UK startup ecosystem more diverse than US but there's still work to be done


While the UK may not be producing tech companies on the magnitude as Google and Apple yet, it is beating Silicon Valley in another area: diversity.

Research out today from mobile giant Telefónica shows that people working in UK startups are five times more likely to be female than those working for startups in the US.

The study, commissioned by Wayra UK, Telefónica Open Future’s digital startup accelerator, also revealed that people working for UK startups are 10 times more likely to be from an ethnicity that isn’t white or Asian than those in the US.

Somewhat unexpectedly, London is leading the diversity charge in the UK, beating other tech hubs around the world like Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv. New York City was revealed as the world’s top place for female entrepreneurs, with 24 percent of women claiming to be in leadership roles in the city’s startup ecosystem.

Of the women surveyed in the UK, 29 percent identified themselvesas being in a leadership role.

The majority of those surveyed (78.9 percent) said diversity across their company was helping them to compete in the market they operate it.

The research is based on responses from the 241 leaders across 222 early-stage startups, of which 79 percent can be classed as digital companies.

Simon Fanshawe OBE, of astar-fanshawe, the diversity consultants who’ve guided Wayra from the inception of this project, believes diversity is helping the UK create one dominant startup centre in Europe.

“What this research tells us is that start-ups would get far more growth, innovation and entry into new markets if there was a more diverse combination of people involved. For too long, cultural differences and even languages were seen as putting the UK at some kind of disadvantage. But this research clearly demonstrates the impact the UK’s rich social makeup is having on the growth and performance of our fledgling businesses.”

Gary Stewart, director of Wayra UK & Wayra UnLtd, believes accelerators have a responsibility to young businesses and to the ecosystem in demonstrating how diversity can impact performance.

“I passionately believe that if you actively recruit talent from diverse sources, you’ll not only strengthen your team and bring on additional expertise, you’ll also experience more growth as a result.”

Lawrence Wintermeyer, CEO of UK's fintech membership association Innovate Finance, said: “This report shows that diversity makes sense. It brings new ideas for services and different solutions to problems in a world of changing markets and customer demands.

“It is also brings a range of skills, experience and cultural understanding to inform companies. It is a reality that we must all embrace. Inclusion is the solution for a better future for everyone.”

While the UK is clearly making progress, it would be wrong to say the situation is perfect.

The truth of the matter is disparity remains, especially with funding in relation to an individual’s gender, class and ethnicity. There are also some significant biases reflected in participation in different sectors. For instance, no men in the survey reported being involved in the lifestyle sector and no women reported being part of a banking and finance startup.

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Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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