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It’s foolhardy to say next Facebook will come from UK, says Eileen Burbidge

During a sharing economy conference, Tech City chair Eileen Burbidge delivered a keynote and said it's foolhardy to simply say the next Facebook or Google will come from the UK, explaining that Britain has all of the ingredients for more than that – to lead digital innovation.
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Real Business attended Breakers to Makers conference on 20 October, a conference in London’s Haggerston area designed to bring together businesses operating within the sharing economy and on-demand sectors.

We’ve all seen the resistance to such innovation, most notably with taxi drivers resistant to change with the rise of Uber. But despite some politicians and public figures against use of that particular service, the wider industry is generally well received.

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After all, it was this warm reception and recognition that led to the creation of the Sharing Economy UK (SEUK) – the government-backed trade body that launched in March 2015 in order to help the sector flourish.

The Breakers to Makers event itself, which was hosted by background check business Onfido, SEUK, Wellington Partners and Index Ventures, had speakers in abundance and Eileen Burbidge, who was appointed chair of Tech City UK in September, delivered the keynote.

“Clearly technology is now enabling all sorts of forces, parties and constituents to think about resource allocation in a more intelligent way,” she said, noting that consumers have “much easier, better and fairer access” to services.

American investor Burbidge has had an incredible year and the Tech City post comes as she was named the government’s special envoy of fintech by George Osborne in July – just two months after her VC firm Passion Capital secured a £17.5m investment from the British Business Bank.

She continued: “Being in the capital of tech Europe, it’s really gratifying to see the sharing economy, as well as other ecosystems, developing. I genuinely believe, despite my American accent, that Britain is going to really lead digital in terms of an agenda and innovation for this industrialised world.”

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Burbidge joked that she used to tease that Britain used to lead the industrial world, but said there is a very real opportunity to seize.

“I’m convinced that we have an opportunity in digital, but in key sectors. 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 opportunities in fintech, cyber security and education, also underscoring the sharing and on-demand economies.

“Common themes about all of the sectors are not only technology, intellectual and innovation leadership in this country, but also policy. I think the cultures of technology, innovation and policy are what drives this sector and some of those other sectors to have Britain leading,” Burbidge detailed.

As such, with the likes of the SEUK – which has more than 40 members including Airbnb, Hassle.com, PwC and Tech City – the UK has an advantage.

Continuing on the topic of Britain’s leadership, she added: “Contrast that to the United States, where there are a greater number of sharing economy startups in New York or San Francisco than there are in London, you don’t have the regulatory environment or progressive law makers that actually understand what’s driving innovation and consumer adoption in these businesses. I think that’s really key.”

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About Author

Zen Terrelonge

Zen Terrelonge is the deputy editor of Real Business, specialising in media, innovation, technology and the digital sector. A media professional with eight years worth of experience he has worked for both startup and established publications.

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