As a nation, we seem to have a tech fixation. Given the UK digital industry contributes 10% of the UK’s GDP, the government is keen to see tech startups succeed.
However, the investment net should be widened to other sectors such as food & drink. Like tech, the industry has seen home-grown startups transform into unicorns. Fever-Tree has seen its share price rocket upwards since floating on AIM, while Bear and Nakd have secured £50m+ valuations in corporate finance transactions. The UK has a rich heritage in manufacturing. Moreover, disruption is not in short supply, such as category transformation through “artisanal” ranges.
Despite this, there are few funding opportunities and support services for entrepreneurs who find themselves outside the tech bubble. That’s one of the things that prompted my partner, Frank Lampen, and I to set up Independents United, our own corporate venturing and innovation agency. We’ve dedicated the last 10 years to spotting opportunities for entrepreneurs and corporates to collaborate. We partnered with Diageo to create Distill Ventures, the world’s first “spirits accelerator”, to ensure the best entrepreneurial ideas were given support.
We have at our heart the culture and assets to lead the charge, but if we’re not on the front foot disruption could come from outside the UK. As price wars continue to devalue the industry, innovative startups that could make a difference are being deprioritised. By supporting them, the government could ensure the long-term prosperity of a valuable industry, and take a step towards upping our low level of exports. Furthermore, with a weaker pound and unknown future barriers to trading with Europe, home-grown food & drink could alleviate the pressure. Entrepreneurs could also tackle the public health crisis. If government genuinely wants to encourage businesses to provide healthier options, it should turn its attention to startups such as Propercorn and Graze.
If legacy brands don’t want to get left behind they shouldn’t rely on the government - they should take the initiative.
Shilen Patel is co-founder of Independents United