With Britain still reeling under the influence of Brexit, one might be of the view that the UK would take halting strides towards growth. However, it already seems to be up and about, making its moves around the world. The country where the Industrial Revolution was born is today focussing on renewing old ties and forging new ones in search of another revolution, albeit something that’s more global in nature this time.
Matthew Hancock, the UK Secretary of State for digital, culture, media, and sport, is here in India on a three-day visit starting Friday (May 11) to launch the UK-India Tech Partnership. Inc42 caught up with the secretary for an exclusive interaction to understand what the UK has in store for the startup and tech world in India.
During Prime Minister Modi’s trip to the UK, the British Prime Minister Theresa May and her Indian counterpart signed the UK-India Tech Partnership “to identify and pair businesses, venture capital, universities and others to provide access routes to markets for British and Indian entrepreneurs and small and medium enterprises.” The UK will initially invest £1 Mn to pilot the approach and potentially bring it up further to £13m by 2022.
Speaking of forging ties, India and the UK’s relations go back a long way. Both the countries have been working together extensively to promote and develop each other’s trade and economy. The UK has been India’s largest investor among the G20. India, too, is the third biggest investor in the UK. With such a flourishing investment partnership in place already, we asked Hancock what was the need for a new technology partnership.
“I hope that the tech partnership will be a springboard to even stronger tech investment between India and the UK. As you say, the growth in the investment has been very strong, the growth was 15% last year and the investment is bigger than many other countries combined. The reason why this is a huge opportunity and this is part of our vision of the future for India and the UK, is that we both have great strengths,” explains Hancock.
He adds, “The strengths and the synergies don’t necessarily overlap and that means that together we can be stronger. The aim of the new UK-India Tech Hub will be to try and make these personal relationships, strengthen them and find more areas to work together.” The UK-India Tech Hub will bring together a team of experts in the British High Commission in New Delhi and work to increase tech investment and exports.
The UK is at the forefront of technological innovation and is leading the world in sectors such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. The country is planning to use these resources for India, because as Hancock says, “I count on India because of its scale. It has massive potential in terms of data and the technical capabilities of that. So, I have been working on that and this is an area where we can actually go from strength to strength.”
“I Don’t See India as a Fixed Size of the Pie”
India is already at the forefront of international tie-ups. It’s the third largest startup ecosystem in the world. According to the Indian Tech Startup Funding Report by Inc42, Indian tech startups raised about $13.5 Bn in funding across 885 deals in 2017. Considering the figure and the rapid tech innovations, many countries are now looking to be part of India’s journey towards technological advancement.
When countries like Netherland, Switzerland, the US, Israel, etc. came knocking on the door, India opened up its arms to them and offered them the hospitality of its technology and innovations. Not stopping at this, many countries and private entities have launched their organisations in India and some private entities such as Nexus Startup Hub, 500 Startups, etc. in these countries have even set up incubation hubs.
As a result of these investments and collaborations, the atmosphere in the startup world crackling with innovation. Does the fact that the partnership has come only now make it seem like the UK missed the bus? Not really, says the British politician.
“I don’t think so,” reacts Hancock, chuckling. “I think it’s a matter of building on the strength and the strength is already there. The question is what more can we do. I also don’t see India as a fixed size of the pie,” he adds.
The secretary says he’s been approached by many people who ask him, “Do you mind the fact that France is now in the field of technology in a way it hasn’t been for years under President Macron.” He says it delights him to answer to such questions “Because, by the nature of modern technology, working together can create opportunities and benefits for everybody. And the tech relationship between the UK and India go back to many, many years already. The question is, how can we make it accelerate as fast as possible in the future.”
But why now? There remains a lingering question of why the UK wants to today focus on partnering with Indian technology when at the beginning of the century it was solely focussed on the US and on China.
Matthew explains, “There are a couple of things in particular, the first being scale. The UK has a high level of top-end companies and capabilities. But we are a mid-size market of just under 70 Mn people whereas India has a great scale. The advantage is that India has scaled with its technical capabilities to be able to interact. So, there are big advantages and there’s a lot more we can do together.”
“We are Building More Infrastructure for Startups in the UK”
Some cities in the UK like Manchester are home to thousands of foreign companies and startups from across the world. The country is turning its cities such as Birmingham and Leeds into ecosystem enablers and they are being rapidly changed into digital hubs for the startup ecosystem.
The UK is also striving to be a pioneer in the fields of AI, IoT, big data, blockchain, and machine learning. Perhaps this is one of the major reasons why Britain is slowly evolving as one of the favourite places for Indian techies and entrepreneurs.
Hancock throws more light on this. “We are building more and more infrastructure for startups in the UK. And spreading the benefits right across the country. London has been the most advanced city in the UK in terms of tech. In the list of startup hubs, I will add Edinburg along with Manchester, Leeds, etc. These are real cities that have startup cultures and hubs and its spreading across the country.”
The UK is getting results that are pointing towards the progress of its startup strategies. “More than half of the Tier 2 visas that the UK issues are issued to the Indian citizens and there has been a rise in visits in terms of double digits. So, I think that’s real and real engagement is actually happening,” said the secretary.
As for the future, Hancock hopes that the UK-India relationship will only grow faster and become deeper.
“We Passed Data Protection Bill, to Come Into Force at Same Time as GDPR”
Since the recent data breach fiasco led by social network giant Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, the world is waking up to issues concerning data security. After the incident, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)’s is being seen in the EU as a saviour for the data in distress.
There is much speculation around the GDPR today, including fear that the Internet will get more expensive. There is also speculation that not only data operators in the EU but any data operator handling the data of EU citizens will have to abide by the GDPR policies.
While the world is still grappling with the new regulations, secretary Hancock thinks this is a good way to ensure data protection. “Making sure that you have a combination of strong privacy and innovative user data and not a trade off allows you to be more innovative with data and to protect people’s privacy at the same time. So, we are strengthening data protection laws in the UK. As we speak, just this week, we have passed the Data Protection Bill through the House of Commons and it will come to force at the same time as the GDPR by the end of the month,” he says.
And why is this good news? Hancock answers, “We think by doing this, we strike the right balance between ensuring what you get in terms of high-quality privacy and also allow for the innovative use of data. And the combination of these two is very important. I also think that’s a very strong basis for leaving the EU and deciding whether we want to continue with the GDPR, but we have actively chosen to do so.”
The secretary admitted that the GDPR does raise standards, but he is also optimistic that people and companies will rise to those standards because ultimately having high standards allows inventions in the future.
He is led in his belief by many examples. Recently, during his trip to the US, he encountered companies that are trading with the EU implementing the GDPR. “Ultimately, I think it’s a good thing to have data protection standards that are mutually recognised around the world. That makes it easy to have a free flow of data. People’s personal privacy will be respected. This is for the good and its not without the challenges, but ultimately its the right thing to do,” he concludes.
The UK and India are forging a new meaning of their relationship with technology and both the countries are equally committed to improving the quality of lives of its respective citizens. In this light, Hancock’s visit will certainly broaden the horizon for a universal connect through technology.