London Tech Week 2022 – Q&A with Chief Strategy Officer at Blend

Roxana Mohammadian-Molina

In this interview, we speak to Roxana Mohammadian-Molina, the Chief Strategy Officer at Blend, about what she learnt at this year’s London Tech Week.

What did you see or hear at London Tech Week that excited you most this year?

Already in its ninth edition, London Tech Week is always one of the most exciting events in the long list of industry events held in London every year. Indeed, since its launch in 2014, London Tech Week has grown to become Europe’s largest festival of technology. But following a record year for UK tech investment last year that saw the UK sector valued at $ 1 trillion, this year’s tech week had a unique feeling of buzz and excitement.

I was particularly excited to hear about the government’s new digital strategy to make the UK a global tech superpower. UK, and London in particular, have done pretty well in terms of attracting investment into the tech sector (last year, the UK tech sector captured more than a third of the total £89.5 billion investment into Europe and saw £27.4 billion in private capital investment). However, we do know that shortage of skills is one of the sector’s Achilles heels that needs to be addressed with extreme urgency (there are a staggering 150,000 vacancies in the UK tech sector).

So, it was music to my ears to hear that the government is planning a new single vision to grow the digital economy by addressing the tech sector skills, investment, and infrastructure. This year’s tech week also saw an increased presence of international tech companies looking for increased exposure to the UK tech market.

For example, we heard about how over 60 innovative Australian tech scale-ups looking to expand in the UK joined the London Tech Week this year. We’ve always been very proud of the levels of diversity of the UK and London tech ecosystems, but this increased international presence further highlights the attractiveness of the UK market for international companies looking for global expansion.

In his opening address to the audience at London Tech Week, Rishi Sunak reiterated his support to the London, and UK, tech community. But what do you see as the challenges both in the UK and in other major economies?

I do agree with the chancellor on many points such as the fact that our corporate and capital gains tax rates are internationally competitive and that we are known for our agile and forward-looking approach to regulation. I also agree to a certain degree on the strength of the UK as a natural home for growing businesses to raise finance, but here’s where I believe we can do much better.

What I see from my experience as an active tech investor and entrepreneur in the UK is that London is undoubtedly a great place to start a business, especially a tech business and even more concretely a FinTech business. For entrepreneurs with a great idea, a great team and a great execution, it is relatively easy to raise seed capital in London.

But issues start to appear when businesses hot the point when they need to scale. I see many businesses who want to raise scale-up capital having to look for cash elsewhere outside the UK. So, I think as much as we are great at supporting businesses to emerge and get off the ground, we still have a lot of homework to do when it comes to supporting businesses in their scale-up phase and accessing growth capital.

That’s really interesting. Can you be more concrete and give us some examples of why or how UK businesses face challenges when it comes to scaling and accessing growth capital?

Well, the UK’s growth capital is not a new issue. It predates the two most recent economic shocks we have faced, first the Global Financial Criss in 2008-09 and second the recent Covid-19 pandemic. According to a report titled The Future of Growth Capital published in 2020 by Deloitte, Innovate Finance and the ScaleUp Institute, the UK long-term structural gap in growth capital is between £5 billion and £10 billion every year and that highlights the inadequacy of UK growth capital flows compared to other countries and the rapid deterioration post-Covid of a long-standing market failure.

As a female investor and entrepreneur, have you seen any progress being made in terms of support for female founded businesses? How was that reflected at London Tech Week?

As is always the case with such questions, the answer is bittersweet. The answer is that yes, I have seen some progress being made, but women are still greatly absent in the UK start-up tech sector. Indeed, research shows women make up only 19% of the general UK tech talent pool and 23% at senior level compared to 49% and 29% respectively in the wider economy.

Let me give you an extremely concerning statistic: according to a new landmark national research commissioned by Trachet, nearly 1-in-5 British women said that due to a lack of diversity in the higher ranks of their business they never saw a future in it, so they left that sector. So, the journey towards greater diversity and inclusion in the UK tech sector is a marathon, not a sprint. There is a lot more work yet to be done.