What’s your mental image of a tech entrepreneur? If you are picturing a twentysomething hipster huddled over a laptop in East London, then this year’s Tech Track 100 may challenge your preconceptions.
The entrepreneurs running the companies span different ages, genders and backgrounds, and the tech industry is all the better for it. Such a breadth of skills and experience matters more than ever as the widespread adoption of internet-based technologies means almost all businesses are tech companies now, even those like Hiscox operating in traditional industries such as insurance.
To start with, the league table benefits from a large cohort of older, more experienced individuals. Forty-three of the founders were in their 40s when they set up shop. Another 11 were in their 50s and three were in their 60s. It is perhaps no surprise that almost one third (31) of this year’s 100 are the work of serial entrepreneurs.
Women in tech
We’re also seeing progress towards dispelling the myth that the industry is only open to men. This year there are 11 companies founded or led by women. Among them is LoveCrafts (No 3), which co-founder Cherry Freeman describes as an unlikely marriage between two very different disciplines – crafting and tech – to create an online community and marketplace for people who have a passion for activities such as knitting and crocheting.
“Crafting is traditional and female-dominated, while tech is digital, and male-dominated,” she says. This unique combination has proven a draw for investors, which have provided £18m to help expand the business, as well as smart tech talent.
Some 70% of LoveCraft’s staff are women. “Within the company, we have the more stereotypical young, smart, creative, innovative people you might expect in a tech business,” Freeman tells me, but leading the enterprise are the more experienced business heads of Cherry and her co-founders Nigel Whiteoak and Edward Griffith.
The trio knew from the start that they wanted to build a global business. “If you are looking at travel you think of sites like Expedia, for groceries lots of brands spring to mind, but an equivalent destination didn’t exist in crafts,” Freeman says. “We saw an enormous opportunity in the 850m people around the world who actively craft”.
“To start with that level of ambition you need a certain amount of experience and confidence,” she adds.
LoveCrafts’ community of craft enthusiasts now covers 140 countries, helping it generate sales of £11m this year.
The regions are making a comeback
The company is one of 41 on this year’s Tech Track 100 with its headquarters in London. While the capital remains the country’s largest hub for tech companies – not least thanks to its highly-skilled, multinational labour pool – this number is the lowest for nine years, another welcome trend. I grew up a few miles west of Glasgow, which is the base for three of this year’s 100.
Of course, we need the energy and enthusiasm of younger entrepreneurs, who are far more willing to experiment with new ideas and ways of working than some of us older hands. Tech Track 100 reflects that, for instance James Vaughan was 25 when he started Ndemic Creations (No 72), the Bristol-based company behind his mobile simulation and strategy game, Plague Inc, which he launched as a hobby in 2012. It has since been played by more than 85m people around the world, and counting.
Irrespective of age, location, gender or business experience, entrepreneurs face many of the same problems, such as recruiting the right staff to drive the business forward into new markets and securing the capital to fuel future investment and growth.
We are seeing internet and data-related crime climb up this list of challenges too, in tandem with an increased reliance on technology in homes and businesses. This is not only a risk for high-profile brands such as TalkTalk, which suffered a data breach last year that cost it £42m, but for all companies, large and small. In our annual ‘DNA of an Entrepreneur’ study of 4,000 small businesses conducted this summer across six countries, more than a tenth (11%) told us they had been the victim of a cyber-attack. Even more worryingly, a further 8% confessed that they did not know if they had suffered such a breach.
We see a disconnect between the scale of the threat and the response: only 8% of respondents to our survey say they have e-risks insurance. We’ve revamped our own cyber and data cover to ensure that as well as financial compensation, businesses have access to a team of experts to help minimise their losses.
We currently insure more than 40,000 technology companies in the UK and Ireland, and are proud to do our bit to help the burgeoning sector. Businesses such as LoveCrafts and its peers on this year’s Tech Track 100 show what a diverse and valuable industry we have to protect.
Find out more about the Sunday Times Hiscox Tech Track 100