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A decade of UK tech evolution through KPMG’s innovator competition

This year celebrates 11 years of KPMG Private Enterprise’s UK Tech Innovator competition. Nicole Lowe, UK head of KPMG’s Emerging Giants practice, looks back at how the tech landscape has changed, and what happened next to those businesses that won their regional pitching heats after entering the competition.

The UK tech ecosystem is bursting with fantastic examples of innovation and solutions looking to address the world’s most challenging issues. Back in 2013, KPMG launched a competition that shines a spotlight on amazing tech businesses doing incredible things.

When we first launched the competition the Silicon Roundabout was a real focus of attention, consumers were yet to discover the joys of delivery apps, and the most popular mobile device in the UK was the iPhone 5. Fast forward to 2024 and the world has significantly moved on. Technology dominates our lives, and the opportunities and threats posed by AI are being discussed on the pages of most national media.

It has been a privilege to watch the businesses who participated in Tech Innovator in the UK play their part in the UK’s tech growth story. One of our earliest winners was What3Words in 2016. The startup was just three years old when it entered the competition. Today, you may recognise the company for its proprietary geocode system, which has been adopted by emergency services across the world and is the onboard system for Mercedes. Talking about his journey in the competition, Chris Sheldrick, co-founder and CEO, encouraged ambitious tech businesses to get on board calling it a “brilliant platform to raise profile internationally and a great learning experience and way to build industry connections.”

What3Words is a great example of the type of company that dominated the competition in its early days, with an offer that appealed to a consumer market. As time has progressed, we have been able to track trends in the ecosystem just from the types of companies that enter, and as we moved into the 2020s we saw many more fintech, health tech and clean tech businesses coming to the fore looking to address the big ESG challenges facing consumers and businesses alike.

Last year, the winner for the North East regional heat was iEthico, which has a one-of-a-kind solution to help drive down costs and reverse the growing impact of drug shortages. The business was pre-revenue at the point of entering the Tech Innovator competition and has launched commercially since. The company has used what it learned from the pitching competition to hone its message and streamline its investor deck. It is now growing its UK customer base and increasing revenues month-on-month. A year on, iEthico CEO Debra Ainge told us that over 500 organisations use its software service, and it’s supporting healthcare professionals by providing access to medicines for over 300 medicines shortages.

Tech for good features year after year in our list of businesses that make it to the shortlist. Many of the businesses that successfully progress through the competition have an idea that could have a real impact on their sector in the future. Dr Medhat Aker, of Cambridge-based Aker Health, has some good advice for businesses thinking about applying: “I would advise them to thoroughly understand the competition criteria and tailor their application to demonstrate how their innovation addresses key market needs. It’s crucial to articulate a clear and compelling value proposition and practice pitching extensively to convey it convincingly.

“Through the application and pitching stage, we gained valuable insights into refining our business model, clarifying our value proposition, and strengthening our pitch delivery. It forced us to critically evaluate our strategy and articulate it concisely”.

Competition gives startup boost

Increasingly we are seeing UK tech businesses fully embrace the opportunities presented by AI and over the last few years we have seen some fantastic AI on display. In 2023, Leap AI won the pitching competition in Scotland and went on to place as second runner-up at the UK final. The Aberdeen-based business won for its artificial intelligence-enabled robotics for the food production sector.

Ben Stuart, CEO of Leap AI, says anyone thinking about entering the competition needs to make sure they “think about and portray the story behind the innovation. As techies, we love to dive into the technology, but a story is much more compelling. Articulate the problem you’re addressing – why and for who, and the benefit your innovation offers and then get to the tech.”

Since taking part in the UK Tech Innovator competition, Ben says: “It’s been intense! We’ve been busy rolling out more robots and running our Series A.”

Leap AI has recently secured a significant round of investment from syndicate Alba Equity and economic development agency Scottish Enterprise, which takes the total amount raised by Leap AI over the past 18 months to £3m. As a result, it’s now poised for an exciting period of growth and expansion.

We can look back on the last decade with pride and admiration, but the hard work in keeping our tech sector relevant, successful and winning on the world stage must continue, particularly in the challenging economic conditions we’re currently in.

We cannot wait to start meeting our competition finalists across the UK next month as we shine a spotlight on some of the most exciting and innovative future unicorns in the UK. If you’re at the cutting edge of technology, this competition is for you. As Dr Liz Zijing Li, co-founder and inventor of Mimicrete Ltd, believes “This is the ‘must have’ pitch competition to attend. It was a great experience across the journey, gaining experience to improve the pitch and some great in-depth involvement with the KPMG team for business development.”

Applications for the Tech Innovator in the UK competition are closing on 15 May. You can find out more here.

What do you have to lose? As Angela Marie Graham, CFO of Midlands-based Goldilock remembers: “We thought this competition would be a useful platform to showcase our technology and winning would be a real validation of what we do. It was really useful as it helped us clarify our thinking around presenting our offering and our go-to-market approach.”

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