Tech City UK’s heavily-PR’d Future Fifty programme that was set up to champion and support some of the UK’s most promising technology companies and encourage them to list on UK markets is getting off to a slow start and is yet to deliver on its promises, Techworld can reveal.
The government-backed initiative, announced last April by Chancellor George Osborne and Tech City CEO Joanna Shields, has been criticised by several of the 50 companies that were cherry-picked to be on the list of the UK's fastest growing technology companies, all of which boast annual revenues in excess of £10 million.
The first 25 companies were announced in October and the remaining 25 were announced over a month ago on December 6 but a number of them say they are yet to receive anything that the programme promised, which is likely to spark criticism that the scheme may have been more about generating hype around London's tech scene rather than delivering any actual practical help to start-ups that may be considering whether to list in the UK or the US.
Tech City UK said last year that the companies on the programme would receive advice from venture capital investors, specialists from leading law and accounting firms, as well as members of management teams that have recently listed their companies in the UK. The organisation added that there will be a “continuous” programme of press and promotional backing, modular 'opt-in' business support and educational content and events.
Greg Marsh, CEO of One Fine Stay, a service that helps city travellers stay in luxury homes around the world, told Techworld that he's broadly supportive and cautiously optimistic of Future Fifty. However, at this stage, he said he's not sure if Tech City knows what it's doing with the programme. "It’s a little bit announce first, figure out the plans second in the eyes of some people," he said, adding that it seems to be more about creating fireworks in the first instance and then drilling down to do the work after.
However, the CEO concluded that he's optimistic that 2014 will be a big year for Tech City and Future Fifty.
Meanwhile, a senior director at another Future Fifty company told Techworld in December that they had been waiting two weeks for a response from Shields, after they emailed the head of Tech City asking for some specific details on the type of support the company could expect to receive through the programme.
The start-up, who wished to remain anonymous, isn't the only company that Shields is yet to engage with on a personal level. Marsh said: "I haven’t gained a great deal of her mind share but I understand that we are likely to have more time with her (in the future)."
Tech City UK responded by saying that all enquiries regarding the programme should go to directly to the Future Fifty team as opposed to Shields.
Meanwhile, Huddle, a London-based cloud service with a collaboration and content management platform, said that the programme is yet to do much more than put Huddle in the spotlight a bit. Indeed, many of the companies on the Future Fifty list received more media attention after the PR-engine behind Tech City ramped up its efforts to plug the organisation's third anniversairy in December.
Huddle CEO Alastair Mitchell added that he was concerned that the programme will lose credibility if it starts supporting companies outside the UK and Europe, with one Huddle spokesperson adding that there were “a few raised eyebrows (in Tech City) by the appearance of non-European companies in the Future Fifty list." One such company that isn't technically headquartered in the UK but did make the list is Box – a possible rival to Huddle.
However, it's worth noting that Tech City UK said from the outset that companies with a significant UK presence, no matter where they are from, would be considered for the programme.
Tech City UK initially declined to comment on what support has been given to companies on the Future Fifty programme. However, it stressed that the Future Fifty team is in the process of conducting a needs assessment for all companies on the programme, which will determine what type of support each company will receive.
Following publication of this article, Philipp Stoeckl, Future Fifty programme lead at Tech City UK, said: “It’s imperative we conduct proper needs assessments and find the best way to assist companies already achieving great success. It’s our aim to conduct all needs assessments by the end of January.
“For many companies, though, the programme is well underway. Several have already been connected with programme partners and have received support on complex issues such as intellectual property, tax, immigration, accessing growth capital and capital markets, and property. Furthermore, a number have recently participated in overseas business delegations to China and India with the Prime Minister.”