Letter: Britain wants Depop, however it wants deep tech extra

Tim Bradshaw is right to support the Depop sale; it’s sales of deep tech companies we must be wary of (“Depop sale does not signal the deflation of UK tech scene”, Opinion, June 11).

It’s only reasonable to voice some caution about investors jumping to cash in on early exits to international purchasers. I’ve sold that way a few times myself and would much prefer to have kept the businesses under UK ownership and management, contributing to the UK economy. But we should distinguish between companies offering consumer-facing applications and deep-tech innovators.

When we look at the UK tech economy, it’s the deep tech companies — like Arm, DeepMind and our growing roster of artificial intelligence, robotics and blockchain start-ups — which have a potentially strategic contribution to make, compared with more consumer-facing platforms and marketplaces such as Depop.

While this kind of service company certainly brings innovative and desirable offerings to the table (or the wardrobe in this case), they are often not really innovating in the technology itself.

We still should focus on helping them scale, but deep tech companies hold much higher strategic potential for the UK, and these are the ones we should ask investors to consider holding on to for longer. At the end of the day, investors have their own obligations and commitments.

It would not encourage investor confidence if the UK began to meddle too frequently in investment decisions or if greater powers were sought to prevent exits — except in a very small number of cases.

Occasionally, however, an early exit might genuinely represent a potential loss to the development of strategic assets for the UK economy. We could use a better, more transparent process for seeking to reduce those rare occurrences. Meanwhile, we would do well to focus on how to encourage the scaling up of technology innovation companies across the board to furnish our economy with more midsized businesses.

Jeremy Silver
Chief Executive, Digital Catapult
London NW1, UK

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