We should be optimistic about European Technology

October 2014

Dr Mike Lynch for Cambridge News on why we should be optimistic about European Technology a sector of financial strength, creative impetus and moral backbone.

An American venture capitalist has been breezing through Europe ruffling feathers with offensive remarks while on a tour to promote his book. Peter Thiel, co-founder of Pay Pal and an early backer of Facebook, lashed out, calling us Europeans "slackers with a pessimistic view of the future." Our "low expectations of success," he says, will prevent us from producing companies of global renown such as those in Silicon Valley.

This is, of course, utter rubbish and another example of the arrogance that we have come to expect from West Coast American companies. Just this week Apple, Google and Uber are all under scrutiny across Europe for what is seen as exploitative business behaviours including tax avoidance, misuse of personal information and a refusal to comply with regulation. In my book this is a flagrant disregard of the law and Europe is right to question these practices.

In Europe we tend to have a quaint respect for the rule of law, even when it is constraining. We do not have an ability to hire and fire people at will, like they do in the States, but workers in Europe, to varying degrees, have a number of rights that Americans can only dream of: a reasonable amount of holiday time, access to quality healthcare and to education. This means that hiring decisions take on an added importance for a European entrepreneur because mistakes take longer to correct. We have a healthier, more equal society.

I won't speak for Continental Europe, which I am less familiar with, but this British government has taken a number of initiatives that make creating and investing in technology and high growth companies much more attractive, and we are beginning to see the fruits of those endeavours as the plucky entrepreneurs who started companies during the downturn are coming to market.

But back to that, in my opinion, unfounded American arrogance. Europe has a history of technology success: SAP, Philips, Spotify, Skype, Arm, Autonomy, Cambridge Silicon Radio, Solexa… the list goes on and is not to be sneered at. Every single company has generated employment and generous returns for investors. These companies have done so with a moral backbone, without cheating on taxes and making real and transformative differences to their communities and to the world.

Invoke Capital is now two years old, and I have spent much of the past twenty four months meeting academics and entrepreneurs who have a zealous drive to solve a real problem, whether it be computer processing power, cyber security, genome analytics or secure payment systems. Whatever their goal, success will lead to improvements for society. They are none of them "pessimistic slackers" – they work with the same drive as any Californian. And they are ambitious – but they solve fundamental problems involving life and death.

Silicon Valley is, quite literally populated by thousands of experienced marketers, financiers, publicists and developers. Europe still lacks the volume of experience, but we do make up for it in quality. The UK is envied for the quality of its scientists and mathematicians, and when they come together with the buzzing ecosystem of the creative industries, we produce some great companies. It is no coincidence that Americans come here to acquire the technology they can't build themselves, or that many Californian bankers and VCs visit London regularly in an attempt to get involved in the deals that happen.

I see the hard work of governments such as the UK will begin to pay off as the economy improves and companies prepare to list on the London Stock Exchange. The more tech companies that list, the more analysts become familiar with high-growth companies, the more confidence investors gain in the sector, the more people gain experience in working for FTSE companies and the virtuous cycle begins.

Nothing pessimistic or unambitious about that.

A version of this article appeared in Cambridge News.