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Tech Sec backs scale-ups to put a rocket under growth

The UK’s first Science & Tech Secretary, Michelle Donelan, will set out her top priorities to kickstart 2024: backing scale-ups, boosting skills and regulating to support innovation.

In a major speech today (Tuesday 16 January), she is set to outline her vision for the first of these – backing scale-ups – as her ‘start-up’ science and tech department continues to transform the UK into a “true scale-up powerhouse, where opportunity and high skilled jobs fuel economic growth across the country – including outside cities.”

The Tech Sec is expected to announce her new ambition to make the UK home to half of all European tech unicorns by 2030, up from around a third today. She is expected to argue that thanks to long-term thinking and long-term planning since 2010 – when the UK had just 10 unicorn companies to its name, a fifteenth of the number created in the UK to date – we are already closing the gap on international comparisons.

The UK Government has primed the economy to unlock more tech jobs and skills that are a by-product of successful scale-ups - and the creation of a department dedicated to science and tech will help supercharge this growth, including through bespoke support for the most promising tech businesses to scale-up.

Speaking to UK tech leaders in East London, the Tech Sec is expected to say:

“We have the right ingredients to become a scale-up superpower if we tap into our unlocked potential – particularly those companies on the cusp of scaling…  

“Despite leading Europe, we need to make sure our future unicorns continue to make their home here in the UK…

“This Government wants to help crack open the powder-kegs of UK investment and see more homegrown scale-ups fuelled by home-raised funding… 

“I believe the UK should account for at least 50% of all new unicorns created by Europe as a whole… a true scale-up powerhouse, where opportunity and high skilled jobs fuel economic growth across the country – including outside cities.”

The speech comes as the science and tech department, which Donelan is expected to call “the first true start-up project in Whitehall”, approaches its first anniversary next month.

Pushing towards tech superpower status, Donelan will set out a raft of policies as part of long-term plans to change the game for British tech by boosting three pillars of the Science and Tech Framework: skills, scaling-up and regulating to innovate.

With a focus on scale-ups in her speech today, the Technology Secretary is expected to announce:

  1. A Scale-Up Forum bringing thriving founders and bold investors to the heart of Government, so we can work with them to “get to grips with the thorny issues” faced by entrepreneurs, from access to capital to infrastructure, skills, and regulation.
  2. A Scale-up Support Service to unleash the immense appetite of high growth British firms to scale rapidly. A pilot of the service will provide targeted support to up to 20 high-potential science and tech businesses, unblocking barriers and offering bespoke advice to help them scale, stay and succeed in the UK.
  3. A series of Dragon’s Den style pitching events to bring promising science and tech businesses together with access to venture capital firms, with the aim of encouraging start-ups to put down roots in the UK.
  4. A new regulatory support service specifically for science and tech businesses, building on the Open Regulation Platform, to make sure innovative new products can be brought to market where that might not have otherwise been possible.
  5. A commitment to make “data access a government priority this year”, looking at ways of improving access to public sector data in order to fuel faster growth in scale-ups. 
  6. The publication of a new declaration by UKRI, committing the UK’s main public funder of R&D and innovation to help businesses across the UK scale through simplifying and streamlining the funding and support it offers them.

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