After a WEF “Digital Ecosystems Europe” workshop on 25th October 2016 in Berlin, here are some thoughts on why the London startup and entrepreneurship boom has manifested. Yes there are some unique circumstances. Here are my thoughts on the reasons London has become the European capital:
1. London is the U.K. capital — its language is English — some say they invented it. English has now replaced French as the worlds ’ lingual franca’ — (mind you Mandarin with its 1 billion speakers dwarfs French and English speakers put together — de facto or de jure — English is the official language in 54 Counties compared with French in 29 Countries — but take a good look at English dictionary — it is made up of, inter alia, Latin, German, Scandinavian, French and Indian words — London witnessed the successful, and last invasion, (until now) of the British Isles in 1066 when the Normans crossed the channel to England’s south coast. The English tongue is the world’s language of commerce and of politics for important debates especially in Europe, North America, Asia, Oceana and Africa — although our French friends can rightly argue that there is a good slice of Francophile speaking countries in Africa, and in North America, vive la France Quebec. Official translators from every tongue spoken in the world are available in the City.
2. The sun never set on the British Empire, or as the old guard in London call it now ‘the Commonwealth’. London financed Britain’s navy to keep an eye on their Empire and their control of the seven seas meant they could trade all over the world with London the administrative hub in the 18th and 19th century. London became the financial capital of the world trade. Many will argue it is still the world’s financial hub with every major National bank having an office in London.
3. London financed the world’s first industrial revolution –machines were invented in London to mass produce the production of coal that fired steel foundries and textile mills. A global system of world trade institutions were housed in London and still are— if you want to ensure your oil tanker then you give the brokerage business to London — if you want to trade in currencies, again London, if you want to settle international and national legal disputes — London. Not everything was as politically correct as it is now — London citizens grew rich from the slave trade — human beings were shipped to the United States, one of Britain’s colonies — the navy protected the private mercantile fleets of boats.
4. London is the first modern multi-cultural city — where people from over 200 nations live in the city — young people flood into the city taking advantage of the easy trading climate in a city where democracy is not as old as Greece, but allowed fairtrade institutions to thrive. International arbitration is a big earner for Londoners and London lawyers make a fortune from settling divorce suits between many Russian woman and their oligarch husbands!!
5. London is known for its fairness, its racial tolerance and its sense of humour. The present mayor of London Sadiq Khan has his routes in the Indian sub-continent, as indeed I do — my mother came from Gujarat, my father’s routes are in Africa — Nairobi where he had to flee to Britain when things got difficult in East Africa. The latest industrial revolution city is Beijing — just like London did in the 18th and 19th century when it exported stainless steel knives and forks to Buenos Aries — selling them at half the price of cutlery made in Argentina, China now sells steel to London at half the price the British can make it but guess where the Chinese invest their new wealth — yes, you got it London, 25% of the largest London property portfolios are Chinese they are even going to finance the building of London’s latest Nuclear power generator (with the help of the French Government know-how).
6. History geeks will know that a City has one chance to make its mark. Athens was the big fish when Greece invented democracy and now its charms are to be seen by the many tourists who flock to the country. Rome had its day when it was the seat of a great Empire. London should have gone the way of Athens, it did not and there are two reasons
- The North Americans conquered the world economically and guess what? — them Americans use the same language — that’s unique — but wait there is a second reason:
- London became part of the European Union and was given a second chance to play a monitory/economic role and still be seen as one of the big world players (5th economy in the world).
7. London does not have a big army to protect itself but then it can rely, as we all can in this part of the world, on NATO. We’re becoming like Costa Rica where they have done away with the army. It’s all based on precedents. In London you can do something that has not been written down, not so in New York where the city is bound by the US Constitution which means if it is not prescribed, you cannot do it, you have to get a new law passed.
8. May I end by saying it takes a long/protracted time to get new laws passed (better to let the new start up get on with it) and if some legal geek or political master comes into your life because you’re successful.
I go by the mantra that it is better and far quicker to seek forgiveness than to seek permission, with one caution. If you believe in replenishment, and who doesn’t, then startups will be cemented in success.