Startupbootcamp is a globally-focused group hosting events over a hundred cities. It connects founders and mentors from Holland to Honduras. This year’s Startupbootcamp in London saw teams from Latvia, Canada and Britain, among others.
Raph Crouan and Ben Hayes are two of the team behind the program. Crouan worked for 14 years at Apple before delving deep into the startup and VC community. Hayes, meanwhile, is an entrepreneur and IoT specialist.
Tech migrants have been influencing and developing the startup scene since its inception. But times are changing. And with the political upheaval of Brexit leaving many industries doubtful about the future, where does that leave the UK’s tech scene?
Startupbootcamp are candid about the possible ramifications of Britain’s leaving the European Union. It’s natural for an enterprise that prides itself on “deep European roots,” according to its website. Brexit, Raph tells Red Herring in no uncertain terms, is about to change the game.
“Of course Brexit’s got an impact, and the people that are saying that it doesn’t are just blind,” he says. “This is an obvious reality that no-one can know and it’s going to impact on many different things. The very first skeptics would have left the country anyway and they did. The economy is seeing some impact because it’s slowly getting into the heads of the top companies that they might be suffering from not getting access to that big European market anymore, not in the conditions they had before.”
But it’s not the things we know about Brexit (such as an aforementioned loss of traditional European market access) that are truly worrying: it’s what we don’t know. This is particularly true of the tech industry, which relies so heavily on investors having faith in the future.
“Our digital world particularly is very active and very reactive, so uncertainty is the biggest killer,” Raph says, laughing ruefully. “People don’t want to take any risks. And though we are the ones who are meant to take the most risks–the VCs and investors–they are actually the most risk-averse in the world.”
Uncertainty is the Big Bad Wolf of any investment-led field. And its direct effects are already visible in the tech world. Startups are voting with their feet, says Ben: “Some of the startups we met in Europe in countries like Italy, Israel–not necessarily the big startup hubs like Berlin–said, ‘Actually, we don’t think we need to come to the UK anymore. We might have done two or three years ago, as a gateway into the wider part of Europe, but now there’s a bit too much risk and uncertainty, therefore we’re gonna need to go to the US at some point anyway, we might just go there right now.’ So you see that skipping out that middle step of going to London or UK.”
Britain’s public infrastructure can make access for startups difficult: the NHS is “both functional and very dysfunctional at the same time,” according to Ben. But Britain once had certain distinct advantages for the eager tech startup including a good geographical location between Europe’s corporate headquarters; a rich flow of investors; tax incentives and inventive funding strategies.
All this could be threatened by the impending uncertainty of Brexit – or, as Raph puts it, “One thing I‘m pretty damn sure about is there’s going be a hell of a ride for the next ten years to surf that wave of uncertainty.”
Necessity is the mother of invention, of course, and Startupbootcamp are rising to the challenges they and others in the tech industry face in an evolving and rapidly changing market. Raph and Ben say that the last few years have seen a great deal of progress in sustainability, increasing efficiency, reducing physical and energy wastage.
Startupbootcamp is currently focusing on agriculture and space management, and tackling problems from a pincer-like, top-down and bottom-up approach. Despite seeing “a dramatic shrink in investment potential, teams not relocating where they were going to relocate, and every single applicant asking the questions of whether they should actually move to the UK,” says Raph, Startupbootcamp is as creative and forward-thinking as ever.
Tech scenes in Paris and Amsterdam, he adds, have been skyrocketing. And Startupbootcamp is still seeing a great influx of corporate uptake from industrial powerhouses like Germany, with “hands-on and dirty” projects with giants such as Cisco and Rabobank in the pipeline.
Despite the uncertainty that foists a shadow over the future of Britain’s tech industry, Startupbootcamp remains overwhelmingly positive about the here and now. “The amount of activity is still extremely high and the momentum is not gone yet,” says Raph. “Even though Brexit might disrupt the field in the next six or seven years, for now, there’s still a lot to be done here.”