Some parts of the London startup ecosystem have thrived during the pandemic, while other sectors have not.
The road to recovery for these industries has started with the easing of lockdown, but an inclusive support and economic growth system is needed to support this.
In this Q&A, we speak with Maurizina da Silva, Head of the Business Growth Programme at London & Partners, to find out about; how they are assisting London startups and scaleups, the importance of diversity and inclusion, the state of the London startup ecosystem and its future outlook.
Can you introduce the Small Business audience to London & Partners?
London & Partners is the business growth and destination agency for London and we operate as a social enterprise. Our goal is to create economic growth in London that is resilient, sustainable and inclusive. We do that by working with high growth sector companies, supporting international and domestic businesses, to scale through investment, trade, growth and innovation programs.
On top of this overarching mission, we look at the visitor economy to the capital and aim to attract visitors and create events that highlight London as a world class destination.
We want to promote London as a global city and grow its global reputation to support economic growth for the city.
What is the Business Growth Programme at London & Partners?
The Business Growth Programme has been active for four years.
In these four years 1200 companies, across all sectors, have registered to be part of the programme.
Within the programme, we work with startups and SMEs that would be employing between five and 10 people – mostly at the pre seed or seed stage. We don’t look at revenue, as long as they are set up in London, have a minimum viable product and a growth plan then their application is likely to be successful.
In terms of sectors, we proactively look for companies in financial business services, technology, creative industries, urban innovation and Life Sciences.
The fundamental aim of the Business Growth Programme, and London & Partners in general, is economic growth. By working with these companies, we have helped create over 300 jobs and helped them raise between £100 and £140 million in investment.
Another important aim is to prioritise diversity and inclusivity. This has translated to the current members. Of those who applied, nearly a third of them are female-led businesses, and more than a quarter are led by founders from underrepresented backgrounds.
Can you expand on the core values of the Business Growth Programme?
The values of the Business Growth Programme are intrinsically linked to London & Partners’.
The focus is on sustainability, inclusivity and resilience. It’s about our passion for London, about us as an organisation being enterprising, inclusive and at the forefront of startup growth in London.
We see ourselves as a support network for these businesses. Being part funded by the European Regional Development Fund, we don’t charge anything, we don’t take equity, it’s just a matter of supporting them as much as possible.
Our values strengthen our desire to mirror the diversity and inclusion of London in our team and the startups that are part of the programme.
My team, for example, is made up of people from many different backgrounds and with a varying age from 25 to 55. This is not an afterthought for us. D&I is not a nice to have, but a must have.
This translates to the Business Growth Programme, where the number of diverse founders has grown significantly since the programme’s inception.
A final value we like to champion is innovation.
We make sure that we are challenging ourselves as much as possible. We try and iterate, we try to rework, we try to do things in ways that are always improving and adding value to the companies that we are working with. At the same time, we look for collaborations and make sure that we are bringing new elements to the table in each and every conversation that we have with clients and partners alike.
How has the pandemic impacted the London startup ecosystem?
When you look at the startup ecosystem as a whole, there are some sectors that did extremely well, accelerated and thrived, and others that suffered enormously.
Most of the challenges that I’ve seen are in companies from sectors like travel, tourism, hospitality, mobility and physical retail. On the other hand, I saw companies in technology, fintech, healthtech, edtech, insurtech, e-commerce and online gaming do very well — with more jobs being created and more new products being launched than ever before.
We work with many companies in many different sectors, and at the very beginning of the pandemic, we tried to put in place two contingencies to support these businesses and others.
One was to expand our core cohort, and include more companies from the tourism and business events sector. For these businesses, we ran a series of resilience sessions, where we covered potential issues like furlough, how to deal with cash flow and how to try and negotiate contracts. We looked to try and address some of the more pressing challenges that we felt businesses were having at the time.
Is the outlook positive?
In terms of the future of the London startup ecosystem, I am very positive.
London & Partners has just launched a campaign that’s called Let’s do London, which is encouraging people to come back and do more things in the city.
As for the programme, the number of applications from companies has risen, which means that there is a huge demand for what we are doing.
We have nearly completed our next cohort, which is going to be delivered between September and November, and are already looking at applications for our January to March cohort, which is going to be focusing mostly on businesses that deliver solutions for environmental and social causes.
Moving on from the pandemic, hopefully, with those lessons learned, we can make something positive from the situation and continue creating opportunities. The move to digital, for example, allowed us to host events for many more businesses, in and out of the programme, than we could have done in a physical environment.