Steve’s ITK: Be careful what you wish for
Opening thought: That letter
The big news this week was the calling of a general election by British Prime Minister Theresa May. Just two years after the previous one, the polls will open on 8th of June, giving the winning party a mandate for another five years.
However, unlike in 2015, I suspect the role of the tech sector may only be noticeable by its absence. As you may remember, things were very different last time around.
With the general consensus being that the 2015 election was on a knife edge, with either the Conservatives or Labour believed to be capable of winning and the most likely outcome another coalition, the tech community did something we hadn’t really seen before: it turned distinctly partisan, and in a very public way.
In a letter published in The Guardian on the 29th of April 2015, more than 90 tech entrepreneurs signed a letter declaring their support for the return of a Conservative-led government and the continuation of what they saw as the incumbent administration’s tech startup-friendly “attitude” and policies. You can read the original letter and its signatories here, where you’ll be sure to spot some very familiar names.
Despite being a vocal supporter of the Labour party at the time — not least driven by the Conservative government’s abysmal record on disability rights — I took it upon myself to cover the publication of the letter and to dig deeper into how it came about.
As I reported at the time, the letter’s main organiser was Brent Hoberman, co-founder of Lastminute.com. He was also helped by Daniel Korski, a Conservative Party campaigner who used to be a special adviser to the then Prime Minister David Cameron, and who had good access to the London tech community as the organiser of tech breakfasts at №10.
According to sources, Korski began ringing around potential signatories at the start of April to let them know that Hoberman was organising the letter and with the presumption they would sign, which not everybody did. As I noted, the letter was originally targeting 100 signatures.
However, looking back at the letter and what I wrote at the time, I’m struck by two things. The first is how many of its signatories are some of the most vocal supporters of remaining in the EU and/or keeping full access to the single market and free movement of people. And yet, in 2015, there was only one party offering a referendum: the Conservatives, the party the letter was in support of and who would go on to win.
This is something I touched upon at the time, after one investor told me they had refused to sign the letter in part because of the Conservative party’s precarious position on Europe. Ironically, Korski was also one of the main architects of the failed Remain campaign (see his candid interview on the topic from our recent Disrupt London conference).
The second is how my coverage of the letter was received at the time, which still brings a smile. Before I hit publish, I distinctly remember one VC being very concerned that what I’d write would be highly partisan itself, and questioned if I would be quite so critical if the letter had supported Labour instead.
But after the article went live, I received a tons of messages from readers and those who had talked on and off record, and, without exception, they all said it was fair. In fact, in many instances, both Conservative and Labour supporters thought they had come out on top. Perhaps that’s the mark of good political coverage, when both sides think they’ve won 🤔
Things I wrote
Ada, a London and Berlin-based health tech startup, has launched in the UK, and in doing so joins a number of other European startups attempting to market something akin to an AI-powered ‘doctor’.
More revolving doors at a London venture capital firm. TechCrunch has learned that Ophelia Brown has left LocalGlobe, the VC fund founded by father and son duo Robin and Saul Klein.
When London fintech startup Chip launched late last year, the company’s vision was something a lot more ambitious than a simple ‘micro savings’ app delivered through a millennial-friendly chatbot.
Orbital Systems raises £15M Series B for ‘NASA-inspired’ tech to save water when showering — techcrunch.com
The company’s founder and CEO Mehrdad Mahdjoubi has developed new re-purification technology, in collaboration with NASA, that significantly reduces the amount of water and energy used when taking a shower.
Text, image and video moderation service Arbitrum picks up $500K from Ask.fm founders — techcrunch.com
Backing the Riga, Latvia-based startup is Balaclava Lab, the investment vehicle of Ask.fm founders Ilja Terebin, Mark Terebin and Oskar Liepins.
Market research tech startup Attest raises $3.1M — techcrunch.com
Oxford Capital, and Episode 1 led the round, with participation from a number new angel investors including London Business School Emeritus Professor of Management and Marketing Paddy Barwise.
Italian eyewear startup Quattrocento offers ‘paper try-on’ service — techcrunch.com
Quattrocento is offering the ability to have up to 5 pairs of replica frames made of cardboard sent to your home or office, designed to let you experience how the frames will fit (and, to a limited extent, look) before purchasing the actual product.
Tenzo offers restaurants real-time and actionable data on how they are performing — techcrunch.com
Tenzo, a London startup and graduate of Techstars, has built what looks like an interesting and timely platform to help restaurants (and potentially any brick ’n’ mortar retailer) get real-time data insights on how they and their staff are performing.
Closing thought: Should I do an event?
A friend and I are mulling over the idea of putting on a short event, possibly around the topic of medtech or health-related technology. In particular, I’m becoming extremely interested in the collision of consumer-facing health tech startups/apps, such as Thriva, Echo, Babylon, Ada, and many others, and how they could and should fit into NHS provision.
I’m a huge supporter (and user) of our publicly-funded health service but I also see so much potential for innovative startups to significantly improve service levels and outcomes, and, in doing so, save the NHS money too.
The event format would likely be a panel with some of the most interesting people in the UK medtech sector, moderated by me, of course. A Steve’s ITK live, if you like. Or maybe you don’t. Let me know 😀
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Till next time,