The Estonian founders of TransferWise, a foreign exchange startup based in Britain, are going back and forth as to whether it is worth growing their team in London after Brexit, Britain’s unprecedented decision to leave the EU.
“We will probably not grow the team based here much more. Headquartering elsewhere is a possibility, but we haven’t made a final decision yet,” co-founder Taavet Hinrikus told The Guardian in September 2016.
With Brexit uncertainties pressing hard on the London-startup scene, a panel of Britain’s tech leaders came together to announce recommendations on how to “ensure Britain’s ‘Post-Brexit’ tech future at the Disrupt London conference Tuesday.
The biggest concern? Keeping talent in Britain.
“It is imperative that the government recognises the need to attract and retain the very best talent globally,” the consortium wrote.
Britain’s startups have been worried since the vote in late June 2016, especially since Berlin, a dynamic startup hub, is only a two-hour flight away and the city’s reputation as a go-to startup ecosystem has been growing.
It is a valid concern, made all the more apparent when soon after Brexit, Germany’s FDP party paid to have a truck with a large, colorful advertisement reading “Dear startups, keep calm and move to Berlin” drive around London.
— FDP Berlin (@fdp_berlin) July 5, 2016
Finding a way for Britain’s startups to recruit and bring in EU talent looks to be a significant hurdle in the future.
The consortium’s recommendations, addressed directly to British Prime Minister Theresa May, were developed in response to a survey distributed by the conference’s host, TechCrunch, which polled 150 startups and 150 investors in Britain’s startup environment over a three-week period.
According to the survey, 20 per cent of founders reported that employees had already left Britain on account of Brexit.
Visa concerns and limits on travel are a big concern for those living in Britain. And unfortunately for Britons and EU nationals, travel is expected to become a lot more complicated following Brexit.
Despite the fact that Britain was never a part of the Schengen zone, the European commission is in the process of drafting legislation that could require British citizens to apply to visit Europe. Neither has Britain guaranteed the right to residence of EU nationals currently living in Britain. Some might even lose their right to work and be required to file for visas and permits.
The consortium’s letter made a point to address that there need to be “minimal barriers to movement” for the approximately “three million EU nationals living and working in the UK,” most of them from Poland, Ireland and Germany.
How can Britain compete with Berlin’s growth, while complexity and uncertainty continue to mount? By ensuring that “the visas of skilled tech workers from strong tech nations” are preserved after Brexit, the letter said. Strong tech nations included the US, India, Commonwealth and Eastern Europe. Another point made was ensuring that Britain’s universities stay “an attractive place to study.”
Survey respondents also expressed their concern. One individual said that Britain needs to state publicly that the country “welcomes entrepreneurs and wants to continue building on the success.”
Another said the Britain brand “has been damaged in so many ways” and “it needs to build up relationships with other European countries, and make all foreigners to feel welcome in the UK again.”
Alice Thwaite, the founder of The Echo Chamber Club, said her decision to move to Berlin from London was driven less by Brexit and more by how unaffordable the city has become.
The survey also asked respondents to express their “level of confidence in May’s Conservative government ability to protect the startup community from negative impacts of Brexit?” Eighty-three per cent of respondents expressed ‘low to no confidence.’
The panel’s recommendations cover a total of 10 themes that must be discussed during Brexit negotiations “to ensure the UK remains a leading force in technology and innovation,” a press release said. The 10 areas are skilled migration, education, investment, business incentives, promotion of the UK, diversity, single market access, market stimulants and international policy.
The panel included, among others, Sonali De Rycker of Accel Partners, Niklas Zennstroem of Atomico and Bernard Liautaud of Balderton Capital.