The (recent) graduate’s guide to London’s tech startup scene

Oct 14, 2017

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It’s easy to be dazzled by the stereotypes of startup life — the Instagrammable wall art, the stand-up desks, and the French bulldog in residence. What actually motivates a lot of people to join a startup is the feeling of building something new and groundbreaking, and London will always feel like the place to make your mark as a young professional.

20,000 new jobs were created by UK-based tech startups in 2015, with London and the South East providing 65% of those. Don’t be spooked by the recent news of Uber losing its license to operate in London, the capital is chock full of startups doing everything from revolutionizing mental health support, to giving us the ability to review last night’s date. Some are a few people cramped into a four-person office, and some look like the walls are papered with money, but they can all be a great start for a graduate.

It’s not all rosy, but that’s okay

£459m was pumped into London startups in 2015, it’s the startup capital of Europe, and Tech City has grown from 250 to 3000 businesses in five years.

It’s time for a big ‘however’ though — 50% of UK startups fail. Even ex-Googlers, who surely have all the tech entrepreneur tools you could ever need, have found their startups fail to raise new capital or reach the right market. Proximity-based social app Sup closed down in 2016 despite winning one of Richard Branson’s ‘Voom’ awards. The startup responsible for the Lily drone closed down in January 2017, clearly not saved by its $34 million in pre-orders, and the Jawbone fitness tracker “fell silent on social media”.

Whether the press is good or bad, it’s wise to remember that startups always involve risk. Your job might not be as safe as it would be at a 150-year old London bank, but demonstrating you can thrive in an unprecedented environment is something only a startup could give you. So don’t let the doom and gloom stop you from packing your life up, moving to London, and working in a loft in Holborn, if that’s your calling.

Started from the bottom now you’re…marginally above average

Starting salary is a major factor for job-searching grads — it’s what separates the really in-demand sectors from the ‘office dogs body’ roles. Does a startup that’s suddenly secured millions from an angel investor have loads to pay its staff? Sometimes, but don’t bank on it.

There are lots of varying stats on what the average startup salary is, with some reporting a “median of £30k” and others quoting a more typical £23k. Unlike traditional organisations that have salary bands everyone’s well aware of before they even go for interview, startups are all about growth. That doesn’t just mean the potential for financial growth, or snagging that company car, it’s about the potential to learn more than you would anywhere else. Getting that rising startup on your CV and being able to say “I helped build that” is a nifty thing to have up your sleeve at every stage of your career.

Graduates are doing it for themselves

Facebook is the most famous example of a university-born idea turned business, but it’s certainly not the only one. The Higher Education Statistics Agency found that newer UK universities and polytechnics are leading the charge when it comes to producing graduates who develop their own startups, rather than the old guard. The Royal College of Art produced 300 graduate-led startups in 2015/2016, with Kingston and Falmouth closely following.

So many young startups are thriving in London because they have access to the city’s wide range of venture capital funds. There are currently 22 venture capital firms in the UK, and the majority have come from San Francisco and beyond because they want the biggest possible slice of London’s startup pie. Europe-wide Index Ventures will fund from seed stage and beyond (Dropbox and Etsy are part of their portfolio), and have raised $5.2 billion since 1996. Meanwhile, there are young upstarts and individual investors raising funds every day, through whatever means will get them to launch.

If you want to skip the hierarchy and corporate structure, a startup is the perfect mix of challenging and creative. If you want to throw yourself into the city that’s got the most choice, there’s no need to hotfoot it to the Bay Area when we’ve got it all here in London!

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