Navigating Economic Challenges in the UK Tech Sector: Strategies and Outlook


February 27, 2024 - 10 min read

Featured Image

Economic Landscape of the UK Tech Sector

In 2022, the digital sector contributed 7.7% to the UK’s overall economic output. The predominant sub-sector, computer programming and related activities, constituted the largest share, making up 38% of the entire digital sector output, the UK Parliament stated on the heels of London Tech Week 2023.

By March 2023, the economic output (GVA) of digital had surged by 12% compared to the pre-pandemic levels of February 2020. The UK tech sector growth stands in stark contrast to the overall economy, which experienced minimal expansion during the same period, with a mere 0.1% increase in March 2023 compared to February 2020.


Source: The House of Commons

Witnessing sustained expansion, the UK’s tech sector achieved a significant milestone by surpassing the US$1 trillion valuation mark, the UK government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport shared in a press release. This remarkable feat positions the UK as only the third country, following the US and China, to attain such a valuation. Substantially outpacing its European counterparts, the UK tech industry’s value is more than double that of Germany (US$467.2 billion) and triple that of France (US$307.5 billion). Furthermore, the UK maintains its lead in terms of overall funding, unicorn count, and the number of startups.

This success has contributed to the emergence of nearly 400 high-growth startups since the turn of the century, each valued at over US$250 million. Among these, 144 are classified as unicorns, boasting valuations exceeding US$1 billion, while 237 are identified as futurecorns, representing rapidly growing enterprises projected to become the most valuable businesses in the coming years. The latest statistics underscore the ecosystem’s growth, with a 24% increase in unicorns and a 16% increase in futurecorns.

Strategic Resilience in the Face of Economic Uncertainty

Adaptive Business Models

The global shift towards e-commerce, accelerated by the pandemic, has witnessed growth ranging between 16% and 19%. This transition from physical to virtual spaces has impacted diverse sectors, spanning online banking, telemedicine, and food subscription services. A significant trend emerging from this shift is the enduring preference for businesses that facilitate easy online interactions, as observed in Deloitte’s 2022 Global Marketing Trends survey.

To retain customer loyalty, organizations must adopt a personalized approach not only in terms of customer experience but also with regard to data collection and privacy. Consumer skepticism regarding the use of their information remains prevalent. Softcat and Sage—heroes of Deloitte’s Future of the Tech Sector in the UK series—exemplify adaptability in this evolving scenario. Both companies prioritize customer needs and emphasize that technological advancements are driven by customer demands, shaping their success.

Softcat has evolved over its 29 years in operation. Its Office of the CTO ensures a proactive approach to staying abreast of technological trends, emphasizing a gradual evolution rather than radical change. Sage has embraced a customer-focused tech strategy, recognizing the importance of both cloud and on-prem solutions. The company has established a community of in-house innovators to foster a culture of training and experimentation.

Rethinking and enhancing the customer experience necessitates a holistic approach, impacting all facets of an organization. Traditional top-down business models are giving way to empowered teams and greater integration, with innovation becoming a deliberate and embedded aspect of everyday operations. The alignment of business and commercial models is crucial in the digital era, leading to tightly integrated organizations where innovation is no longer confined to silos but is a collective effort across departments.

Investment Trends and Funding Challenges

Venture Capital and Investment Patterns

The UK government says that while maintaining its prominence as the primary destination for fintech investment outside the US, the UK is also emerging as a leading center for impact tech, characterized by companies developing technological solutions aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In 2022, nearly GBP 10 billion was raised in fintech investments, showcasing the country’s robust standing in the sector. Simultaneously, the impact tech space in the UK is thriving, with close to 1,200 companies in this domain collectively securing GBP 3.12 billion in funding.

A large part of the investment in impact tech is directed towards green energy initiatives, exemplified by startups like Newcleo, dedicated to developing technology that facilitates safe uranium recycling, which secured GBP 258 million in funding. Scaleups addressing healthcare inequality, such as Cera, have successfully integrated disruptive innovations into social care, raising GBP 263 million. Additionally, companies like GrowUp Farms, a vertical farming venture leveraging technology for sustainable food production, garnered GBP 100 million in funding. The diverse range of impact tech endeavors underscores the UK’s pivotal role in fostering technological solutions aimed at addressing global challenges and advancing sustainable development.

Funding Challenges for Startups

Several economic indicators relevant to startups and scaleups, especially concerning external financing, provide insights into the current landscape, as per Deloitte. The impact of rising interest rates is becoming evident in this arena. The increased cost associated with debt financing makes it less appealing, while equity financing is also experiencing a downturn. 2021 marked the peak year for equity financing, encompassing VC investments, angel funding, family offices, and other sources. However, 2023 witnessed the second consecutive annual decline in this domain.

Fluctuating interest rates not only prompt investors to reassess risk and reward profiles but also contribute to a liquidity crunch across the ecosystem. A reduction in exits translates to decreased liquidity, resulting in fewer secondaries, subsequently leading to a decline in available funds for venture capitalists and other stakeholders. Undoubtedly, running a tech startup poses greater challenges now compared to 2.5 years ago, given the evolving market dynamics and the impact of changing interest rates.

Government Initiatives to Boost Investment

Deloitte’s analysis goes on to highlight the degree of government involvement. Despite encountering challenges, certain technology sectors continue to receive robust support. A noteworthy example is the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS), recognized as one of the most globally effective incentives for promoting investments in riskier ventures. Innovate UK’s grants have played a crucial role, backing a remarkable 20,000 innovative firms. Additionally, the UK’s R&D tax credit scheme has proven instrumental, providing support to nearly 90,000 firms in 2022 alone.

