In celebration of UK enterprise

April 2016

Serial technology entrepreneur Mike Lynch discusses the significance of the Queen’s Award for Enterprise and why technology in particular is such a crucial part of the UK’s contribution to the world stage.

In these days of lightning-fast disruption in a world where that pace of change is if anything, gathering pace, we saw a glimpse last week of what's to come in the UK through the lens of one of its most venerable and traditional institutions.

The annual Queen's Awards for Enterprise are now in their 50th year, and this year's results were announced to coincide with the Queen's 90th birthday last Thursday. 243 British businesses were recognised for their invention, entrepreneurship, and their contribution to the social and economic fabric of this country and, importantly, of other nations around the world.

The companies encompassed a broad range of sectors, sub-sectors and specialisms, and hailed from across the country. The recognition of their success is an endorsement of the drive and determination of their employees, and of the efficacy of their products and services. But, perhaps more importantly, the depth and diversity of the full awards list – found in its entirety here – is also indicative of the health of the UK's wider business community.

I was delighted to see that Darktrace, in whom my company Invoke Capital seed-invested in 2013, received a Queen's Award for Innovation this year. It is a proud moment for Darktrace. Not because, in and of itself, the company has won another award. It is what this particular award signifies.

Acknowledgement of progress from the highest echelons of the country's social infrastructure is humbling. Supporter of the monarchy or not, the institution represents this country and the Commonwealth, the constituents of whom have historically been some of the world's most prolific exponents of global trade and commerce. The Queen's recognition of the role the UK's companies still play in the world economy is symbolically significant.

Enterprise is, of course, an over-used term. It can mean innovation (itself over-used), hard work and agility. In reality, it means all those things and more. It connotes exportability. An enterprising business is one whose products or services can solve a problem not locally, but across borders. And technology, the sector where I have spent my life plying my trade, is probably more effective than any other in delivering real impact to people wherever they are. Darktrace is just one of many British technology companies that is contributing to an industry on a global scale – in the case of Darktrace, to the cyber security sector.

We hear every day about the universal impact of US technology companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook. They are rightly feted for their contribution to the world's economic advancement. But it is frustrating that we on these shores have not done more to celebrate our own champions of technological commerce. The UK has a deep heritage of science, engineering and mathematics, thanks largely to playing host to the finest academic institutions anywhere. But the tradition remains strong. Indeed, the UK has produced a host of leading technology firms in recent years (think ARM, Sage, Autonomy – the list goes on) that have generated transformative opportunities for their employees, returns for their investors (and the Exchequer) and superior products for businesses and consumers, here and elsewhere.

That is why recognition such as that meted out by the Queen last week is important. We should not have to remind ourselves of the contribution that this small island continues to make to the world stage – and yet, for some deep-seated reason (perhaps best explored another time) – we do. And while we should never substitute humility with complacency, we should give greater plaudits to the fruits of a lot of our countrymen's labour.

In that spirit, I would like to congratulate Darktrace and the other 242 companies for their inclusion in the Queen's Awards for Enterprise. I would like to encourage them to remain focused on delivery of the best possible products which, at the appropriate time for them, they can export to the rest of the world. And I would like to urge the rest of the UK, no matter your line of work or way of life, to join in celebrating the past and future success of this nation's most enterprising companies. They deserve it.