By Ben Rooney
- photo credit: Noam Sohachevsky (@noamso)
- photo caption: The Prime Minister with Alexandra Chong, CEO of Luluvise
The British prime minister spearheaded events to mark the first anniversary of London’s Tech City initiative, a government-backed project to attract digital media companies to eastern London.
Mr. Cameron visited the offices of Passion Capital, which appears to be the stopping off point of choice for visiting VIPs, following as he was, the footsteps of the Duke of York.
During a whirlwind tour, he visited Luluvise, a soon-to-be-launched social network for young women, and spoke to CEO Alexandra Chong. Ms. Chong, who was also at the meeting with the Duke of York, said the prime minister seemed genuinely interested. “He knew the difference between a push and pull ecommerce model,” she said.
His visit came after the official opening of applications for Entrepreneur First. The scheme, announced in March, is an ambitious plan to lure U.K. graduates away from conventional careers and consider entrepreneurship. It is part of a sustained drive by the U.K. government to foster small businesses, although the government is not providing funding.
Tech City acts as a beacon
The scheme has opened for 30 university graduates who will receive a two-year program of support and mentoring backed by companies such as Cisco, BT and Silicon Valley Bank, as well as less technical, and it has to be said not companies renowned for their entrepreneurial zeal, such as Tesco, L’Oreal and the Civil Service.
Ed Vaizey, the U.K. minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries speaking at the launch linked the two initiatives. “Entrepreneur first is very much part of what we want to see in Tech City,” he said. “What I have found talking to businesses seeking to locate to the U.K, is that Tech City acts as a beacon, it shows that the U.K. government is interested in tech businesses.”
Mr. Vaizey said that it was not the only tech cluster, and when asked denied that concentrating on the prosperous Southeast was to the detriment of the rest of the country. “The message of Tech City benefits the whole of the U.K. I talk to U.S. businesses; they say they think that it is fantastic. They hear about Tech City and they are interested in what is happening in the U.K.”
Only for university graduates
CEO Matt Clifford, a Cambridge graduate and former McKinsey consultant, admitted that the scheme was only open to university graduates and was aimed at providing them with an alternative career path. Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook and Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin, would not have been able to join.
Mr. Clifford said that in future years they hoped to open it up to nongraduates.
Lars Lindstedt, chairman of the Board of Trustees, said that the Entrepreneur First scheme was modeled on Teach First, an initiative to attract high-flying graduates into teaching at challenging schools for a few years before embarking on their career.
He said that the links to the sponsor companies would help applicants if their entrepreneurship plans failed. “It is a list of companies that would look at your CV should you decide not to continue,” he said. “If you are going to encourage people who may not otherwise start a business, then this will give them a sense of security they might not otherwise have.”
COO Alice Bentinck, a Nottingham graduate and another former McKinsey consultant, said that if participants wanted to join one of the sponsors then that would of course be possible, but it was not the aim of the program.