HMA Richard Wood addresses #oiw2018

British Ambassador to Norway Richard Wood addresses 'Finpact – Global Impact through Financial Technologies' at Oslo Innovation Week.

Richard Wood

Meeting startups and tech interests in general has been one of the most positive aspects of my first few weeks in Norway. I find that they are particularly focused on finding solutions to many of the societal challenges we are facing today. And they embody the spirit of UK-Norway cooperation that I am here to promote.

Both our countries have come independently to the realisation that it a good idea to support startups. Norway is home to some of the most innovative tech developers on the scene. And the climate for tech scaleup in the UK means that there are incubators (just like MESH) springing up all over the UK, making the UK the largest tech start-up ecosystem in Europe. We are working with startups from all over Europe to give them the best possible start in life.

In 2017, the UK tech sector grew 2.6 times faster than the economy as a whole. A new business is started in the UK every 75 seconds. And a bigger proportion of these than you might imagine go on to thrive, so that the UK plays host to half of Europe’s top 10 fastest-growing companies.

For that kind of booming business scene, you need a partnership between innovators and governments. The UK is committed to providing the right incentives and support to the sector. As of September 2017, over £350 million has been invested in 243 technology companies through the British Business Bank’s venture capital programmes, and more venture capital is invested in the UK than in Germany, France and Sweden combined!

The UK’s supportive tax regime makes it a perfect location for businesses, with special relief to incentivise innovation. The UK ranks as number 7 in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index, the only other European countries that rank higher are actually Norway and Denmark. In London alone, there are 16,000 students in Computer Science at different universities and the number of professional tech developers is only just below San Francisco’s.

But the UK is not just London. There are interesting developments in tech happening all over the UK. Did you for example, know that there are 850,000 people working in Financial Services in the Northern Powerhouse (which includes cities like Liverpool, Leeds and Manchester)? Or that Cambridge is the home of health tech? Or that there are a number of cyber security clusters all over the UK.

And whatever your expertise within tech, the UK’s Department for International Trade is interested in supporting you to invest in the UK. And once you are established in the UK, you will also have access to all the same programmes and incentives as the UK companies.

We recognise that the global business landscape is changing rapidly and that the UK cannot be complacent. To retain the attractive business environment, our Industrial Strategy calls for new initiatives to help the UK keep its competitive edge.

You may have heard that we are leaving the EU, but we are very definitely not leaving Europe and we will continue working together with our European partners. And I am confident that our new relationship with Europe will bring new possibilities and opportunities.

When it comes to the relationship between our two countries, it strikes me that the fundamentals of British-Norwegian trade relationship are extremely solid. The market indicates a robust underlying demand for the goods and services that British and Norwegian companies produce.Partly this is based on the long-term relationships of close neighbours who share the natural resources of the North Sea. Perhaps another less tangible aspect could be described as the ‘ease of doing business,’ which is based on culture and experience. From my vantage point as Ambassador, these solid fundamentals are strong indicators for commercial relationships that will grow far into the future, whatever the final shape of political arrangements.

Let me just say that I am impressed by the innovations that we see from tech developers in Norway. You will remember that No Isolation gained a lot of attention in the UK media, when their robot was used as a mascot at a Premier League game earlier this year. Loneliness is just that kind of societal problem that innovation from the tech sector can help alleviate. All of that starts with an idea which spots a gap in the market. And the best ideas of all are those which employ tech solutions in areas we had not realised there was a direct application.

Here’s a great example of good Norwegian ideas using the UK to scale up, sharpen up and use the UK as a springboard to the rest of Europe, and eventually the US, perhaps. TicketCo is a Norwegian company which had a great idea for an easy payment platform for ticketed events. We helped them to open an office in the UK. What they tell me they learnt from that was how to constantly improve their product, due to the proximity to fierce competition. And they also had free access to the advanced tech and business skills they needed. All of this sharpened their competitive edge when they recently launched – very successfully - into other European markets.

Another, British example, is Revolut, which is challenging our perception of banking.

Many of these ideas started as consumer convenience ideas for the developed world and some transitioned to the circular economy. This in itself is exciting, of course.But in time, the ideas and technology can be shown to have direct application to reducing poverty or drive economic growth. FinTech startups are a good example of applying tech solution to solve real problems for people, both in developed and in developing nations. They are here to stay and they are part of the solutions in order to reach the UN´s sustainable development goals 8 and 9 on Decent Work and Economic Growth and Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure.

No one knows exactly what the future looks like, but we know for sure that tech will drive it. And it is only natural for Norway and the UK to partner up and come up with solutions together.

We happen to have the British Minister for Sports and Civil Society visiting today and she wants to exchange ideas on mitigating (against) loneliness and social isolation in society, so we’re visiting No Isolation. We’ll also be exchanging ideas on how to use sport as vehicle to address wider societal issues, and for example talk to Motitech.

There are many ways that government can support businesses. Incubators have been mentioned, you can give tax credits for those who do R&D. There are more local examples of support. I know that for example the City of London has supported the creation of Innovate Finance, which is an association you will be hearing about this afternoon. I also know that the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) is very pro-active when it comes to supporting FinTech.

The programme this afternoon is packed with visionaries from the FinTech sphere. There are startups who will tell you about how they are making an impact. We are lucky to have Innovate Finance here from the UK. You will get to hear about FinPact from a corporate perspective and more of a tech perspective.

Jeg håper dere får en fin ettermiddag med interessante foredrag og gode diskusjoner. Jeg vet at teamet her har forberedt et par Kahoot!

We’ll be doing some Kahoots later. To show that embassies – if not always Ambassadors – can keep up with technology.

Thank you for listening. And please; Enjoy Innovate. And network.

Published 25 September 2018