Furthermore, high-tech startups are set to benefit from recent improvements. In 2023, the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) underwent an extension, allowing such startups to access up to GBP 250,000 of investment, among other enhancements. These measures signal a commitment to fostering a favorable environment for high-tech startups, demonstrating a proactive approach to supporting innovation and growth in the technology sector.

Workforce Strategies in Economic Turbulence

Between October 2021 and September 2022, the digital sector comprised 1.86 million jobs, accounting for 5.5% of the total employment landscape, UK Parliament’s data shows. Within this sector, the most significant sub-sector was computer programming and related activities, boasting 1.03 million jobs, which represented 55% of the total employment in the digital sector during this period.

Another insight from Deloitte: The significance of flexibility holds considerable sway among contemporary job seekers and is part and parcel of talent acquisition. The onset of COVID accelerated the shift to remote or hybrid work models across various industries, a transition that the UK technology sector had already actively embraced. Many tech teams had been operating on a global scale with distributed setups. Despite the enduring appeal of capital cities, a notable 40% of Deloitte’s Fast 50—a list denoting the UK’s tech companies exhibiting the most rapid growth—are situated outside London. Regional hubs such as Manchester and Birmingham are gaining prominence. Moreover, a substantial 38% of these tech companies maintain a presence in the United States, showcasing the global reach of the UK’s tech industry. Additionally, 5% of these high-growth companies have established international offices, underlining the sector’s commitment to geographically diverse and flexible talent acquisition.

The UK’s dominance in the tech sector is significantly shaped by the emphasis on upskilling and reskilling, the government says. This claim is supported by the success of nearly 3,000 ed-tech startups that collectively secured GBP 1.7 billion in funding over the last six years. Pioneering companies like Academy and Code-First Girls are dedicated to empowering individuals of all ages, facilitating the acquisition of essential digital skills for success in tech-related roles. Their focus spans tech apprenticeships, coding, development, and cybersecurity training.

In alignment with this trend, UK companies are increasingly prioritizing entry-level tech positions, showcasing a noteworthy surge from 6,596 in November 2021 to over 15,000 a year later, as reported by the smart job search engine Adzuna. This shift underscores the massive talent acquisition effort by companies to attract and nurture a new generation of tech talent, cultivating them into future leaders within the industry. The commitment to continuous learning and skill development remains a driving force behind the UK’s prowess in the tech landscape.

Global Trade and Export Challenges

International Market Access Barriers

The Red Sea crisis has unleashed profound repercussions on global trade, diverting billions of dollars in commerce and creating a ripple effect across various industries. The disruption to key shipping routes has hindered the smooth flow of electronic components and devices, impeding the supply chain for tech companies. As a result, the UK’s tech industry faces challenges in sourcing crucial materials and components, leading to delays in production and potentially hampering the competitiveness of UK tech companies in the global market.

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has triggered a widespread economic crisis, leading to massive layoffs and imposing severe budgetary constraints. The tech industry in the UK is not immune to these consequences. The economic downturn has reduced consumer spending, impacting the demand for tech products and services. Additionally, the uncertainty in the global economic landscape has prompted investors to exercise caution, affecting funding for innovative tech ventures and potentially stalling growth initiatives. The challenges posed by the economic crisis necessitate resilience and adaptability within the UK tech industry, prompting companies to reassess their strategies in the face of evolving market conditions.

The potential invasion of Taiwan by China poses a looming threat to the semiconductor industry and global supply chains, with far-reaching implications for the UK’s tech sector. The semiconductor industry is crucial to the functioning of modern technology, including smartphones, computers, and various electronic devices. A crisis in the semiconductor supply chain would lead to disruptions in production, causing shortages and increased costs for tech companies in the UK. As technology firms heavily rely on a steady and predictable supply of semiconductors, any disruption would not only impact production schedules but also potentially stunt innovation and the development of cutting-edge technologies. Companies in the UK tech industry would need to strategize and diversify their supply chains to mitigate the risks associated with potential upheavals in the semiconductor industry.

Government Policies and Industry Collaboration

The government has formulated several strategies and policies that cover various aspects concerning the UK tech sector and aim to bolster economic recovery, including:

Cybersecurity Resilience in Economic Downturns

For profound guidance on safeguarding matters, please refer to the National Cyber Security Centre’s website.

About Us

When economic challenges abound, investors require more than just a conceptual PowerPoint pitch deck. Our dedicated team has assisted over 70 companies in constructing robust Proof-of-Concepts (PoC) that have successfully garnered initial funding exceeding US$10 million.

At Vodworks, we empower business owners to validate their ideas and swiftly develop a tangible solution that can be showcased to potential investors. From the initial design phase to deployment and the creation of investor-ready materials such as sheets and presentations, we guide business owners through the process, enabling them to secure funding that propels their projects to new heights.

Get in touch →

Subscribe to our blog

Get in Touch with us

Thank You!

Thank you for contacting us, we will get back to you as soon as possible.

Our Next Steps

  • Our team reaches out to you within one business day
  • We begin with an initial conversation to understand your needs
  • Our analysts and developers evaluate the scope and propose a path forward
  • We initiate the project, working towards successful software delivery