Real Business was at the Breakers to Makers conference in Haggerston this week, where Tech City UK chair Eileen Burbidge delivered the opening keynote.
“It’s foolhardy to say the next Twitter could come from here or the next Facebook or next Google,” she said.
“While they absolutely could, we have all the ingredients here, I think it would be down to a lot of luck – but what we have here are ingredients for more than luck.”
She pointed to Britain’s policies and legislation that give it the power to “really lead digital in terms of an agenda and innovation for this industrialised world.”
Matthew Hancock, the former business minister-cum-minister of the cabinet, was among those helping the sharing economy to secure said legislation and policies with his support of the sharing economy and launch of trade body, SEUK, back in March.
As such, he was among speakers at Breakers to Makers and noted that the gathering
“shows how the environment is maturing”.
“New insurgents are collaborating with existing players to think about how you disrupt in a way that serves customers,” he said. Hancock referenced his own background, which started in a small business before the move into politics.
From that point of view, he said: “All good business is simply about solving other people’s problems. If you can’t then you tend not to last as long. The sharing economy is a fantastic example that takes that principle and applies tech to a new set of problems. That’s why I back it.”
Read more on the sharing economy:
- Disrupting an age-old industry: How the sharing economy is turning traditional business on its head
- Oxford University to build consumer trust into British sharing economy with SEUK
- British on-demand cleaning firm Hassle.com acquired in bid to become global brand
He talked about the freedom of choice it brings, and said that sometimes it may seem as though there are two steps forward and one step back, but there’s an ongoing effort to offer a level playing field with regulations that weren’t previously required for traditional businesses.
A problem he highlighted was that experienced in London by home-sharing service Airbnb, which went back to the 1950s. A law prevented renting of rooms in order to prevent squatting and, while Airbnb was operational despite that, he joked the firm is now on “sound legal footing”.
“It’s a constantly evolving situation and I want us to constantly be all the front of it. There are other countries around the world snapping away at our heels that want to get all the best innovators and take them away. I want it all to happen in the UK and right here in London,” he said.
Hancock added that government officials are now being encouraged to use different sharing economy apps when travelling, including Uber.
On the subject of Uber, which Hancock admitted was a “controversial area”, he said:
“I’m on the side of disruptive technology. I’m not on the side of disrupting economic progress. We’ve got to be focused on the needs of customers.”
He addressed the need for a level playing field again and said that involves tackling questions posed by existing cab businesses, but noted the High Court did indeed answer by ruling that an app isn’t a taxi meter.
“Ultimately there are over one million Uber users in London and many people rely on them to get a more effective, faster and cheaper service,” he said.
Interestingly, Hancock revealed that he was blissfully unaware of Uber’s existence – up until the taxi drivers blocked London and started protesting across the city.
“It was my son’s 1st birthday and my grandmother, who’s 101, was coming, so I had a bit of a logistical nightmare. It was all going fine and suddenly there were loads of taxis around Parliament Square and the whole thing ground to a halt.
“I was in a car with my son screaming and my grandmother, she’s pretty robust but getting on a bit, not enjoying being stuck in a car together.
“I didn’t know why there was this protest, so I went on Twitter and people came back to me and told me about this company called Uber, which I’d never heard of. Anyway, I signed up that day and I’ve been using them ever since.”
Back at the start of the year, Uber’s founder Travis Kalanick said the business has a focus on Europe and revealed an agenda to “take 400,000 cars off the road, expand UberPOOL and reduce emissions, all while creating 50,000 new jobs across the continent.”