Thursday’s nationwide referendum on a British exit from the European Union has already prompted much hand-wringing from everyone from George Soros to the Bank to England to Pres. Obama. What of the impact on the burgeoning British tech sector? Startup founders I spoke to all said such an outcome would be detrimental to building technology companies in the U.K. It would it make it harder to hire engineers from other parts of Europe and lead to a shortage in talent necessary to grow companies quickly, they say.
“London is a talent magnet right now,” says Brent Hoberman, the co-founder of online travel booking site Lastminute.com. “Let’s not spoil it. It will hurt confidence.” Startups and entrepreneurs from other parts of the world outside of Europe often pitch their tents in London because they see it as the gateway to the EU, he added. Brexit “will hurt confidence.”
Damian Kimmelman, founder of corporate intelligence site DueDil, agrees that a Brexit’s biggest impact would be on hiring. “Without access to Europe the pool of applicants shrinks dramatically,” he says. “We are a venture-backed business, and a venture-backed business means we are invested in to create super growth. But you can’t create super growth if it’s so difficult to hire the people that can create that super growth. People in tech are the number one commodity.”
Immigration has been at the forefront of the Brexit debate, with politicians from right-wing groups arguing that leaving the EU would allow Britain to take greater control of its borders. Tech founders believe that the pendulum would swing too far the other way, leading to a lack of the ultra-talented workers from overseas necessary to scale startups quickly.
Hoberman, who also founded a large, annual confab of technology leaders called Founders Forum, says his group’s own survey of several hundred startup founders in Britain found that more than 90% didn’t want Britain to leave the EU. As it stands, he says, around a quarter of the employees in their offices tend to be migrants, “as is most of tech.”
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