Great Britain is a global tech hub. According to sources cited by the Financial Times, almost 40% of all the European unicorns (private companies valued at over $1 billion) founded in the last ten years were UK-based. London is a top destination for European techies and software developers, hosting the largest community of that kind from the continent. What’s more, on the global stage, our beloved kingdom has created more unicorns than any other country except the US and China. Basically, you could safely call London the Silicon Valley of Europe.
All these accomplishments wouldn’t have been possible without some considerable risks and investments from Britain’s top entrepreneurs. That’s why we thought about giving you some information about what we consider to be the three most important and impactful blokes in the British tech industry.
Richard Branson, the man who wants to send rich people to space
Richard Branson, one of Britain’s most recognizable billionaires, is a complicated man. On one hand, his business career was stained by accusations of tax evasion, for which he was even convicted and briefly jailed after a sting operation in 1971. Also, according to The Sunday Times, his businesses are owned and operated through a complicated series of offshore trusts and companies and he saved millions of quids in tax by renouncing his British residency and living in the British Virgin Islands. This sort of shady maneuvering even made some British politicians call for the revocation of his knighthood. He was also accused of sexually assaulting a singer by putting his head between her breasts. So nasty!
On the other hand, the man is a visionary, an adventurer. He made tons of money with Virgin Group, which controls over 400 companies in a broad selection of industries, from retail, music, transport, gambling to space travel. Yes, you read it right, space travel! That’s why we even considered him for this list. His spaceflight company, Virgin Galactic, is trying for over a decade to develop commercially viable and affordable (well, sort of) suborbital space tourism. The project went through a number of delays and a terrible tragedy in 2014, when an experimental test vehicle crashed in the Mojave Desert, California, killing the co-pilot and seriously injuring the pilot. Finally, in December 2018, VSS unity achieved the company’s first suborbital space flight, by US standards, reaching an altitude of 89.9 kilometers.
The plan is to make space tourism a thing without using huge, fancy rockets, the spacecraft being launched from beneath a carrier plane. That sounds awesome, especially if you have $200,000-$200,500 in your savings account to pay for the ticket. The rest of us will have to wait until these trips will become more affordable. Maybe 50 years from now, our grandchildren will be able to go on space city-breaks!
Nikolay Storonsky tries to make banking cool again
“Do you have a Revolut account/card?”. I’m sure you heard this question more than once, after a night of drinking with your cashless mates. But how did it all start? With a man, Nikolay Storonsky. He’s a British-Russian entrepreneur and the idea of a multi-currency card came to him after years of traveling with work and wasting money on foreign transaction fees. Having a background in finance, at Credit Suisse and Lehman Brothers, he knew that the rates he was getting were bordering on theft. So he left his job and, alongside Vlad Yatsenko, a software developer and former colleague, founded Revolut.
As you may well know, the company’s main product is a payment card that operates with super-low fees when spending outside your country of origin, but the company is now also offering all sorts of financial services, from insurance to cryptocurrency trading. Raising the necessary money was no easy job, but his contacts in the city certainly helped, and only four years after its founding, the company claims that it has 8 million customers and is valued at between $5 and $ 10bn. What’s more, Revolut wich is a payment solution similar to pay by phone, even managed to get a European banking license approved by the European Central Bank, so its operations are always trying to break new grounds.
Not too shabby, isn’t it? But there are some problems. For one, Nikolay Storonsky runs a pretty tight ship, with a tough workplace environment, where there’s not much room left for a work-life balance. “You are competing with bigger players, with better-funded start-ups; you’re competing for customers, you don’t have resources. So how are you going to win this game?”, Storonsky said in a Financial Times interview. The company was also accused of disabling systems that halt transactions to individuals whose assets were frozen for all sorts of crimes. Also, in the past three years, BBC found out that the tech giant saw the departure of two chief risk officers, two money laundering reporting officers, a chief compliance officer and a chief finance officer, amongst other roles. These sorts of occurrences raise all sorts of questions.
All in all, the company is on an upward trajectory and it’s hard to deny its innovations in the financial technology field, but it remains to be seen if it can survive longterm.
Poppy Gustafsson, the woman that gave the tech industry an immune system
For the last few years, the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields were heavily accused by social critics for not doing enough to promote gender diversity. And, if you think about it, they’re kind of right, few women are encouraged to follow an engineering career path. Well, Poppy Gustafsson and Nicole Eagan are notable exceptions to that rule. Six years ago, at Cambridge, alongside a mix of math brainiacs, former British and American intelligence officers and specialists from the tech industry, they launched Darktrace, a cybersecurity start-up that is revolutionizing the way companies and countries are protecting their assets and databases.
To put it in layman’s terms, their AI-driven technology strives to identify hacker attacks early on and stops them using proprietary machine learning. Basically, the software acts like the human body’s immune system. The similarities between their product and the way our bodies work to fight viruses and bacteria are so striking that it was called Enterprise Immune System. The company had a specular rise, gaining a unicorn valuation of $1.65B and it has over 40 offices around the globe. Why does this sort of technology matter so much? Well, after the Russian hacking of the DNC servers during the American presidential elections in 2016, people really started to care about the safety of their information and databases. And these two British ladies, Poppy Gustafsson and Nicole Eagan are really revolutionizing the field.
There are even more British tech blokes and gals that are striving to change the world with their fancy companies and inventions, but these are those we consider to be the most impactful ones.