Since the UK voted to leave the European Union, the technology sector has not shied away from voicing its fears about the potential near and long-term damage of Brexit to the industry, both before and after the vote. A recent post-Brexit survey by Tech City UK, however, found that while there are still serious concerns about the implications of the vote moving forward, the organisation as well multiple startup leaders and investors still believe there is "cause for optimism" as the industry "rises to the Brexit challenge".
Drawing responses from over 1,200 people within the tech sector between 27 June and 5 July, the survey found that about 74% of respondents felt the economy would get worse, not better, in the aftermath of Brexit.
While more than half of respondents (51%) said it would be more difficult to recruit and retain skilled workers as a result of the vote, around 79% said they want improvements to the current visa system to allow them to hire the best to live and work in the UK tech industry.
Moving forward, around 51% of employers said they are planning to raise capital outside of the UK in the next year.
However, less than one-third of these businesses said they are likely to slow down their recruitment efforts while about 22% said they expect to scale back their planned growth ambitions.
"There are unexpected upsides and very real opportunities," Tech City UK CEO Gerard Grech wrote in a blog post. "If there's one thing tech entrepreneurs are good at, it's holding their nerve. The slings and arrows involved in starting and scaling up a digital business require a thick skin and the ability to hold on to a vision, come what may."
"It's these qualities of resilience, as well as risk-taking, that Britain's tech stars will be drawing on now as they face perhaps one of the bigger bumps in the road yet. And I'm confident that they'll make it over the hump."
About 70% of the employers surveyed said they wanted clarity on EU residents' ability to live and work in the country, while 85% would like to see the government negotiate to stay a part of the European Single Market.
"I voted remain. We lost. But I'm an entrepreneur and professional optimist and still super positive about London and the UK," said tech investor and LocalGlobe partner Saul Klein. "The UK is one of the world's largest economies and we have been trading with the world and especially Europe for nearly 1000 years — the relationships are deeper than the last 24 years of integration show and I'm confident that they will mostly remain strong."
"In a really short time-period the UK has established itself as a tech powerhouse. We won't give up that advantage now," said Wendy Tan White, co-founder of DIY website builder Moonfruit and general partner of Entrepreneur First.
"Building on our global leadership in Fintech, we are now leading the way for the next wave of technology companies applying AI and machine learning to old and new sectors of industry with acquisitions of Deepmind to Google, Swiftkey to Microsoft and recently Magic Pony to Twitter. London has the best ingredients to start or to scale up a tech business and none of those have changed overnight."
Melissa Morris, CEO and founder of London-based healthcare startup Network Locum says that given the fierce competition among start-ups in the industry, new businesses looking to become "unicorns" will have to learn how to innovate, adapt and do business beyond the UK's borders.
"We are a small island and our immediate market is small, this has always been the case," Morris said. "The true unicorns of the UK all find ways to break borders. (e.g. when going to the US). Post Brexit, UK startups possibly have higher barriers to accessing Europe. But the way I see it, the earlier we start to learn to do this the better. Practice makes perfect."