AI leadership should just be start of ambitions for UK economy: Beckie Hart

In a few days, the UK will host business leaders from across the globe at the inaugural AI Summit. Last week, we heard from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on the risks and opportunities of Artificial Intelligence, as the UK aims to take on a global leadership role on AI.

Firms welcome this ambitious approach to innovation. But the UK needs ambition across the board – not just on AI.

That includes creating innovative startups and taking them to market. The UK is the world’s third trillion-dollar tech market – topped only by the US and China.

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So, we’re in a prime spot to capture the prizes that come with cutting-edge products and fast-growing firms.

Beckie Hart has her say.Beckie Hart has her say.
Beckie Hart has her say.

But we have to create an environment where our startups are able to grow into “scale-ups” and ultimately turn into unicorn companies – a term reserved for firms valued over $1 billion. And our opportunities don’t end there.

We also have the chance to be the top destination for those firms boasting the coveted decacorn label – startups that are valued at over $10 billion.

And we’re already home to more than a hundred unicorns, delivering £12.3 billion of GVA for our economy.

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Meanwhile, new research commissioned by the CBI from OC&C has found that the UK has produced nine decacorns since 1990, across regions and sectors.

They include newer firms – such as fintech firm Revolut – and long-standing household brands like Cardiff-based Admiral.

These decacorns alone contribute a whopping £4.6 billion to the economy each year, and have created 107,000 jobs across the UK – with the majority of these located outside of London and the South East.

Decacorns are proving to be a unique opportunity to spread economic prosperity up and down the country.

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And the possible benefits of taking more of those high-potential companies through the scale-up journey are vast.

The numbers speak for themselves; were the UK to produce 100 decacorns, we could add an additional £74 billion to our economy.

But our opportunities don’t exist in isolation.

Our international counterparts are eyeing up the same prizes as us. And many of our neighbours, like France, are making moves to boost their scaleups.

But there’s competition across the pond too, as plenty of UK firms consider moving their operations to the United States.

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Not just that – promising companies are struggling to raise the finance necessary to thrive here in the UK, with some finding access to investment elusive.

And when it comes to taking the step to list publicly, a lot of companies are choosing the US over London.

We can’t let these firms slip through our fingers. It’s time to take a more future-focused approach. And we’ve seen it done before.

For example, when the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) implemented new measures that enabled innovative firms to thrive – like open banking or sandboxes.

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Making sure that high-growth firms make the UK their home and stick around has to be front of mind in the months to come.

The business community is looking to politicians to deliver on an economic vision that attracts firms and investors alike.

It’s crucial if we want to expand our roster of decacorns and unicorns that can provide a much-needed boost to our economy.

Beckie Hart is CBI regional director for Yorkshire and Humber