Imperial College London. “We are a product of the UK system — we came out of a university as we, the founders, met [there]. We were supported by the different grants, and things like that, from our university, and the Department for Business and Trade, incubator programs, startup programs, etcetera. We’re part of this ecosystem, so it only felt natural to position ourselves out of the UK. You don’t feel alone here.”

Vahdat adds that basing a medtech company in the UK allows Huma to benefit from top-notch medical research and hospitals. “London is the only city, arguably, in the world, that has the most prestigious hospitals, research and academics, in a very short distance from the centre,” notes Vahdat. “This means between these hospitals, any disease, any condition, you have the best or one of the best working [there]. That is a unique asset.”

The vibrancy of UK cities also attracts global talent. Companies such as Oxford Nanopore Technologies, Darktrace, and Exscientia have spun-out from academic institutions outside of London as the government seeks to “level up” the economy.

Initiatives to attract top talent

In recent years regulations have helped make it seamless for startups to scale and attract global talent. The UK government has created the Global Entrepreneur Programme to encourage company founders to expand their enterprises. And it also helps high-growth overseas companies relocate to the UK.

It has also introduced high potential individual (HPI) visas and scale-up visas, so that tech businesses can easily recruit from anywhere in the world. An HPI visa gives you permission to stay in the UK for at least two years, and three years if you have a Ph.D. or other doctoral qualification, while a scale-up worker visa allows people to come to the UK to do an eligible job for a fast-growing UK business.

Global talent visas are also available, which provide a pathway for leaders and potential leaders in academia or research, arts and culture or digital technology. Plus, the government’s Startup Visas make it easy for European entrepreneurs to anchor and scale within the UK.

Craig Fines-Allin, Huma’s HR chief, recognises the benefit of this tremendous access to talent, both within the country and globally: “We recruit globally, and have many remote employees based overseas as a result. As a visa-sponsoring employer, we have also taken the opportunity to bring a number of employees to the UK from India, Ukraine, Iran and other countries”.

A place to scale startups

The UK has positioned itself as a global epicenter where people from around the world want to work. Compared to other countries in Europe, the UK’s flexible labour laws help businesses hire staff in a way that suits their needs. Freedom to recruit quickly, and for as long as needed, helps companies react to changing circumstances. UK startups have also found freedom in crafting apprenticeships and training programs.

“Generally speaking, we have a good working relationship with universities across our operating regions to be able to get graduates in,” Hamayun says.

“We have the equivalent of graduate programmes in most of our more established markets, and in the UK, we also have the opportunity to focus on more experienced hires.”

“I think one of the things I’ve learned over time is that there’s things that you can teach someone and there’s things that people are innately good at,” he adds. “I’ve become a lot more focused on trying to unlock people’s potential in terms of what they are innately good at rather than trying to teach a skill set because that’s what the PowerPoint slide says. I think that results in a much more explosive outcome in terms of performance and teamwork.”


From the UK’s Department for Business and Trade:

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