I was recently asked to host an Asian Business Chamber of Commerce Patrons Dinner, where Andy Street, Metro Mayor of the West Midlands was our guest speaker.
We put these exclusive dinners on twice a year to thank the organisations and people that give us their unwavering support. Its an intimate affair, where you get to mingle and rub shoulders, with some of the great and good of Birmingham.
It was coming up to Andy’s 100 days in office, so I guess like most people in office, it was important for him to articulate what has gone on and what plans he has put in place for West Midlands region. Overall, it was a very positive speech, with the usual issues being highlighted, of housing, transport, and skills.
The position of Metro Mayor is completely new to our region, I would also envisage Mr Street has been extremely busy selecting the right team to deliver some of the ‘stuff’ set out in the manifest, as well as the implementation of back office policies and procedures. I guess all the crappy things have to be put in place, whilst still making the public appearances. It’s clear to see Mayor Street, is grafting, putting in long hours, for very little gratitude in return. But, that’s politics it comes with the territory, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.
The one thing that Andy touched upon in his speech, which got my attention immediately, was his promise to bring, in the next 12 months, what I can only describe as a sub division of the Silicon Valley to the West Midlands, to drive innovation and investment to the tech sector. Something I know is very dear to Andy’s heart, due to the massive success he had at John Lewis, in leading the change from ‘bricks to clicks’.
The speech got me thinking deeply about the tech sector which Iâ€™m so familiar with. In particular, the question; why hasn’t the UK produced a globally recognised tech entrepreneur. Other than Richard Branson, who really is in the league of Zuckerberg, Jobs, Gates, Musk and Ma ?
I’ve been in the tech industry now for almost 20 years, UK Plc to my mind still hasn’t produced a global tech business superstar, one which has fundamentally changed the way we live and behave. The aforementioned names have certainly done that.
It’s a thought that goes through my mind quite often, and I can only put it down to a couple of things. Our British attitude when it comes to risk and encouraging entrepreneurship, and we’re in the main, a nation of technophobes. I do however, see some changes in attitude, we’re miles off where we need to be, or to even compete with our neighbours over the pond.
If we truly want to create a globally recognised tech superstar, I believe as a nation, we need to change our mindset, by celebrating success, whist embracing the process of failure.
Creating an environment to incubate, mentor and facilitate technology entrepreneurs, is the way forward. Regardless of one’s political biases, UK Government should be on a mission, to send the message loud and clear that they are on the hunt to create, find and get behind the next technology superstar. Do I believe we can do this, absolutely we can, all it takes is vision, passion, energy and a someone to believe in it!
The knock-on effect would be huge. It would encourage, motivate and create rapid innovations, which would pave the way to inspire others to do the same. It would also have a huge impact on investors attitudes too, the moment they see a success story they would want a piece of the action. As they say success breeds success.
So, is Andy Street’s initiative a good idea?, you bet you it is. However, I believe, Mayor Street should also be lobbying Theresa May directly to get behind an initiative to find and/or create the next Global Tech giant that comes from our shores.
We must also be careful not to fall into the trap of replicating other nations, such as the US. They have their own way of doing things. Rather, we should learn from it, take the best bits and do it in our unique way. One thing is for sure, it’s way overdue and its need to happen. The longer we leave it the harder it becomes.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue, please feel free to comment.